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Social networks make us lonely and messaging seems transactional. There still isn’t a vibrant, real-time place to hang out with friends online. Which is why, four years after the fall of Sean Parker’s chat roulette website, Airtime, he’s reviving it in a mobile chat room where friends can share photos, music and videos that they are all experiencing simultaneously.

Launch on ios and Android Today Airtime wants to simulate what it’s like to be in the same room with your favorite people, instead of being divided by asynchronous newsfeeds where we Likes each other. Parker tells me that unlike broadcast social media, “people can expect privacy, intimacy and closeness – a child of humanity rather than everything to be some form of theater or performance.” .

Basically, Airtime is all about adding 10, 20, or even 50 friends to a room that becomes your third persistent online space. Open your head anytime, your friends will be notified, and all of a sudden, you’re talking and experiencing the content as if you’re crowded around a desktop together. You can video chat with up to 6 friends at a time and watch each other’s reactions live on what you share.

Airtime is complex to the point of being intimidating, although it is also flexible enough to encompass most of the ways we express ourselves. Parker says he will be patient no matter how long it takes to develop a community for Airtime. But if Facebook Live and Snapchat Chat 2.0 are any indicator, real-time content and a sense of co-presence is where the social goes.

You can watch our quick video demo below

Off The Air, Under The Radar

Airtime was founded in 2011 and has grown to nearly $ 33 million top investors like Andreessen Horowitz, Accel, GV, Kleiner Perkins, Social Capital, CAA Ventures and Kevin Colleran.

It premiered a year later with a glitzy, celebrity-filled New York launch event. There was just one problem. “Tthe product did not work ” Parker admits. Demos crashed, Facebook’s invite system refused to work, and the experience of intimately co-watching with a stranger seemed awkward. No one has used it.

airtime-screenshot-2 (1)

Parker tells me “I wish I hadn’t been forced to release the original Airtime, “but he felt obligated by” this philosophy of iterating quickly and having to bring something to market. “He didn’t. had not been sufficiently tested for its scalability or suitability for the market.

Parker therefore shut it down, split from his former Napster colleague and Airtime co-founder Shawn Fanning (still a friend and shareholder), and acquired start-up studio K2 Labs to help rebuild something. that people would actually want.

To avoid the press, Airtime has tested concepts and versions of its applications in foreign countries under different names. Fortune discovered one of its tests called OK Hello it just made the chat room, not the concurrent content consumption. But now the full version is ready for her close-up.

Your digital clubhouse

IMG_6604The sense of urgency and liveliness is what makes Airtime different. It delivers on the promise of Google Hangouts… where no one has really hung out. Instead of having to schedule a video call or interrupt friends, you simply walk into your Airtime room, and the friends are already there or are drawn to the “doorbell” notifications triggered when people enter or share content. . If you have something everyone needs to see, you can hit the Signal button to invite everyone in the room to come and feast their eyes.

Instead of just posting content, you play it for everyone. Anyone can take over and “drive” the experience, choosing what is shown to everyone, whether it’s selecting a video and fast-forwarding, running a slideshow, or turn on some music.

You have the option to share from YouTube Live, YouTube, Spotify, SoundCloud, Giphy, Vimeo, IHeartRadio, TED and Vevo, as well as your location, photo slideshows from your camera or live video chat. If people turn on their cameras, you’ll see their reactions play out alongside the content. It simulates the experience of relaxing with friends on a couch with a laptop and taking turns offering what you recently discovered on the internet.

Airtime’s social graph is built from your phone contacts and email addresses, instead of relying on Facebook. Following people makes it easy to find them if you want to invite up to 250 people to a room.

Any room can be made private so that it is not discoverable in the room hint that people first see when opening the app, and you can set it so that new members have or do not have to ask to enter.

Airtime also uses smart growth hack. You can create a short video clip that you can share on Instagram or elsewhere, and Airtime will overlay a human-readable URL that your followers can type in to join your room.

Small airtime gif

While there is no current monetization plan, you can imagine Airtime suggesting some branded content for you and your friends to watch, like movie trailers or social media stars making clips with placement. of product.

The next frontier of presence

Airtime is addicting, but also a bit overwhelming. There are so many faces and options on the screen that the app can seem overwhelming. It’s basically what comes closest to an immersive social experience without a VR headset, although fast-moving coins might make you want to take a break. But the most popular mediums of content seem intense at first, from color TV and video games to augmented reality on the horizon.

Splash airtime

If messaging is used to plan what you do offline and Facebook is used to share those offline experiences online, Airtime aims to create a place on the Internet, to experience the Internet, together. The trick will be to forge a new pattern of behavior. It’s not about spreading content to thousands of people, dragging it to just one, or scrambling it into a utilitarian message thread.

Airtime will have to convince people to find the right place to build a venue for 10, 20, or 50 people so that there is always something going on and always something to come back to.

Parker tells me that “trying not to feel alone is not what I was looking for, but it is what I found on the internet – something that has since been destroyed, that has been chipped” by the network social he helped create: Facebook.

Maybe he’s spent the last five years building airtime to make up for it.

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