Here’s how to use Houseparty, the live video app that teens are going crazy for

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Houseparty

Anyone who spent a lot of time online in the early 2000s will remember whiling away the hours popping in and out of chatrooms and instant messaging their friends.

But in the years since AIM faded into obscurity, nothing has really replaced instant communication for teens. While Snapchat came close, Generation Z – the cohort born between the mid-1990s and early 2000s – has moved on to another app: Houseparty.

Houseparty is a mobile app for live video chatting. Unlike Facetime or Skype, you can have up to eight people in a room and have several “parties” going at once. It’s like a video version of a chatroom, and teens are going crazy for it: the app launched last February and now has more than 1 million daily active users. The app is the 18th most popular app in the App Store and the third most popular social networking app.

Here’s how to use it.


Houseparty is brought to you by the same team that launched Meerkat, the once-popular live-streaming app that exploded upon launching, but quickly lost steam when Twitter blocked the service and bought Periscope, Meerkat’s rival.

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One of Meerkat’s founders, Ben Rubin. Rubin stuck with the live video idea and is now the CEO of Life on Air, the company behind Houseparty. Itai Danino is another co-founder and serves as CTO, and Sima Sistani is co-founder and COO.
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Noam Galai/Getty Images

But the Houseparty team doesn’t shy away from the troubles Meerkat faced. “When we were able to pull away from the hype and look at Meerkat’s numbers, what was clear to us was that we hadn’t succeeded in building something that was a daily habit, that achieved our mission of connecting people in the most human way possible when physically apart,” Sima Sistani, cofounder and COO of Houseparty, told Business Insider.

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A Meerkat live stream during a flight.
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Anthony Quintano

So the team stuck with the idea of live video, launching Houseparty on February 29 under a pseudonym. But Sistani says it wasn’t about being stealthy — it was about “launching in a vacuum and really understanding our users,” away from the Silicon Valley hype machine.

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Houseparty

Houseparty is simple to use, but it may take some getting used to for people who don’t frequently video chat. When you first download the app, you’ll be shown this screen, asking you to sign up for an account.

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Houseparty

It only takes a few minutes to set up. The app will ask you to choose a username, which may be the most time-consuming part. Much like Twitter, unless you were an early adopter, you first name is probably already taken.

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Houseparty

Once you set a username and password, you’ll be prompted to add your phone number. I highly recommend completing this step, since it will help you find friends and help your friends find you.

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Houseparty

After that, you’re ready to start chatting. Houseparty shows you clever sayings like this every time you open the app.

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Houseparty

You can easily see who’s online by swiping down from the top of the screen. The app shows you when you last communicated with someone and whether he or she left the app recently. By clicking the hand waving emoji, you can let someone know you’d like to chat.

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Houseparty

When you start a chat with someone, it will split your screen in half so you can see yourself and them at the same time. When I first tested out the app with my boyfriend, he was walking from the subway, which is why his video quality isn’t great.

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Houseparty

A nice feature of the app is the ability to lock your room so no one else can join. This notification will pop up at the bottom of the screen, showing you where to go to lock it:

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Like all video chat apps, Houseparty can sometimes freeze or show you really pixelated video depending on the quality of your WiFi.
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Houseparty

While chatting one-on-one is easy to do in Houseparty, the app’s real purpose is to create rooms with multiple people (in other words, to host a house party) — you can have up to eight people in one room at a time. Each time another person joins, the screen will split again, so that you can see everyone at once.

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Houseparty

When the screen splits for an uneven number of people, yours will remain the biggest video on the screen.

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My colleagues Ben Gilbert (upper left) and Tony Villas-Boas (upper right) were kind enough to help me test out Houseparty during a meeting.
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Houseparty

If your WiFi is terrible — as a Business Insider conference room’s apparently is — your video will be switched off, but you can remain in the party on audio only mode.

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Dave Smith, one of the tech team’s deputy editors, is much less pixelated in person.
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Houseparty

If you run into any technical issues with Houseparty or simply want to make a suggestion, all you have to do is shake your phone. This prompt will pop up, which allows you to give the company immediate feedback.

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Houseparty

Most of Houseparty’s user base is in their teens — Sistani says 60% of users are between the ages of 16 and 24. They like Houseparty, she says, because it’s more authentic than platforms like Instagram and Tumblr.

“The selfie era, which was the Tumblr and Pinterest and Instagrams, it wasn’t even about engagement anymore – it became less about that actual connection with people that you knew,” Sistani said. “We’ve talked to kids and there’s a bit of a backlash against that. I like to think of us as moving into the post-selfie era. It brings us back to the most human way to connect, which at this point I believe is live video. It becomes less about chasing likes and popularity and becomes a place to connect with people you know and like and care about.”


Sistani says Houseparty is changing the etiquette around phone communication. Rather than calling someone directly on the phone — which can sometimes feel invasive or like you’re required to answer — Houseparty lets you decide when you’re ready to be contacted. “We’re moving away from calling to this party paradigm,” Sistani said.

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Cass Chin/flickr

Most of Houseparty’s users are hopping on the app during study breaks, the morning after a night out, or while they’re getting ready for a party. Users can have several rooms open at a time, so they can hop from party to party. Sistani calls it “the new high school parking lot.”

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Flickr / RansomTech