Sean Parker, an early investor in Facebook Inc. (FB), calls Facebooking boring so he launches Airtime, a new service that allows users to chat by video and share files with friends and strangers.
During a star-studded event in New York that included rapper Snoop Dog, actor Jim Carrey and singer Alicia Keys, TV host and model Olivia Munn and Parker showed off Airtime, a video site connected to the Facebook platform that includes a “next” button to find a random chat partner, similar to the once-hot online video service Chatroulette.
Parker, who co-founded Napster Inc. and now Airtime Media Inc. with Shawn Fanning, said randomized video is outside Facebook’s area of interest and the social network already has its hands full building its service. Parker and Fanning, who said they met on the Internet, wanted to make it easy for friendships to begin by connecting people who have shared Facebook interests.
Parker said at the event.
“Facebook isn’t helping you make new connections, Facebook doesn’t develop new relationships, Facebook is just trying to be the most accurate model of your social graph. There’s a part of me that feels somewhat bored by all of this. There’s no room for serendipity.”
The presentation didn’t go off smoothly. At one point, Carrey wasn’t aware that the video cut off and continued a performance backstage, before he was called to come on.
Comedian Olivia Munn after several delays, before saying she doesn’t believe in God said.
“This is not how it’s really operating, I swear to God.”
Parker said after the event that the actors helped ensure that even if things didn’t go according to plan, people would still have fun.
He said in an interview.
“In the event that things went horribly wrong, which they did, everyone was a comedian, everyone was improvising.”
COMMENTARY: The Airtime launch press conference got off to a shakey start and even the star-studded event could not save Parker and Fanning from a five-minute stretch where the product didn’t work in demo mode (the real product hadn’t gone live yet). A call to Snoop Dogg took a few tries. When Joel McHale, a TV host came on, the product failed to work for several minutes. He asked Parker on-stage.
“Whose ass are you going to fire?”
“This is not how it really operates, I swear to fucking God. You have to go onto it, use it and then write your blog posts.”
It eventually started working again and McHale got on a call with Seinfeld’s Julia Louis Dreyfus, who then got on a call with The Hangover’s Ed Helms, who then got on a call with Alicia Keys.
In a later call, Helms tried to dial Airtime’s headquarters in San Francisco. But they didn’t pick up. McHale joked to Parker.
“Your own office isn’t answering?!”
They didn’t show off the real, live mode where you’re paired with strangers.
Even though the packaging their work comes in today is far more extravagant, Airtime is still weirdly true to Parker’s and Fanning’s teenage selves. Parker said of originally meeting Fanning.
“We felt like the only people in this world who had an interest in screwing with other people’s lives.”
He later said that with the loss of anonymity and the rise of Facebook’s social graph, the web has changed in a few ways for the worst. He said.
“Nothing spontaneous ever seems to happen on the Internet. There’s no room for randomness. The social graph is actually somewhat stifling. Your ability for self-expression is actually limited when all of your friends are watching what you do.”
Airtime feels like Parker’s grown-up attempt to reach back into his miscreant past. The big question though is whether a celeb-packed launch will help Airtime have as huge a cultural impact as the humble premiere Napster had. Time will tell.
This is a great example of not rehearsing or conducting a soft launch of a new product. Had Parker and Fanning done this, they may have avoided this near disaster. This should serve as a valuable lesson and advice for those of you who are launching a new product for the first time.
Whether Airtime has the potential to really take-off remains to be seen. Live video chat has been around for several years. Le Chatroulette has obviously made it work. It enhances the online social experience, but will not replace regular social networking. Zuck will probably like it provides Facebook users another platform to socialize and share content online. Now the big question: How are Parker and Fanning going to make money off of Airtime?
To use Airtime, you must have a Facebook account and login using that account to access Airtime. In order to use Airtime you must have a webcam installed, your computer should run at 1.5Ghz or faster, have 512MB of RAM and you must have 1.5Mbps broadband. I don't know if Airtime will be available for mobile devices. I'm sure a mobile app is coming. Hopefully sooner rather than later, since nearly half of Facebook's users access the site through a mobile device. If anybody knows, let me know.