Sean Parker's Airtime video chat service launches

Napster co-founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning unveil the Web chat service at an event in New York, but there were some hiccups.

Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning Airtime

NEW YORK -- After months of hype, Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning's latest venture, a video chat service called Airtime, launched today.

Airtime has been described as an evolved version of Chatroulette, a video service that randomly matched up people for chatting. The new venture matches people with common interests and social connections in video chat sessions.

It is the latest undertaking from the co-founders of Napster, which helped revolutionize how music was obtained over the Internet. While Napster ultimately faded away, it fundamentally changed how the music industry operated and viewed online content. Parker and Fanning are hoping to have the same impact with Airtime, and launched the service with a star-studded press conference featuring Jimmy Fallon and Snoop Dogg in New York.

The app works in Facebook, and has been in development for more than a year. Similar to Chatroulette, the app appears with two screens to accommodate the user and a friend. The two can share videos and files or just talk.

Let's hope the app is less buggy than it was during the presentation. This was not an Apple-esque launch. There were problems connecting to people using the system, problems with the microphone, and Parker was visibly upset. Joel McHale, a comedian and TV actor, helped save the day.

"Sean, whose ass are you going to fire?" McHale said. Actors Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jim Carrey were on hand to help demo the service but the glitches prevented them from doing so. Still, they did a good job of distracting the audience while technicians tried to fix the problems.

Eventually, the Airtime people gave up on trying to demonstrate the product and they just played a video demo.

The service features green-shaded boxes beneath each participant showing common interests. Friends can award one another "applause meter" points.

Parker told the audience that he was getting bored with the Web and that he Fanning wanted to "create an environment to help people to realize their creative potential."

"There's no serendipity," Parker said. "Everything now is filtered through the social graph. We have the ability to share media faster than ever before. But the social network is somewhat constraining. It is become an increasingly public forum. You're doing everything in front of your friends and that's limiting."

He said he wants to help people break out of the social graph. So, Airtime is a Web-based application designed to foster spontaneous sharing and interaction with video. There's no download or registration required.

Parker, a fixture in the Silicon Valley scene, gained mainstream fame as one of the men behind the rise of Facebook, especially following the release of the Oscar-winning movie "The Social Network."

Updated at 9:19 a.m. PT: to include comments from the press conference.

 

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