Airtime Tackles the Internet's Lonely Male Problem

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This afternoon Napster creators Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning launched something that sounds awfully similar to Chatroulette, that randomized video chatting service turned into a hub for exhibitionist men before it was shut down. Parker and Fanning call their new service Airtime and just like Chatroulette its mission is to connect the Internet via video chatting, but with fewer unwelcome genitals. "No penises" even made it into the PowerPoint at today's presentation, Beta Beat's Adrienne Jeffries tweeted. But, at the end of the day, this is the Internet. And, we should know this by now: the Internet has a lonely male problem, as Skift founder Rafat Ali dubbed it. When certain circumstances align -- men and randomized video chatting, for example -- bad things happen.

But Parker and Fanning really truly believe their service is less susceptible to this tried-and-true dynamic. Unlike Chatroulette, the connections are not 100 percent random. Hooked up to one's Facebook account, Airtime allows members to chat with their Facebook friends. Even the strangers aren't so strange, as the service connects people with similar interests (or, at least Facebook interests). Then, like we said, the system has taken precautions. The New York Times's Jenna Wortham has those details:

They have built in a number of systems, including facial-recognition software that sends up a flag if no faces are detected on camera, and a ranking system that scores people based on their interactions. People who are frequently “nexted,” or passed over for another partner, will have a lower ranking than those who stay in lengthy chat sessions.

Highly ranked users are listed together as a way to ensure that serious users are matched with other people who aren’t pranking around. In addition, the service captures screen images during conversations and relies on a team of moderators located overseas to keep tabs on any inappropriate exchanges.

Ok, first of all, as for the face detection plan, since when does "penises present" also mean that faces aren't? It doesn't, as BuzzFeed's Matt Buchanan confirmed on Twitter.

Even with its built-in accountability, Airtime, as a service that combines loneliness, guys and videos, will for sure see some porn. This isn't Airtime's fault, per se. It's a condition of operating on the Internet. Airtime, like every Internet invention of all time tries to make us feel less lonely by connecting us to others, in this case, through video chat. This promise is generally broken. Parker, however, thinks his loneliness curing technology fixes a problem others didn't get. "There is a gaping hole that exists. Facebook shrunk the world and constrained our interactions to the 500 people that you are connected to," Parker said. "It’s all people you know, which is kind of boring," he continued. "When did the Internet become do boring?" Boring and lonely, he means. Airtime, however, makes the Net exciting again, bringing more people together. The thing is, that has never worked. Even when these services connect us to more people in more creative ways. We don't make truer connections. We just masturbate. So, when Parker says "we're trying to restore surprise and serendipity to the Internet," we know that's just a euphemism for all the penises to come. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.