I first heard of Napster while in High School in Guatemala City. I must have been the last person on Earth to download it because everyone I knew was already raving about it by the time I heard of it. Napster was cool and Napster was for everyone. You could just sense that it was the beginning of something new, not just for the Internet but for music and society at large. Napster was like a symbol of revolution, freedom, youth and permanent change. That sort of thing.
Before MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker changed the world with Napster. They were teens themselves in 1999, and after quite eventful careers in the tech world, they are now collaborating to try to change world again - this time, with Airtime.
"What do you think about this Airtime?," asked the second person I Airtimed with just an hour or so ago. "It's not going to change the world," I told him. I followed that sentence with "At least not today."
Airtime is currently a website where you can video chat with friends and strangers that have things in common with you. Airtime requires a Facebook account and uses the Social Graph + Open Graph to connect you with people based on your "likes" and Facebook friends.
The first person I talked to was a guy from Brooklyn. He was normal. We both had several interests, like bands and movies, in common. We also had other common "likes" such as specific advertising agencies and tech startups. That first Airtime lasted 15 minutes. Even though the video conversation had been with a complete stranger and it ended by clicking on a "Next" button, the experience did not feel like ChatRoulette. It was different.
Sure, the concept is basically ChatRoulette 2.0. Without Facebook, Airtime would simply not be possible (sorry Twitter and Google+ fans). Airtime is not only influenced by ChatRoulette though. Elements, such as being able to watch YouTube videos together, were clearly influenced by Google+ Hangouts. And Airtime is fundamentally trying to take the idea of connecting with people around interests - which apps like Highlight and Glancee have been playing with - to the next level.
As I thought about how Airtime could be what Highlight and Glancee never were, I couldn't help but wonder about Airtime's mobile future. It's nice to be able to test Airtime with a bunch of so-called early adopters on the day that the app was launched, but does it mean I'll want to use it to talk to my wife or to meet people at SXSW 2013?
Maybe. It has to come to mobile first though, and the Sean/Shawn team has made it clear that Airtime is "coming soon" to mobile.
I don't like it when people say "coming soon." As a marketer, I know that I've abused the "coming soon" phrase before. it's what Instagram told everyone for a year and a half, and it's what Duke Nukem Forever claimed during fifteen years of development.
Well, apparently an Android app might be coming as soon as four weeks from now. At least that's what Sean Parker himself told me on Airtime today.
Did I mention that Airtime launched today June 5th?
Sean Parker just recently revealed Airtime to the world a few hours ago so I was a bit surprised when he popped up on my screen as the 4th person I ever "met" on Airtime.
"It's nice to be talking with the Sean Parker on Airtime's launch day," I said. He was wearing a blue hoodie and showed his face a bit more once he realized I had recognized him. Sean asked me where I was from and went on to share about how he had been waiting all day to be able to just hang out with some of the first people playing with Airtime. He gave me a bunch of achievement points, which is something that you can do on Airtime, and I asked what the point of such points was. He told me that they were going to become a more important part of the experience but that right now they were just there to help us interact with others, a feedback loop of sorts.
We talked about what his day had been like with the media and then I asked him about Android. He confirmed that they were indeed working on both an iOS app and an Android app. And that the latter might be coming out as soon as four weeks from now.
Good to know. I really hope he makes it happen quickly.
This could be the beginning of something that a mainstream audience would be interested in: A desktop + mobile app that's deeply integrated with Facebook where you can communicate and share content with your friends or meet the kind of strangers you'd like to meet in real life.
With new functionality like group chats, filtered search (so you can look for people that are similar to you in specific ways), live streaming, recording capabilities, then Airtime might just be the next Instagram. Or the next Socialcam. At the very least, it could be one of those Facebook acquisitions were the amount is never disclosed.
Airtime might not change the world today, especially not without a mobile app, but it was definitely created by people who know a thing or two about the topic. I have a hunch that Sean and Shawn have a plan for how Airtime could spread the way Napster did. Hopefully I'll catch Sean Parker again so I can ask him about filtered search. On Android, of course.