AirTime – Attempting to un-creep random real-time video conferencing

Jun 8, 2012 | Mobile & Web | Tech News


In the not so distant past ChatRoulette gained some popularity and pretty soon notoriety as a way to randomly and anonymously meet new people in a real-time video conference. It was quick to engage with (no software to install), ran in the browser and a few forward thinking brands integrated it into their campaigns with some really creative and hilarious executions, such as ‘The Last Exorcism.’

The primary problem for long term success was that it pretty soon become a denizen of the disrobed and the appeal to a mainstream audience pretty much vanished over night.

Enter the next contender to take a run at this space. Airtime from former Facebook Co-Founder Sean Parker is a more polished take on ChatRoulette that attempts to do away with the randomness by drawing upon your Facebook profile as a means to connect with people of shared interests. You remain anonymous unless you choose to share your identity with the other participant and one can also choose specific people from your Facebook friend list.


It’s a testament to the unpredictable and fickle nature of the digital realm that what might look good on paper might not actually resonate with an audience. While it’s pretty amazing that one can instantly take a glimpse into a stranger’s world in a matter of seconds, it’s not clear why you would really want to. In some ways the shock of seeing someone in high definition look at you before hitting the ‘next’ button in Airtime breaks all the social norms we have established in our day to day lives for talking with one another. It’s too intimate, too easy to dismiss the other person without consequence and there’s no real shared ground, activity or other reason to fall back on that could remove the awkwardness. An example of where these kinds of interactions can and do work would be something like a multi-player game where the focus is less on the individual initially, but more on the game goal or task at hand. Having said that, humans adapt quickly to their environment especially across generational gaps and new protocols for interaction will continue to evolve with new mediums.

As a marketer this raises questions around the opportunity. Can one create a reason to connect in this high bandwidth way that removes the awkwardness? Gaming seems like a no-brainer, but how does one evolve beyond that. Are there ways to obfuscate or create a way to interact with the other person that take advantage of the high bandwidth interactions, but lessen the chance the person will hit the ‘Next’ button? Some promising work in this area includes the addition of a realtime mask of celebrities that recognize and retain facial expressions, but provide a layer of anonymity that may allow for deeper engagement. For a movie studio this could provide brand engagement by taking on a character in the movie; for a makeup company maybe you can compare the latest shades of lipstick. We think there are great ways to connect in these new shared spaces, the trick is making the user comfortable enough to engage.


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