- Teens are abandoning Facebook in dramatic numbers.
- Where are they going? Millions of people under the age of 24 are gathering on Houseparty, a group video-chat app.
- Teens are embracing Houseparty because they say it’s the next best thing to hanging out with friends in person.
For the first time in its history, Facebook didn’t add any daily active users in North America in the past quarter.
It’s not totally surprising.
But if Generation Z kills Facebook, where will the young people go?
Twenty million people are gathering on Houseparty, a group video-chat app most easily described as FaceTime but with more people.
It’s a social media platform that feels a lot like the past. When you open the app, it asks you to signal that you’d like to chat, then notifies your friends that you’re “in the house.” If your friends are already online, you can start a video chat or join an existing room with a single tap. Users can hang with up to eight friends at once.
More than half of Houseparty users are under the age of 24, which puts it squarely in favor with America’s youngest generation.
And they are obsessed. Houseparty users spend an average of 51 minutes a day on the app, which puts their engagement ahead of Facebook’s 50 minutes (Messenger and Instagram included) and Snaphat’s 30 minutes. This metric would make any app developer jealous, and it happened for the people behind Houseparty simply because they made the social network that they always wanted.
The gool ol’ days of AIM
Sima Sistani remembers the days of returning from class and signing onto AOL Instant Messenger in her college dorm. She and her friends recapped their first (and many bad) dates while “studying” on the app. It looked something ~*LiKe ThIs*~.
Though the personal computer gave her a screen to hide behind, Sistani — who is cofounder of Life On Air, the company that built Houseparty — still more or less talked to her friends on AOL Instant Messenger. There was emotion pouring through her fingertips.
Plenty of social media apps today ask teens to interact with their friends by thumbing through an endless feed of photos, text, and video, and tapping to like or comment. They have more connections on social media than ever, yet many of those friendships are thin, leaving people wanting more meaningful connections in life.
“Social media started as this promise to connect people,” said Sistani, who studied sociology. She added, “I don’t think the social media that’s out there today is delivering on that promise.”
Meerkat’s second act
Houseparty isn’t the company’s first crack at creating a better social media platform. In 2015, Life On Air launched a live-streaming app called Meerkat that let people broadcast from their mobile phones to friends and interested strangers. It spawned everywhere overnight.
But Meerkat failed spectacularly, raising $12 million in new funding before fizzling out amid competition from Facebook and Twitter.
According to Sistani, the Meerkat team set out to connect people in the most human way possible when physically apart. But their method for doing so came to alienate their target users: people like them.
“We have these devices that are in our pockets, they allow us to bring people into our point-of-view, and that’s going to connect everybody,” Sistani said. “But it didn’t. What it did was create a stage. A stage is inherently a performance, and the people who are best at performing are influencers and media creators; not me, not you. That’s when we took a step back and thought, ‘OK, it’s not meant to be a stage. It’s not meant to be a performance. It’s supposed to feel like a house party.'”
Sistani and her team took inventory of what they loved about Meerkat and tried again, hacking together the Houseparty prototype in 10 months.
What’s its secret?
All conversations on Houseparty, which launched in 2016, happen in real time. They’re between friends and sometimes friends of friends, when a user invites their buddy to join a group video-chat.
The app is scrubbed clean of “like” buttons, comments, news feeds, and follower counts. You won’t find filters or animations to spice up what users see. Everything about the product communicates that “this is a place for the people you care about most,” Sistani said.
In fact, people on Houseparty have a median number of 23 friends. By comparison, a survey of 1,000 social media users found that people on Facebook report having 269 friends, while Instagram ‘grammers have a median 348 followers, according to Houseparty and trend forecasting and consumer research firm Trendera.
About 70% of survey participants said their friends on Houseparty are “real friends,” compared to just 35% on Instagram. As such, they have a better time hanging out on Houseparty.
The survey asked participants if they felt happy after scrolling through Facebook or Instagram, watching their friend’s stories on Snapchat, and video chatting on Houseparty. Houseparty had the highest percentage of people saying they felt happy after spending time on the app, though it was topped by the 84% of participants who said they felt happy after hanging out with friends in person.
“I think on a lot of these platforms, what ends up happening is we quote-unquote friended all these people, and it turned into a popularity contest,” Sistani said. “That has consequences for what you end up putting out there, how it represents you.”
She added, “For Houseparty, my hope is that we can bring people back to face-to-face, back to real-time connection and communication. And part of that is making sure that the next generation — my kids in particular — know the right reaction to excitement, not just the right emoji for it. What we’re really trying to do here is bring the humanity, the soul, back to social media.”