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Airtime, a new video chatting service, launches amid glitches


Airtime, a new video chatting service that allows users to talk to other users at random, launched on Tuesday.

Airtime, a new video chatting service, launched on Tuesday in New York with equal parts star power and technical glitches, CNN Money reported.

The service, founded by Napster creators Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker (who was also the founding president of Facebook), allows users to anonymously chat with others based on their common interests, geography, or just random searches.

“We’re trying to restore surprise and serendipity to the Internet,” Parker told the New York Times. “It was definitely there in the early days, but it has disappeared.”

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The new chatting application was inspired heavily by 2010's Internet sensation Chatroulette, which allowed video chatters to "next" others until someone they were interested in appeared on the screen. However, the site soon became marred by what Bloomberg Businessweek dubbed "the penis problem," further explained as "the impulse of otherwise rational men to celebrate a webcam chat by exposing themselves." 

Airtime has attempted to circumvent Chatroulette's, ahem, shortcomings by linking up to Facebook: users sign in with their accounts, which lets Airtime import their photo, identifying information like their hometown and job, and all the things they’ve said they “like” on the popular social media network, according to Bloomberg. Users can then talk with Facebook friends or strangers, and both identities remain hidden until you "add" someone as a friend, according to the site. 

Parker told the audience at the launch that Airtime has built-in accountability because of its link to Facebook, CNET reported.

"The system knows who you are," he told the audience at the product's unveiling, even though your new friend may not.  

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Airtime's launch, which was peppered with demonstrations by celebrities including actress Olivia Munn, rapper Snoop Dogg, and comedian Joel McHale, was much-buzzed about, but the event itself was full of technical difficulties, according to CNN.

"Glitch after glitch marred Airtime's first public showing, leaving the event's collection of celebrities riffing and improvising onstage while engineers tried to fix the bugs and revive dropped connections," wrote CNN's Laurie Segall. 

However, it may not just be the technical issues that keep video chatting services like Airtime from catching on in the same way other new forms of communication like texting, IMing or e-mail did. 

“Some people are still leery of the whole video experience,” Michael Gartenberg, an analyst at Gartner who follows the consumer Web, told the New York Times. “There are still a number of social inhibitors to video chat that have nothing to do with technology. People worry whether their hair is looking good and if they have to get dressed before taking a call.”

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[View the story "Airtime gets mixed reviews on Twitter" on Storify]