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Could Airtime.com Be Priceless To Facebook?

Airtime is the new video chat system released by Napster creator Shawn Fanning and Facebook co-founder Sean Parker. Aimed at bringing video conferencing into the very mainstream of social networks. Although we’re not allowed to call it video conferencing. Far too formal. It’s ‘chat’.

Introducing Airtime from Airtime on Vimeo.

For success, Airtime relies on you, a member of Facebook, and all your personal information, to build the first foundations of a much bigger network of users. Seems like a lot of valuable info, so what’s in it for Facebook?

Seems Familiar

You would be forgiven if you thought that Airtime resembled another chat network. You may be thinking of Chatroulette, which achieved a certain level of infamy if nothing else, allowing you to connect to a video call with a randomly picked person instantly.

Chatroulette soon became an abused system, in which the anonymity and ease of clicking ‘next’ left the worthy social interactions and even chance of interactions a distant memory. Nevertheless, it seems like an area worthy of a crack by the big players in the world of social media.

The Facebook Connection

Airtime allows you to connect to a video call via your computer and webcam, and then seeks to match you to another person dependent on certain variable such as your location, interests and mutual Facebook friends. The benefit to Facebook in this system is that you are effectively logging in. More user stats = more ad revenue.

When using airtime, there is the same initial excitement as when Chatroulette was released, the interface is slick and reassuringly familiar. Almost too familiar.

The chat interface that pops up in the bottom right of the screen looks like a direct port of the Facebook text based chat window, masked with an odd tinge of green .The integration of information, contacts, even down to videos you have posted, is all directly ported from Facebook. In one way this feels like a feature of Facebook, not a freestanding platform.

In another altogether more scary way, it’s a demonstration of just how easily all of your harvested information can be whipped straight out of the Zuckerburg factory and used at will.

Will We Use It?

It is too early to say whether airtime will become as large a part of our internet usage as Facebook. On the back of how many people use video calling on mobiles, I suspect not. You can suggest to people how to use your new invention, but you will never truly know how it will be used and adapted. There is every chance that airtime could be used for business. A cheap solution for small business I.T support, allowing your employees to work with a familiar format that would require no additional training and be accessed from any browser.

Nurturing And Growing

Airtime pushes us toward meeting of new people, drawing your attention to the ‘Talk to someone’ button, disturbingly reminiscent of a plea from the good Samaritans. The mutual friends element further stimulates the growth of your ‘friendship’ group.

For most Facebook users, it is fashionable to add only friends that you know, or have met, in real life. Indeed there used to be a warning that popped up telling you to only add people that you trust if you were a bit friend request happy, such is the level of information that someone could glean from your profile.

Airtime is looking to redefine ‘have met’, so that you would have gained a level of trust by meeting someone via video on Airtime and would be comfortable adding them as a friend on Facebook. So you add more friends, as does everyone else, Facebook grows, and makes more money. The growth of these new relationships will prove to be the real value for Facebook – as the social networking platform becomes practically ubiquitous, the unconverted become harder and harder to reach. These are users who might never have come round to Facebook, and that’s what’s priceless about Airtime.

Over time, we will see whether Airtime will flourish, or become a cheap business tool for boardroom communication, outsourcing and IT services companies to operate remotely.

The question for the casual user will be whether meeting someone via a video link creates a strong enough bond for you to be able to evolve the relationship onto Facebook.

Author Bio:- James Duval is an IT manager who blogs about business and technology for Electronic Workplace, who offer small business I.T. support.

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