It's been a busy week on Internet Evolution, what with 7DEE and Smarter Analytics Clan Radio and all. But I hope you didn't think we'd miss a prime opportunity to make fun of Airtime, the brand new video chat service that nobody needs.
In case you're unfamiliar, Airtime is not quite Google Hangouts, nor is it quite Chatroulette (remember that?), but it's something in between, and it leverages Facebook.
Also: It's stupid.
But let's back up a bit: Airtime is the child of Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning, best known as the founders of Napster. You may have hoped they'd just go away after that, but alas. Their startup video service has already raised $33.5 million in funding because, hey, what is money but green, rectangular pieces of paper?
Well, you'd think with that kind of cash, a team might be able to have a successful launch. But rather than use its funding to make sure the technology worked, Parker and Fanning hired a bunch of celebrities (Jim Carrey, Alicia Keys, etc.) to launch the service on Tuesday. But as CNET writes of the Airtime event, "Parker's attempt to demonstrate the service was foiled at every turn. Numerous attempts to connect with celebrities via the Web service failed. Not even the microphones worked at some points... I couldn't tell if we were being put on."
Ah, how I wish this service were a joke. Disastrous launch aside, I was unfortunately able to successfully test Airtime out today. It pained me to do so, seeing as it requires a Facebook login and the surrendering of the following: your email address and profile information including "description, activities, birthday, education history, hometown, interests, likes, location, religious and political views and work history."
Ugh! The things I do for you guys!
After crying a little and logging in with my Facebook info, I was posed with the option to "Talk to Someone." I could choose to talk to someone based on who was nearby, someone with common interests, and/or "friends of friends."
After choosing "Common Interests" I reluctantly hit the "Talk to Someone" button. At this point, I was faced with a random stranger who Airtime decided shared interests with me (even though the bulleted list of his interests suggested he didn't -- minor detail!).
The stranger said an awkward "Hello."
Then he said, "Hello?"
Then he said, "I guess you're busy."
And that was the extent of my Airtime experience... I hit the "End" button, disabled the app from my Facebook page, and carried on -- because, guess what? I don't actually want to video chat with online strangers! And I can't imagine that there's a huge market out there of people who do. Nor do I think Facebook's algorithms are all that good at matching people up based on shared interests or anything else.
If there is a social network doing a good job with video chat, it is, indeed, Google+. While Google's social network may be a ghost town (sorry, Scoble!), the Hangouts feature is an excellent one, lending itself to both personal and professional use.
The Airtime team seems to think it's filling a void on the Web for a video chat service that pairs you up with allegedly like-minded strangers. My sense is that such an idea has limited appeal and if this does catch on, it'll die out very quickly. In short, talking to strangers over video chat online is an awkward and uncomfortable waste of time.
Or as my colleague Mitch Wagner brilliantly put it during a phone chat earlier this week: If you want to meet strangers, go outside.
— Nicole Ferraro, , Editor in Chief, Internet Evolution