Houseparty, which makes an app for hosting live video chats with your friends and family, is taking a step toward video voicemail. Today, the company introduced Facemail, a way to record and share 15-second snippets of chats to your friends within the app. The company hopes it will extend Houseparty into more facets of its users’ lives by moving away from communication focused strictly on presence to include more traditional, asynchronous messaging.
Facemail, which is rolling out today on Houseparty’s apps for iOS and Android, is designed to let you know you’re thinking of people who aren’t currently in the chat, says Ben Rubin, Houseparty’s CEO. The company found that 40 percent of the time a user went to interact with one of their friends, the other person wasn’t there.
That’s important in Houseparty, an app that pioneered a kind of online social behavior sometimes known as “live chilling.” Users open the app and see which of their friends are already online; they can then tap on that person’s profile and start a video chat with one or more people. Rubin says “a couple million” people use Houseparty each day. The average person uses Houseparty for 55 minutes a day, he says.
To create a Facemail, tap the new camera icon inside a live chat. For privacy purposes, every member of the group will see a notification while another member is recording. After you’ve recorded your chat, you can choose to send it to one or more friends. They’ll receive a notification from Houseparty letting them know that they have a message waiting. Or you can save it to your camera roll and then share the recording however you like.
“Nobody ever leaves you a video voicemail, and no one ever collaborates on a video voicemail,” Rubin said. “I’m really excited to see what people do.” Among other things, Rubin suspects the feature could be popular among people wanting to wish friends a happy birthday.
How’s Houseparty doing? Rubin acknowledged that the company is growing more slowly than other social networks at their peak. But the unchecked growth of social networks has had serious consequences around the world, he said. “We have millions of people come every day and have fun conversations with people they care about and have a good time,” Rubin said. “Shouldn’t we just continue to build?”
Houseparty’s initial growth was sufficient to spook Facebook, which built a clone called Bonfire that it began testing in the Netherlands in September 2017. But more than a year later, it has yet to launch in the United States. An upside of Houseparty’s relatively slow growth is that giants are less likely to come after it.
“We will figure it out in the end,” Rubin said. “But in the meantime, there’s a huge community that has a lot of fun in the product. I think that gives everyone on the team a lot of spirit.”
Correction, 7:19 p.m.: This article has been updated to see that users only will see a notification when Houseparty is actively recording. They do not see a countdown timer before the recording.