social media watch

Does Facebook Need a Chatroulette? Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning Think So

Posted by Sheila Shayon on May 17, 2012 11:07 AM

Sean Parker — Napster cofounder, Spotify cofounder, and Facebook's first president, as portrayed by Justin Timberlake in The Social Network — is teaming again with Shawn Fanning, his old Napster colleague, on Airtime, a new video chat service for Facebook users, which will be unveiled June 5th at Milk Studios in New York City.

Generating murmurs and speculation at SXSW earlier this year, the new platform will randomly put Facebook users face-to-face with each other, echoing the notorious Chatroulette. 

On the website is a Facebook sign-up button for early access, a countdown clock (18 days to go now!), and job postings for technical talent.

Based in San Francisco, the website lists an impressive pedigree of investors who’ve supplied $8.3 million in funding: Founders Fund, Accel Partners, Andreessen Horowitz, Google Ventures, SV Angel, Yuri Milner, Scott Braun, TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington and celeb high-tech investors Ashton Kutcher and will.i.am.

Since Napster, Fanning has made the rounds of several companies including Snocap, digital music rights administration, Rapture, a social networking tool, and Path, a photo-sharing mobile service akin to Instagram.

Last October, Fanning and Parker said Airtime was inspired by Chatroulette, but would differ in being viral from the start. “[Chatroulette] was just scratching the surface of what it could be—a universal host that is introducing people, smashing people together,” said Fanning to TechCrunch.

“It was fascinating to watch in the sense that it was not a virally engineered product,” added Parker. “Here you have a product growing through organic word of mouth. It looked like Napster in 1999.” 

Business Insider interviewed an Airtime tester and garnered the following details:

• “There's a big video chat area, and a separate area where you can load up a YouTube playlist and watch Youtube videos.

• Users connection with others is, “Random but not totally random. They are people who have similar Facebook likes to you,” only they connect on Airtime.com, not as an app within Facebook.

• As for how it compares to Google Hangouts? “Google Hangouts is great for video-chatting with a bunch of people. I didn't see that feature in Airtime although they could add it. Also, the video was pretty delayed when I tried it. Hangouts video is super fast for me.”

• No Twitter integration and users use their Facebook name.” 

“We are trying to address the problem of what has happened the last 10 years of social media,” Parker told TechCrunch. “Your social network has become more rigid and constraining. Facebook is about identity, the people you already know. It has little to do with people you don’t know.”

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