Of Echo Chambers and Serendipity: the Airtime Promise

A fact of modern life is that technology and the explosion of cable channels has guaranteed that we need never hear points of view at odds with our own. Moreover, technology is even making it increasingly likely that we need not ever encounter another person at odds with our own way of thinking, believing or living. 

Think about it: your Facebook social graph is hard-wired to keep you connected with only those folks you’ve “friended” on the platform. On LinkedIn, you remain connected only to those folks you’ve worked with or gone to school with.

Liberals have MSNBC, Daily Kos and The New York Times. Conservatives have Fox News, Michelle Malkin and the Wall Street Journal.  Online or off, one need not ever encounter an idea with which they might disagree.  Which sadly means they might never meet a person from whom they may learn something new.

Airtime hopes to change all that. Founded by the former Napster guys, Shawn Fanning and Sean Parker, they hope to bring a little serendipity into people’s lives. The new service is like the infamous ChatRoulette, which means it randomly connects you by video to someone else who happens to be online at the same time as you.

What makes it different from ChatRoulette – renowned for the naked guys who trolled the site – is that Airtime is built on the Facebook social graph, and your profile and interests are drawn from your Facebook profile. Your particulars are hidden from the folks you chat with unless and until you choose to display them. But it does mean you might connect with someone who shares your professional interests or love of sports or an alma mater.

It also means that you may get connected with someone who has different political views from your own. Or it may mean you end up chatting with someone whose religious beliefs are not the same as yours. 

In short, the whole idea behind Airtime is that it can be fun to meet people in a chance encounter.

It still has some kinks to work out, but Airtime might be on to something and could be coming to market at the right time. Where ChatRoulette (and Seesmic before it) failed, Airtime could succeed, thanks to the Facebook social graph and good timing.

As technology has brought us increasingly closer, it has also enabled a pernicious tribalism that is proving disastrous to our politics and American culture more broadly. As we increasingly huddle into our comfortable little groups designed to protect us from the unpleasantness of those with whom we might disagree, a little more serendipity might be just what the doctor ordered. 

Author DEREK GORDON is a marketing and sales exec with more than 20 years success in integrated marketing and sales strategy and management. He is the Chief Marketing and Sales Officer for Pathbrite. You can also check out his blog, Daily Casserole.

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