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Airtime Could Give Facebook the Kick It Needs

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Accessible via Facebook (FB) account, the video-chat service Airtime launched this week, attracting keen interest from industry observers who wonder if this could be the killer app that revitalizes Zuckerberg’s plateauing social network.

Founded by notorious Napster duo Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning, Airtime works by accessing a user’s Facebook account and webcam to connect to not only online friends, but to strangers as well. Various settings allows the service to “introduce” you to anyone with shared interests, friends, or location.

The basic idea, of course, is not new, and the startup has many picturing one thing: male genitalia.

That’s due to the sordid history of the earlier Chatroulette, a service which also paired strangers via webcam to great initial success, but saw its enormous growth and popularity quickly devolve into an endless parade of naked men exposing their hardware.

But Airtime, however, may not necessarily be destined to suffer the same naked fate, the folks at ReadWriteWeb suggest. It could, instead, follow the path of the highly influential instant-messaging program ICQ.

As the first popular instant-messaging program of its kind, the program inspired AOL (AOL) to purchase the company that developed ICQ (Israeli-based Mirabilis) for $400 million in 1998. As the backbone of AOL Instant Messenger, ICQ helped AOL retain users who would have long abandoned the service, but stuck around to continue using the widely-adopted messaging app. While there were many other instant messaging programs available at the time, AOL Instant Messenger’s program stayed popular for so long due to its easy-to-use beautiful design.

And that’s what Airtime could be for Facebook.

Packed with tons of useful features, Airtime has the potential to be just as influential. For instance, it makes it very simple to share and discuss a YouTube (GOOG) video while watching it simultaneously. And down the pipeline, it’s planning other social synchronization as well, such as being able to listen to your tunes together as well as group chat, TechCrunch reports. That your friends are already using Facebook gives it a huge boost, as opposed to something like Google+ Hangouts that, while beautifully designed, does not work as well when there’s no one to talk to. Also, if the planned mobile app is done well and executed properly, competing services like Skype (MSFT) and Apple’s (AAPL) FaceTime may well be in danger.

Right now, the only people testing out Airtime appear to be some early adopters and engineer types checking out the platform, but the important thing is that they are all clothed.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.