Video chat with strangers and friends with Parker and Fanning’s new Airtime

By Chelsea Whyte on June 6, 2012 3:54 PM EDT

Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning
Airtime's creators, Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning, are bringing video chat to Facebook. (Photo: Airtime)

Who wants to video chat with strangers on the internet? Napster co-founders Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker are counting on Facebook's 950 millions users willingness to start up conversations with complete unknowns across the web with their new video chatting service, Airtime. The duo launched the person-to-person video calling service yesterday at a celebrity-filled event in Manhattan. 

Parker said the internet has become "boring" because our social networks are stale and "leave no room for randomness," according to Business Insider. Parker, an early backer of Facebook, said Airtime would benefit from the 'network effect', according to the Chicago Tribune, meaning that it will become more and more useful as more people use it, and he thinks it will inject a little levity and a place to talk or perform for others. 

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"We're trying to restore serendipity to the Internet," Parker said. "There's never been an environment like this for live performance on the Internet."

Airtime will use Facebook Connect to link video chatters with Facebook friends, or friends of friends, but you can also roll the dice and enter a video chat with a stranger. Using your interests and Likes on Facebook, Airtime will pair you with others who have similar interests. When you're chatting, you're free to edit those interests so you can talk about things you want to discuss at the moment, or you can simply connect to others in your local area. This feature seems geared toward making new local friends or finding dates, or simply a distraction while you talk with your hometown neighbors. 

It's been likened to Chatroulette, the flash-in-the-pan video chatting fad that put strangers across the web into conversations with strangers, as well as Skype, which serves as a more traditional video chatting program used in many homes and businesses.

But reviewers say it's not exactly like either of these predecessors. First, your personal Facebook information is tied to your activity. This will hopefully deter video chatters from showing up naked or performing inappropriate acts in front of strangers, a complaint often tied to Chatroulette.

To police this, Airtime is planning on taking drastic measures. A spokesperson for the company told Forbes that in order to monitor the site, they'll be taking "snapshots of users periodically to ensure site safety."

That may creep out some new users, and it remains to be seen whether the novelty of chatting with strangers will wear off as quickly as it did with Chatroulette, or if Airtime could replace Skype as the best option for video chatting within Facebook. 

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