Videochat services multiplying

By Anne Collier

With well over a third of teens videochatting (42% of girls and 33% of boys), 37% of online teens videochat, girls (42%) more than boys (at 33%), according to the Pew Internet Project, there’s a healthy base for videochat just in the 12-17 age group. Airtime just joined Skype, Hangouts on Google+, Facebook Videochat, and Apple’s Facetime, the New York Times reports. Then there are young videochat companies such as the 18-month-old Tinychat (Web-based) and older ooVoo (Web-based but more mobile-focused), running neck-and-neck with around 50 million users each now. Airtime’s launch last week benefitted from it business-celebrity founders Sean Parker (who was founding president of Facebook) and Shawn Fanning of Napster fame. They talk about their service’s focus on meeting people. With their Webcams, users “can search for new chat partners based on their interests, shared social connections and location. Once connected, they can talk or even watch YouTube videos together,” according to the Times, which reports that Parker “described the current repertory of social Web experiences as ‘boring'” – that Facebook tends to “discourage a user from connecting with new people.” To avoid the Chatroulette experience (see this), Airtime’s founders say they’ve put some safety features in place to keep the service “clean and well-lit,” the Times reports, among them “facial-recognition software that sends up a flag if no faces are detected on camera,” “random screen image captures during conversations which are checked by “a team of moderators,” and “a ranking system that scores people based on their interactions.” Scores are based on the frequency by which people are passed over for someone else and whether they “manage to sustain lengthy chat sessions.”

The paper’s social media editor Lexi Mainland tried Airtime out for about an hour and said she talked with about six “fully clothed people” who shared her interests, were about the same age, and lived in New York. Either her video interview or the article might be a useful talking point in a family discussion about who’s videochatting with whom, possibly a rule (if you don’t already have one) about using Webcams and cellphones to chat only with existing “real life” friends, not to find new ones. Most kids probably already take that tack, except maybe when messing around in groups.

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