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Airtime launches as promising video social network

The highly-anticipated startup from Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning launched to much fanfare today, and I have to admit, I think it will be a hit — especially among the younger crowd. Airtime.com enables Facebook users to video chat with friends or people of similar interests straight from a browser. The best way to understand how it works is to watch this video demo, or I’ll walk you through it:

To get started, all you’ll need to do is connect with Facebook. Here are two people chatting — both labeled anonymous until they agree to “add” each other — and they’ve connected over common friends, locations and interests, which are displayed in the center. As we’ve all known from meeting people for the first time, this context is invaluable, enabling you to jump into a conversation right off the bat.

Once you’ve added someone, their name and location appears, and they’re available in your contacts.

“We look at Airtime as if it were a smart and engaging host,” said Fanning. “Airtime is a service that does everything it can to help you find the people that you should know, and then guide your conversations further. These are connections that wouldn’t be possible in the real world. If you look at this from an idealistic standpoint, Airtime is something only technology can facilitate. And it is finally possible with the ubiquity of webcams, broadband connections and a highly developed identity layer.”

Airtime has taken the best element of Chatroulette — the spontaneity of meeting people via video chat — and provided a structure of privacy and common interests. After setting some constraints, just click the “next” button to see who Airtime introduces you to.

“There’s something exciting about bringing spontaneity to the Internet,” said Parker. “All of your
interactions online are constrained by the people you already know. That wasn’t always the case. If it
weren’t for the internet, Fanning and I would have never become friends. As we move from a social graph
to an interest graph, there are great possibilities for our world. That’s what we’re trying to tap into with
Airtime.”

Users can also watch YouTube clips together as well as leave video messages for each other. Airtime says other social features tied to video are coming soon.

If you still doubt the potential for success with Airtime, Parker and Fanning are using the tried-and-true approach of lining up a bunch of celebrities to use the service. We attended the NYC launch today, and Jimmy Fallon introduced Parker and Fanning along with Jim Carrey, Ed Helms, Alicia Keys, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Joel McHale, Olivia Munn and Snoop Dogg.

At one point, the product demo tanked, and McHale worked his magic with the crowd for several minutes, keeping them laughing until Airtime came up for air.

Your thoughts? Will Airtime succeed?

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