Airtime, the new video chat site from the Napster guys, has been out for a few days now, and we decided to see what it's like. Unfortunately, it seems it's already devolving into a bunch of guys looking for boobs. (But, no penises!)
The service is basically a gussied up version of Chatroulette. You sign in through your Facebook account, and it connects you to people based on the things you 'like' or have shared with Facebook friends. You can choose to try and narrow your connections to users who are near you, who you share mutual friends with, or who have similar interests. If Chatroulette was the early, nerdy precursor, Airtime is Rachel Leigh Cook's character in She's All That after she's been made over. A video chat service ready for the prom.
But yes, the lonely male problem is alive and well on Airtime. We spent about an hour on the site the first time we visited. We stopped keeping track after the sixth guy hit 'Next' on us without so much as saying hello. More than a few wouldn't even acknowledge us. "I've gotten a lot of weird dudes in their bed," my roommate said to one girl he connected with. Through the first fifteen minutes or so, we didn't even see a single female on the site. Everyone we connected with was male. We talked to the ones who stayed long enough to talk, but mostly we were shuttled along into the system. It was bunch of dudes in a room together, all looking for the same thing. We finally ran into one girl, who hit 'Next' right away, but the second one actually stayed to talk to us and even added us as a friend. Hi Cheyanne in California!
We admit the problem might be us: we keep a limited Facebook profile, and we live on Canada's east coast. The most shared interest we had with people, according to Airtime, was our friend Morgan who does local radio in Nova Scotia. Jezebel's Katie J.M. Baker writes that she was able to meet lots of people who work in tech, and they were excited about being able to use the site for networking. She even met one of her friends on Airtime. That's all well and good if you live in a major metropolitan city like New York, but if you live in a disconnected, 'what's the Internet, eh?' rural Canadian town like we do, Airtime is going to have trouble connecting you with people in your area. The only other Canadian we met lived on the other side of the country, in Winnipeg.
My roommate had better luck. His Facebook profile is more flushed out than ours, which allowed him to meet more people. He met a lot of guys too, but he also met a nice couple from France, a girl from San Jose, and a girl who works as a production assistant on a new Bravo reality show she wan't allowed to tell us about. They actually had a decent conversation: he works as a production assistant for a local theatre, and played basketball against her alma matter.
Jordan Kersey, 22, is a web entrepreneur and, like us, was on Airtime for the first time with his roommate. He said he liked the user experience and the layout of Airtime the most. "I have yet to see a penis, which has a lot of value," he said.
We talked to another guy who works in tech who said he developed a similar product, and he was unimpressed with Airtime. With $35 million in funding and the pedigree of the brains behind it, he expected better. He said he'd been using it since it launched, and the quality of conversation dropped dramatically over the last two days. He said at first everyone he talked to either worked in tech, or was there to have good conversations, but it's gotten steadily worse over the last two days. He had the same problem we did: a lot of guys in dorm rooms Nexting us until they find a girl.
No one we talked to said they saw any penises, so at least people are staying civil (for now). There's apparently software built-in that won't let you connect unless there's a face on screen. One girl we talked to said one user, instead of showing her his penis, showed her his collection of paintings of penises, which is still really weird. There were a lot of guys hanging out together, drinking or smoking, looking for something interesting. (Note: they never thought we were interesting. Does this mean we need to work harder on being interesting? Maybe.)
The strangest thing we saw was two guys who sang us, "You Are My Sunshine" while one of them was wearing the mask from Saw. They told us to hit the star button, which gives the person you're talking to points and makes them more popular. The more points you get, the better you are at Airtime, and the service connect you to other people who are getting lots of points. We clicked the button until their meter reached the top, which gives you bonus points, but then they hit 'Next' before we could actually start a conversation. We felt used.
Using Airtime for the first time felt pretty similar to using Chatroulette. The amount of control you have is nice. Once you 'Next' someone they don't come back, so you never see someone twice. And for every ten dudes in a room trolling for ladies, we had a decent conversation with a reasonable person. We even told one lady about our starring role in a Canadian kids television show about math. As the site grows, it'll be interesting to if the increase in exposure will bring out the weirdoes, or if Airtime will remain a penis-free zone of good conversation.