Napster Founders Launch Airtime Video Chat App

Jon Swartz, USA Today

Airtime, the secretive social-video site created by Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning, went live today. Literally. Some are calling it Silicon Valley's Next Big Startup.

The live, one-on-one video service — unveiled in a star-studded press conference featuring Jimmy Fallon, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Snoop Dogg in New York — hopes to connect millions of people based on interests and social connections, with some random Chatroulette thrown in.

The Facebook app, in the works for more than a year, appears as a split-screen, with the user on the left side and a friend on the right. They can share videos or just talk. Green-shaded boxes beneath each participant show common interests. Friends can award one another "applause meter" points.

It is available as a Facebook Web app today. Mobile versions are planned.

Airtime wants to let people forge new relationships on the Internet and "break outside the social graph," the Sean & Shawn team says.

"In one sense, the Internet has become dehumanized. … It is boring," Parker said in an interview Friday at his San Francisco apartment, where he and Fanning demonstrated the product to USA TODAY.

"This is something very important to people, and their personal happiness, that the Internet isn't doing well," Fanning added.

The new video service builds on YouTube and Skype in the evolution of video communications on the Web and mobile devices, say analysts and tech executives.

Airtime will "make two-way conversation over video more common on the Web and mobile," says Bill Nguyen, CEO of Color, a video-broadcasting app for smartphones that expects to compete with YouTube. "It is a huge advance for this market."

Media analyst Rich Greenfield, who was briefed on the product, says Airtime is on a collision course with Skype. "It's Skype without software," says media analyst Rich Greenfield. "You see your (Facebook) friends online and click chat, just like you do with IM. There's no waiting or connection lags."

Fanning and Parker bring plenty of star power to Airtime. They turned the music industry on its ear more than a decade ago as founders of music-sharing site Napster. Fanning later co-founded Snocap, and Parker was Facebook's first president, where he advised Mark Zuckerberg and helped build Facebook's popular photo app. Despite the turbulent start of Facebook's IPO, Parker's stock is worth more than $2 billion.

Adding to their new startup's pedigree: $25 million in funding from the likes of venture-capital powerhouse Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and the ubiquitous Ashton Kutcher.