The Slight Rise and Flat Fall of Airtime

Following its uber-hyped launch this summer, Sean Parker's Airtime, the family-friendly version of Chatroulette, has lost the people's interest, which it never really had in the first place.

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Following its uber-hyped launch this summer, Sean Parker's Airtime, the family-friendly version of Chatroulette, has lost the people's interest, which it never really had in the first place. Despite the star-studded launch and $33 million in funding from places like the prominent venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins and Ashton Kutcher, Parker's venture hasn't taken off. If the lack of buzz doesn't do it for you, the stats say it all. After about four months since its launch, the site currently attracts a meager 400 users a day and 10,000 a month according to AppData, reports The New York Times's Jenna Wortham. Traffic is so low that Airtime doesn't even register on Nielsen or Comscore, she adds. Parker disputes those numbers, calling traffic "very compelling," but also declined to give any of his own analytics. Still, he also compared his experience with Airtime to "eating glass," in an interview with AllThingsD's Liz Gannes. So things can't be going that well.

But Parker insists that his over-the-top launch hype is not part of the problem. "It did drive traffic — so it worked," he told Gannes. That's not an inaccurate statement. Looking at the first month's numbers, the stunt got a lot of people to check out the site. But they quickly left, uninterested in the proposition, as the chart below via Business Insider's Matt Lynley shows.

Not much has changed over the last four months, as you can see below the daily active user numbers are worse than flat, declining over the last four months.

Monthly active users, meaning people who use the site once every 30 days, aren't promising either with that sad flat line.

As the company fails to attract an audience, it's also not doing so well on the inside. Airtime co-founder Shawn Fanning and product manager Eric Feng are both stepping back from their roles at the company. Feng came on board when Parker acquired his company Erly. Gannes calls it a "quick exit" for a "high profile" person whose company was bought specifically for his team. It's not clear who else will go when Feng leaves. Fanning, on the other hand, is still on the board, but "no longer has a day to day role," writes Gannes. The company has also lost some other "important employees and laid off others," adds Wortham.

There are a few plausible theories for why Airtime isn't making it. As Parker himself said at the launch: "When did the Internet become so boring?" When he said that he meant that Airtime will make it unboring by connecting strangers. But, it also applies to the state of the start-up scene, which seems to spit out variations on the same SoMoLo (social mobile local, for those who don't speak the abhorrent lingo). This service kind of fits into that metric, as it is just another video-chatting platform (Skype, Google Chat, FaceTime) that happens to connect random people—what we would call a gimmicky feature.  There is also the whole crashing of the start-up frenzy (thanks, Facebook!), which Parker blames. "Now is the most toxic time ever in Silicon Valley," he said to Gannes.

But, despite all this, Parker still thinks the company has a chance to rise. "This is a ridiculously early stage for a company," he told Gannes. "It takes six to 12 months to get things up and running." Challenge accepted, Parker. We'll check back in two months and see if things have gotten any more up or running at that point.

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