One minute into using Airtime I was laughing with someone I’d never met. That’s something special when despite all the asynchronous connection, the Internet threatens to make us feel lonely. On Airtime, you experience together thanks to real-time video chat and video sharing. You’re both the performer and the audience. When you look at your friend or a stranger you’ve been paired with, you get their body language, gestures, and attitude. Co-founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning tell me that on Airtime “there’s a depth of communication that doesn’t come through on something like Facebook. It’s much higher bandwidth.”
The Internet doesn’t have to isolate us. In fact, it’s a party, and Parker and Fanning aim to be the hosts. “Airtime relates people to each other, makes the connections as comfortable as possible. But without a facilitator [like Airtime], the fear of rejection is so powerful” Fanning adds. “People are way more entertaining than we give them credit for” Parker adds.
Long ago when Airtime’s founders met over IRC, real-time chat was the medium of choice, and interactions seemed more genuine. But as content feeds took over we began shouting into the darkness, and going through the motions of checking for Likes and retweets, the simplified symbols of human connection.
But oer the years the groundwork was laid for a more realistic interaction medium. Parker tells me there’s four reasons Airtime wasn’t possible until now:
Flash, the technical foundation of Airtime, finally works peer-to-peer. This allows for high-resolution real-time video communication from the browser without the need to install software, and without a prohibitive strain on centralized servers.
The widespread deployment of webcams. “800 million webcams will ship this year, 2x what shipped last year. That represents an inflection point.” Now most people have webcams, and that wasn’t true a few years ago.
Broadband deployment has reached the point where it can support high-definition video for most people.
Facebook has become nearly ubiquitous. “It’s not the perfect representation of the real world social graph, but it’s close and it’s the most complete.” You don’t want to go re-create the graph, but you can leverage it to connect people.
Combined with Airtime’s design where both conversation partners share the screen equally, these permit for some of the most vivid human interactions the web has seen.
Today you can video chat with one person on Airtime, or pull in videos from sites like YouTube to watch together, but Parker tells me Airtime is considering group chat and synchronous music listening. It also has firm plans to become an app platform, so third-party developers can build new ways for us to share. And finally, Parker says mobile apps are “coming very soon. The most important experience that’s missing right now is just this seamless web experience but we’ll follow up soon with apps for iOS, Android…”