Airtime, a new social video network founded by Sean Parker of Napster fame, aims to connect users with live video chats in “an environment that is collaborative, fun and safe.” Think of Airtime as Chatroulette… without the nudity.
Released on June 5, Airitime users (Airtimers) can only launch Airtime by connecting with Facebook and must do so by setting up their computer’s webcam and microphone. Users can choose to chat with their Facebook friends, nearby Airtimers, Airtimers who are friends of your friends, and Airtimers who share your interests.
When Airtime connects users with someone via video chat, it gives the users context about mutual friends and any similar interests they might share. My experience with the site was similar to meeting people in a bar or at a party. The Airtimers I spoke with mostly talked about how interesting the site was and whether or not they thought it would catch on.
The people I encountered were technologists, early adopters, or otherwise involved in startup culture. When you’re chatting with someone, your interests — politics, sports, religion, movies, etc. — are all front and center before you even finish introducing yourself. It design is to remove the investigative work from your conversation.
When you’re chatting with someone on Airtime, you’ll notice a button in the center of your screen that, when clicked, gives points, known as applause, to the person with whom you’re chatting. If a user’s applause meter on their screen gets filled up, he or she receive an “Applause Badge.” As of now, the applause points and badges don’t have any consequence on the site other than as a measure of status.
Airtime tears apart the social constructs of conversation. For example: if I know that you’re a Democrat, I probably won’t want to talk about the Wisconsin recall since I’m a Republican. Based on the intelligence you have about your Airtime partner before he or she even opens his or her mouth, it’s possible to have a conversation only about things on which you both agree. No arguments, no controversy — where’s the fun in that?
The real-time feedback you get during the conversation can also be jarring. In a face-to-face conversation, you have to figure out whether or not you’re boring someone by watching body language or seeing if that person is scanning the room for someone else. When using Airtime, you let someone know they’re a bore by not giving them any applause. Their status as a bore is then signalled to every user they encounter by their low applause points total.
After about forty-five minutes of chatting with strangers on Airtime, it finally hit me: I could have spent this time at a bar, chatting with people I actually know, like, and, possibly, disagree with.