Airtime Release Begs The Question: Is Video Chat Web 3.0?

Posted by · June 6, 2012 4:11 pm

It’s only been hours since I shared the CNBC analyst’s prediction that Facebook only has five to eight years left before it basically disappears. But what if even five years is too generous a prediction?

Here’s what I mean: When Eric Jackson said that “something new is going to come along” and ultimately reduce Facebook to the status of Web 1.0 has-beens like Yahoo, what if that something new is something that has been around but is yet to be perfected to the point of massive buy-in?

To put it another way: What if video chat is Web 3.0?

Airtime Goes Live. Video Chat Goes Mainstream.

Image representing Shawn Fanning as depicted i...In a Wednesday article in The Washington Post, writer Hayley Tsukayama gives readers reason to believe that video chat may finally have found its edge—thanks, in part, to this week’s unveil of Airtime. The brain child of Napster greats Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning, Airtime marks the latest attempt to bring video chat into the mainstream. And, notwithstanding a few technical hiccups at first, Airtime does show a lot of promise.

Tsukayama writes:

The product itself is a cross between Skype, Google Hangouts and ChatRoulette, all of which have broken off different pieces of what is interesting potential for the Internet, capturing spontaneous interactions on the Web.

The main distinguishing feature of Airtime, though, is the random chat function, which lets you troll the service for unplanned conversations. You can narrow possible participants by geographic area or interest, based on what you’ve listed on Facebook.

Great potential or not, CNET’s Greg Sandoval rebuts, there is still one thing a product like Airtime lacks:

Because of the success [Parker and Fanning] had [at Napster] and in the years since, it would be hard to write this duo off, even with a buggy launch for Airtime.

Still, it’s tempting to dismiss the service. Here’s what I mean: As near as I can tell, Airtime isn’t very different from ChatRoulette, the service founded by teenage Russian entrepreneur Andrey Ternovskiy. After a massive spike in interest in 2010, ChatRoulette just as quickly fell out of favor.

[And] ChatRoulette wasn’t the first or last video chat play. There have been lots of them, and none has caught on for any length of time. Cool technology or not, the demand for this kind of service has yet to emerge.

Fair enough. But that doesn’t mean Airtime isn’t the right formula to give video chat long-term vitality. Furthermore—assuming that the necessary infrastructure is all there—making a product go mainstream in this day and age requires something more: the right pitch.

Tsukayama explains:

Video chat still mostly advertised as a way to teleconference, talk to distant relatives or conduct remote job interviews. And random interactions, as exciting as they may seem, are still mostly reserved to, say, app game matches. Putting a face—even an anonymous one—out there still feels personal. Even other video chat services, such as WhosHere, which use anonymous video chats for dating services, but also obviously match users by interest.

Therefore, it seems to be more of a question of when video chat will go mainstream, not if. That is, it seems a bit ignorant of the Web’s history—or all history for that matter—to suggest past failures are indicative of future impossibilities. Even in its hay day, MySpace only had a fraction of the users that Facebook now boasts. In other words, MySpace’s limited success was hardly an indication of social media’s maximum potential.

Even if Airtime doesn’t turn out to be video chat’s big break, the potential is no less present—which brings me to my other, more important point.

Video Chat Is Web 3.0

I know what you’re thinking. Assuming Airtime marks a definitive breakthrough for video chat technology, isn’t its success largely dependent on Facebook. And the answer is yes—well, sort of. While a product like Airtime does make big gains by tapping into Facebook’s 900 million users, it does not rely on Facebook staying the Facebook we currently know it to be. In fact, Facebook (and social media at large) may well ultimately serve the same general use to video chat that email currently serves to social media—as a means of logging in and making initial contacts.

English: Yahoo! headquarters

Just as many of the original uses of email were replaced by the much faster, far more personal interaction offered by social media—turning our Yahoo inboxes into hubs for Facebook notifications and our contact lists into Friend finders—video chat seems poised to make a similar impact on social media. As is demonstrated with many of the games we play, the music we listen to, and the other apps we use, Facebook has already let its identity become equated to that of a universal login—a means of interacting with our contacts in other, non-Facebook forums. Except unlike using your Facebook login to play a round of Words With Friends or listen to Pandora, using Facebook as a gateway to a video chat product hits at the core of what Facebook proper actually does.

I mean, why spend time on posting on somebody’s Wall or commenting on something if you can video chat with that person (or leave a video message)?

By engaging more of the senses than reading a Wall post or comment does, the right video chat product stands to completely revolutionize the way we regularly communicate with each other online. After all, what’s more engaging, productive, and enlightening than an in-person conversation?

And until on-demand teleportation becomes a possibility, it seems video chat may be the logical next step in the quest to make every interaction as personal as possible.

For more on Airtime, Video Chat and Web 3.0 . . .

  • john

    Video messages might catch on. Live video chat – nah. What facebook shows is people want the pretence of commnication without really talking. Same with texting. You could push a different button on the phone and get a high bandwidth audio connect, but choose to communicate in relatively slow short texts?