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Napster team’s Airtime suggests video chats based on Facebook info

Screengrab from the new Airtime video service launched Tuesday June 5, 2012, by Napster co-founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning

Sean Parker, first president of Facebook, is starting a video chat site because he thinks that social media is making people lonelier.

Unveiled at a celebrity-studded New York event on Tuesday, the new site called Airtime requires that people log in with their Facebook account. It then allows them to video chat with a person they are Facebook friends with or find someone to talk to anonymously who shares similar interests. Users also can watch online videos together.

Mr. Parker says Airtime will solve a social problem that has arisen amid the rapid adoption of Facebook – in which he has a stake valued at $2.65-billion – and other social networking sites where face-to-face conversations and human interactions have been reduced to impersonal clicks and status updates.

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"You are just clicking and never really engaging in a deep way with anyone," he said in an interview. "There is a lot lost, and the result is this sense of dehumanization."

Mr. Parker has reunited with Shawn Fanning, his co-founder at Napster – the music file-sharing site that disrupted the music industry – to launch the venture. The duo will lead Airtime, with Mr. Parker as chairman and Mr. Fanning as chief executive.

After building a user base, Airtime expects to make money by selling ads or virtual goods, among other potential revenue streams.

The pair said they thought the time was right for a new video chat service, given the ubiquity of webcams and fast Internet connections that can support video streaming. People already have used Facebook to map their social connections and are ready for new technologies to connect with one another, they said.

Noting that other video chat sites, such as Chatroulette, had developed a reputation for attracting lewd content, Airtime executives had built automatic "abuse prevention" filters into the site. If a video appears to include a human body but no face, for instance, the system will flag the account for review by "hundreds of people working overseas" who monitor screen shots for Airtime, Mr. Parker said. Those who violate the site's terms of service are removed.

Based in San Francisco, Airtime has raised a total of about $33-million in funding and employs about 30 people, including engineers who have worked at Facebook and online video site Hulu.

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