Tel Aviv-based startup Vidyoo launched its own video chat service based on Facebook today. Not to be confused with Airtime, the buzzed-about company from Napster co-founders Sean Parker and Shawn Fanning, which is based on the same essential premise. But while Airtime hasn’t lived up to expectations, at least compared to the hype its star-studded and carefully orchestrated launch promised, Vidyoo thinks the problem isn’t with consumer video chat in general, but with how others so far have been approaching it.
Vidyoo differs from Airtime in a number of ways, but the biggest is probably how much control it puts in the hands of users regarding privacy. A patent-pending feature called the Privacy Curtain allows users to control when and how much of another user’s video stream you see, which is the startup’s way of attempting to circumvent or get around nasty problems encountered by predecessors like Chatroulette involving indecent exposure. The platform also matches users based on interests and preferences, in order to try to set up successful matches from the start instead of just connecting people at random.
“You can screen somebody ahead of time, if you see that you like them and that you’ve got the same interests and you’re interested in talking to them, you don’t immediately drop into the water,” Vidyoo co-founder and CEO Assaf Mendelson explained in an interview. “You can initiate video chat with them… and we’re aware of issues that Chatroulette and Airtime have encountered where you’re dropped in without any protection.” Mendelson also noted that Vidyoo is very much designed with a dating focus in mind (themes in the logo reflect that approach right away), unlike other apps in the space where the experience isn’t designed around any particular type of interaction.
At launch, Vidyoo will focus on connecting people for video chat experiences, with messaging features also available. But ultimately, the team sees it as a platform that can support games and other apps for more interaction options between users. Those could also provide some revenue down the road, coming as paid premium features, co-founders Mendelson and Ehud Ramot said. Other possibilities for revenue include advertising, both with static display ads and pre-roll, which could also be turned off via premium subscriptions depending on what kind of response Vidyoo gets in terms of bringing on users.
Attracting users will be Vidyoo’s biggest challenge, and one there’s no clear recipe for as of yet. Chatroulette had early success, but people quickly got tired of its novelty. Airtime has reportedly shed a huge percentage of its users in a very brief time. And even the Vidyoo co-founders admit that it’s early days yet for the market, but they still believe they’ve arrived at a formula that addresses problems in the market others haven’t.
“Airtime had good hype in the beginning, obviously they had a lot of money to spend, and good founders, but at the end of the day you see that it didn’t work,” Ramot said. “On our side, that gives us more confidence that we’re bringing the right tool that is really missing out there, in order to provide people with privacy and security in terms of who they’re talking to. We really do believe that the Privacy Curtain is really a revolution in this regard.”
Vidyoo is privately funded, from investors including company chairman and noted early-stage investor Gigi Levi. It’s also just the first product out the door for fbhatchery, Ramot and Mendelson’s larger app development firm that’s aiming to create a variety of experiences for Facebook based around their proprietary recommendation and personalized matching engine. We’ll see if this first, video-focused attempt can succeed where so many others seem to have missed the mark.