Introducing Airtime: A Chatroulette with Pants

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If only Chatroulette had a mandatory clothing policy…

Thanks to former Napster founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning that dream is now a reality.  Courtesy of a product-launch yesterday complete with Snoop Dogg, Olivia Munn, Jimmy Fallon, and more (it’s amazing what having Justin Timberlake play you in a movie can do for your street-cred), the duo introduced Airtime, a peer-to-peer- video conferencing service that integrates with Facebook and possesses far tighter restrictions on inappropriate user behavior.

With the service drawing on learnings from existing video sharing sites like Chatroulette, Skype, and even Google+, the comparisons to these platforms are inevitable.  Parker and Fanning cite Airtime’s ability to provide connection to Facebook friends as one of the distinguishing factors from previous platforms, while pointing to numerous flaws with Chatroulette from a lack of restrictions (to prevent inappropriate behavior), to a lack of foundation for interaction as items that have supposedly been corrected with this new interface.

While it’s tempting to give in to the allure of a sexy-new product launch with A-list-ish celebs and two entrepreneurs with major name recognition, there are a few reasons to take a wait-and-see approach.  First of all being that yesterday’s launch was plagued by a number of glitches and a system crash. The second and arguably more important question relates to whether or not the site truly fills a need for the consumer.

Parker and Fanning point to the inappropriate behavior found on Chatroulette as the main reason for it’s decline, and while that’s certainly a legitimate deterrent, I would argue that the novelty would have worn off regardless.

The internet thrives because of anonymity.  From smarmy Youtube commenters to soul-bearing Tumblr sites, people open themselves up to content sharing on the Internet because there are no real-life consequences or judgments as a result of their actions.  That being the case, video chatting serves as a relatively intimate experience for the standard internet user, and one that is typically reserved for connecting with close friends of family.  While Parker and Fanning may boast about the connection to Facebook and the inappropriate behavior it may curb, it also serves to create accountability in a world where there is none.  Also, one quick look at my profile and I realize that I wouldn’t want to video chat with 75% of my so-called friends (no offense guys).  On the opposite end of the spectrum, Parker’s serendipitous goal to bring strangers together  a la Chatroulette still seems like something better suited for real world interaction than for the anonymous Internet crowd.

After all, perhaps there’s a reason that Chatroulette degraded into a community of pants-less deviants; all of the normal people were off meeting people the old fashioned way (drinking).

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June 6th, 2012 at 8:29 pm

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