New group video app wins plenty of friends

A phone app that allows friends to videochat in groups of up to eight has become a hit with British teenagers and twentysomethings.

The Houseparty app for iOS and Android, which was launched in May, has been downloaded more than four million times in the past 90 days.

It is catching on fast in the UK, with downloads from the App Store rising from 350 a week in October to 18,000 a week at the beginning of this month, according to Apptopia. The developers, who are based in San Francisco, recently secured $50 million of funding from venture capitalists convinced it would be the next Snapchat or WhatsApp.

Oliver Scampton, 22, from Marylebone, central London, who works in communications, is one of the app’s recent converts. He said: “It does give you the feeling of being in a room with your mates in a way other apps don’t, so I think it could last. I’ve been using it all the time since I discovered it a couple of weeks ago. It’s casual so I’ll just check it when I can and catch up with whoever’s on there.

“I heard about it from friends who are still at university, and their younger siblings who are teenagers have all been using it for a while. It’s only beginning to take off with twentysomethings.”

The “synchronous social network” allows groups of up to eight friends to chat and see each other on a split phone screen. The idea is to keep things spontaneous and informal, with people dropping in and out of conversations when they’ve got a spare few minutes.

Friends receive notifications whenever someone they know logs into the app — or they can send invitations to specific friends if no one is online. Strangers cannot crash group chats, and people who are friends with some of those in the group but don’t know the others are introduced with a “stranger danger!” banner.

The app’s design shows strong similarities to Snapchat, which remains the No 1 video messaging app for people in their teens and early 20s. Snapchat, however, is used for sending short picture or video messages which self-destruct after they’ve been viewed, rather than holding real-time conversations.

Snapchat’s recent introduction of a group messaging option — where users share pictures, clips and text messages in groups of up to 16 people — prompted one teenager to tweet: “Lol Snapchat — too quick to have an update that lets you group chat as soon as the Houseparty app gets popular.”

Apple’s FaceTime is a popular video-messaging choice but doesn’t have a group chat option. WhatsApp, the messaging app owned by Facebook, recently introduced video messaging but only for one-to-one conversation. Plenty of other apps offer group video chats, including Skype, and Google Hangouts, but these require users to dial particular friends’ numbers or send invitations.

The users’ biggest criticisms of Houseparty are that it is a drain on battery life and consumes lots of data. There can also be synching problems if one user’s signal is not as good as the other people’s in the group.

Ruben Watts, 17, a student from north London, said his friends tended to stick to Snapchat, WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. “Messaging feels a lot more convenient than video-calling when it’s multiple people,” he said. “Skype and FaceTime have declined in popularity a lot for my age range as often the connection is so shaky that it makes it pointless. The only time I’d really ever consider a video call would be to contact someone internationally.”

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