New Video Chat Platform Airtime Brings Up Bad Madge Memory

A new social venture, Airtime, attracted plenty of attention at its launch event on Tuesday, June 5 in New York, mainly because of founders Sean Parker and Sean Fanning, famous for Napster and ties to the Facebook.

Airtime is a live video chat platform with a twist. While services like Skype connect you with people you already know, Airtime allows you to find new video chat partners based on interests, shared social connections and location. In other words, it hooks you up with not only your friends, but with people you’ve never met—or seen on a screen.

At the launch, Parker noted that Facebook wasn’t great at allowing people to make new friends, and told The New York Times that current social experiences were “boring.” This is from a guy who was instrumental in building Facebook, mind you.

Fanning and Parker said Airtime will be a safe place to spark interaction between strangers. There are the skeptics. Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner, told the Times that many people are wary of the video chat experience, and worry about such things as what they’re wearing and whether their hair looks good.

This brings up a real—and very disturbing—experience I had on Skype a few months ago. It was midnight, and I wanted to surf the Web while watching TV in our basement. As I settled into the lounge chair and opened up the sleeping MacBook Pro, my sister-in-law (we’ll call her Madge) suddenly appeared onscreen in the Skype window. I nearly threw the Mac across the room as I struggled to duck the webcam so she wouldn’t see my less-than-presentable attire. But if I didn’t acknowledge Aunt Madge, I’d be in trouble.

Ultimately, after an uncomfortable conversation I was able to sign off. But permanent psychological damage was done—to me—although Aunt Madge too has acted strangely since the incident. So, I think Gartenberg is on the right track with his view of Airtime. There’s too much of an element of surprise. If I felt weird about Aunt Madge, imagine how I’d feel chatting it up with strangers who might in fact turn out to be business associates.

Follow Scott Van Camp: @svancamp01