Facebook backer launches site for 'lonely' internauts
SEAN PARKER, an early executive at Facebook, is starting a video chat website because he says social media sites are making people lonelier.
Unveiled at a celebrity-studded but glitch-prone event in New York yesterday, the new Airtime site allows users to video chat with their Facebook friends or talk anonymously to other people who share similar interests.
Mr Parker says Airtime will solve a social problem that has arisen with the rapid adoption of social networking sites such as Facebook, where face-to-face conversations and human interactions are often reduced to impersonal clicks and status updates.
“You are just clicking and never really engaging in a deep way with anyone,” said Mr Parker, who has a stake in Facebook valued at $2.65 billion (€2.13 billion). “There is a lot lost, and the result is this sense of dehumanisation.”
Airtime’s media briefing started about 50 minutes late and suffered a series of technical glitches that stalled the demonstration. “We really have no business being in the technology business right now,” Mr Parker quipped.
He noted that the special demonstration was not the live product, and added he had not had any sleep after being up all night working on the product launch.
Once under way, Airtime’s demonstration featured a parade of celebrities, including American rapper Snoop Dogg and actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who tested the video chat and mocked its teething problems.
The venture reunites Mr Parker and Shawn Fanning, his co-founder at Napster, the file-sharing site that upset the music industry. The duo will lead Airtime, with Mr Parker as chairman and Mr Fanning as chief executive.
After building a user base, Airtime expects to make money by selling advertisements or virtual goods, among other potential revenue streams.
The pair said they thought the time was right for a new video chat service, given the prevalence of webcams and fast internet connections that can support video streaming. People have already used Facebook to map their social connections and are ready for new technologies to connect with one another, they said.
Noting that other video chat sites had developed a reputation for attracting lewd content, Airtime executives say they have built automatic “abuse prevention” filters. If a video appears to include a human body but no face, the system will flag the account for review by “hundreds of people working overseas” who monitor screen shots, Mr Parker said.
Based in San Francisco, Airtime has raised $33 million (€26.5 million) in funding and employs about 30 people, including engineers who have worked at Facebook and online video site Hulu.– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2012)