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Napster founders launch new venture: Airtime

Former Napster founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning are teaming up again on a new venture: social video-sharing platform Airtime.

Parker, now billionaire thanks to his sizeable stake in Facebook, is one of Silicon Valley’s biggest celebrities — a role he relishes. Launching a new company with a quiet press release isn’t his style.

Airtime’s unveiling Tuesday morning in New York City was a star-studded affair filled with grand pronouncements.

“Why is the Internet so boring?” Parker asked the crowd, before offering up his own answer. “There’s no room for serendipity. Everything now is filtered through the lens of your social graph, but the social graph is somewhat stifling.”

Airtime aims to bring a sense of excitement and discovery to online connections. It’s a real-time video chat network that integrates deeply with Facebook, which Parker called the one and only significant social graph. Airtime lets users connect with their Facebook friends, but it will also offer pairings with strangers based on common interests.

To illustrate how the service works, Parker enlisted a swarm of celebrities. He launched a video chat with Facebook friend Olivia Munn, who pulled rapper Snoop Dogg and comedian Joel McHale into the discussion.

The concept is similar to Chatroulette, a site that made waves by connecting strangers around the world for video chats. At its 2010 peak, Chatroulette was one of the Internet’s white-hot startup stars, but it quickly became a hotbed for indecent behavior.

Parker says Airtime has extensive safeguards in place to ward off a similar fate.

Tying the service to Facebook introduces a real-life layer that he hopes will keep people in their best behavior. As an extra protection, Airtime has a team of monitors on the lookout for “abuse cases,” Parker said.

The much-hyped startup has raised almost $33 million from heavyweight investors, with a recent round led by Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, along with Andreessen Horowitz, Accel Partners and Google Ventures. Early seed-stage investors include Ashton Kutcher, Yuri Milner, Ron Conway and Founders Fund.

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