Napster creator Shawn Fanning and his former business partner, the Facebook billionaire Sean Parker must have thought nothing could possibly go wrong with the launch of their new product Airtime. $33m gathered in pre-launch funding, A-list celebrities including Jim Carrey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Snoop Dogg in attendance at the launch, and significant media interest and scrutiny.
But as the logo was unveiled everything came to a grinding halt. The launch was delayed for over an hour as the ‘custom-built intranet’ failed to connect, and the service simply didn’t work. Through the chaos, Fanning and Parker blustered that nothing was wrong with Airtime itself, and that the program had been working for them all night prior to the launch.
Airtime has been received considerable hype. According to Fanning and Parker, Airtime is “the first live video network,” but effectively it is a combination of ChatRoulette, Skype, YouTube and Facebook.
What it hopes to do is put people in touch not only with their friends, but with like-minded people nearby and around the world. This means that you can watch YouTube videos or listen to songs together, before discussing them.
While it promises to be an interesting product, commentators have been quick to point out its deficiencies, including the fact that it runs on Flash (which some developers don’t like) and it has no mobile support, so unlike Apple’s Facetime, people can’t use it to communicate from their mobile phones.
More problematic is that Airtime has already been talking about its plans for monetisation, including full-screen ads and virtual goods. Usually tech launches take their time building up an audience on goodwill, providing the best possible service before trying to make money out of them.
Some commentators such as Econsultancy’s Patricio Robbles have suggested that Airtime could be the next Color – a tech launch that went horribly wrong, but with Mark Zuckerberg lending his weight to the project, the former Napster founders could yet have a hit on their hands.