Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning launch Airtime video network

5 Jun 2012

The team that brought the world Napster in 1999 is back with a new disruptive start-up called Airtime – a video social network that promises high-quality videoconferencing that will compete with Skype and other video networks.

Parker, who also played a role in Facebook’s early days, and Fanning, whose invention of peer-to-peer (P2P) technology for sharing music turned the music industry on its head, say Airtime is designed to create live-shared experiences online.

“Airtime is the most efficient, easy to use, browser-based video chat service between friends using their existing Facebook networks,” they wrote in Airtime’s blog. “The service allows you to share live experiences through content, and expand beyond your social graph to discover new people through similar interests in an environment that is collaborative, fun and safe.”

At the time of writing some 12,101 people had logged into Airtime.

Airtime is now available online. No download is required and all users need is a Facebook account and a webcam.

Will Airtime succeed?

That depends on what Airtime will do that is different to what MSN, Yahoo!, Skype and of course Facebook’s Skype integration can do. Oh, and let’s not forget Google+ Hangouts.

On first perusal, Airtime’s integration with Facebook gives you a cleaner and clearer indication of who’s available to chat among your Facebook friends, for example, and it makes good use of the screen real estate on your computer.

The real test will be obviously monetisation and whether the platform will also integrate with the other big social networks, namely Twitter and Google+.

Quality wise, the use of an entire portrait segment of your laptop screen promises excellent quality and the interface is clean and simple to use.

A rolling tickertape tells you what’s trending and when you click on a subject it attempts to find people interested in the same subject.

Strangely, Flash seems to be the underlying technology powering Airtime, which is strange when you consider the rising clamour for HTML 5.

So the next question is monetisation. Something popped up earlier on my Airtime screen reminding me I was on a free trial, so a subscriptions model is the obvious plan, no doubt helped by advertising and sponsorship.

But how will that work in a market where most people use Skype and Google+ Hangouts for free? Only time will tell.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years