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Before now, there hasn’t been a particularly compelling reason to establish friends on YouTube, aside from subscribing to videos a user uploads. If you had a funny video to share, it was easier just to do it via IM. RealTime changes that.

RealTime appears as a toolbar at the bottom of every YouTube page with three main items. The most prominent button is an indicator showing when you have Realtime sharing turned on, obviously to ensure that you don’t accidentally share some videos you aren’t too proud of watching. The ‘Online Friends’ tab shows which videos your friends are currently watching (if any) and their recent history. It also allows you to send an invitation to come watch the video you’re watching, which will pop up on their screen (you can turn notifications off). This is where the real power of the new product lies, as it allows friends to instantly share videos with each other.

Finally, there’s a button for ‘Watching Now’, which allows you to see any random YouTube users who happen to be watching the same video as you. This isn’t a privacy issue because you’re only shown in the list if you opt-in, but it seems pretty pointless.

YouTube is using an invitation system to deploy RealTime, which in some ways parallels the approach Gmail took when that product first launched. Every user to get invited gets another 25 invites of their own, which makes invitations hard to come by at first, but sufficiently accessible to allow the service to grow quickly. In order to invite someone to RealTime, you have to become their friend on YouTube - you can’t just send them an Email to activate it.

[via techcrunch]