Video chats have gained popularity as people have been under stay-at-home orders, are working from home or simply have just not been out and about as much in an effort to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Businesses, including the Brainerd Dispatch, have used Zoom Meeting, Cisco WebEx, Google Meet and Skype — ones I have seen used the most — to conduct interviews and host meetings while everyone sits in the comfort of their own home or social distancing from an office space. Families also have used these video chat applications to see the faces of their family members, catching up with how they have been doing in the quarantine.

I used all the above video apps for work and Zoom for family also, but the one I like using for my personal use only is called Houseparty.

This is what the Houseparty app looks like if you want to give it a try. Google screenshot
This is what the Houseparty app looks like if you want to give it a try. Google screenshot

Houseparty is a face-to-face social network that allows up to eight people to video chat together at one time. The app is free and can be downloaded on either an iPhone/iOS or Android device. People also may use their computer desktops by typing https://app.houseparty.com/login to sign up/log into their account using Google Chrome or a Mac computer operating system and may download the Mac App link for easy access.

If you go on Houseparty on your computer desktop, this is what the screen will look like. Google screenshot
If you go on Houseparty on your computer desktop, this is what the screen will look like. Google screenshot

I have used my iPhone and my personal computer when video chatting with friends. They both work well but there are advantages and disadvantages to both — as well as a personal preference — which I will get into later in this column.

I’ll first explain how the app, founded in 2016 by a company called Life on Air Inc. and owned by Epic Games, works. It is different from video chats such as FaceTime. Houseparty’s video chat is similar to Zoom, Cisco WebEx and Google Meet but has some added fun features.

In a nutshell, I feel Zoom, Cisco WebEx and Google Meet apps are more appropriate for work functions and Houseparty is more appropriate for personal use as it is a bit more fun and spontaneous — like a party!

(Disclaimer: I am not against any of these video chats and have used them all. They all have worked great and I will continue to use them as well for work. I’m here just to talk about Houseparty.)

The main reason why I personally like to use Houseparty instead of the other video chat apps is you don’t have to schedule the time in advance with your friends to chat. It is spontaneous. If I know I have some free time, I just go into the app and see who is in there and begin to chat with them. Or I can click on the hand wave icon to alert a friend that I want to chat. Or I can send out a note through Houseparty and ask a friend if they want to chat in 20 minutes.

In some other video apps you have to set up a meeting time and then email it to the people you want to video chat with, asking them to join a meeting.

I like the spontaneity of doing Houseparty whenever I can. And it’s easy. Once you have created an account and are logged into Houseparty, you are ready to go. When my friend introduced me to this app, I found her easily by typing her name and with one click we were friends. All you have to do is search for the person’s name and add them to your friend list. You also can find friends through your contact list or from Facebook.

Once you have your account and notifications set up, you will get a notification on your device when your friends are online and ready to chat. Once in the app, you also can see who your friends are talking to and join in their conversation — as long as their conversation is not “locked.”

When you are in a group chat you can “lock the house,” meaning no one can join the group’s conversation. At the bottom of the video screen there is a small lock icon, so all you have to do to “lock the house” is click on the icon. The nice thing about this lock feature is if you’re in a conversation that is locked and you see a new friend come online and you want them to join, all you have to do is click the lock icon again to “unlock the house” and they can join.

The highest number of people I have chatted with at one time is five. I don’t recommend chatting with eight as, like any video chat, it’s hard to follow conversations if more than one person talks at the same time.

The fun part of Houseparty is that anyone may join the party. When I was chatting with five people they were from three different social groups — which makes it fun for your friends to become friends with each other. When talking with a friend and another friend “joins the party” they are welcome to accept friend requests from each other.

Houseparty is similar to other video chats and allows a person to call, send instant text messages — which Houseparty calls sending a note — or “FaceMail,” which basically is a video.

When a person goes into their Houseparty app and wants to talk to a certain person all they have to do is click on the yellow hand wave icon located next to their name. By doing so it alerts the person that you want to talk to them.

Brainerd Dispatch staff writers Jennifer Kraus and Theresa Bourke (bottom, right) play a game of Quick Draw in the Houseparty app for the purpose to show readers what the app looks like. Screenshot
Brainerd Dispatch staff writers Jennifer Kraus and Theresa Bourke (bottom, right) play a game of Quick Draw in the Houseparty app for the purpose to show readers what the app looks like. Screenshot

One thing Houseparty has that not all other video chat apps have are games to play, such as Quick Draw, Trivia, #trending, Act It Out, Animals Gone Wild and more. On the top of the screen there is an icon of a pair of dice that you click on and then invite people to play. I haven’t played these games a lot, but they are pretty fun and can add to your video chat with friends. I have noticed that I only see the dice icon on my smartphone and not my computer desktop.

Brainerd Dispatch staff writers Jennifer Kraus (bottom) and Theresa Bourke play a trivia game in the Houseparty app for the purpose to show readers what the app looks like. As you can see, we did not lock the house so anyone could have joined us. Screenshot
Brainerd Dispatch staff writers Jennifer Kraus (bottom) and Theresa Bourke play a trivia game in the Houseparty app for the purpose to show readers what the app looks like. As you can see, we did not lock the house so anyone could have joined us. Screenshot

I did some research on Houseparty for this column as I hadn’t used all the features of it. By doing so I learned how to “sneak into the house,” so no one knows when you go into the app. One of my friends sent me a Houseparty note, stating “Don’t you ever work?” as he saw I was “in the house” quite often during the day of my research. How do you do this? When you want to go on Houseparty and not give yourself away, all you have to do is go on your smartphone and press and hold directly on the top of the Houseparty icon. A pop-up window comes up and then you click on “Sneak into the House.” Boom, you are secretly in!

Houseparty offers a feature where you can "Sneak into the House" so people who you are friends with will not be notified that you are in the house. Screenshot photo
Houseparty offers a feature where you can "Sneak into the House" so people who you are friends with will not be notified that you are in the house. Screenshot photo

A downside of Houseparty that is most likely similar to other video chat apps is it does burn down your battery fast on both the desktop and smartphone. So, If possible I like to have my devices plugged in, just in case. I would say my smartphone died after about an hour of chatting while not being charged.

I have used Houseparty on both my iPhone and my laptop and they both work fine, but I prefer to use my laptop when possible. One is it is easier to plug in, while using it; secondly I don’t have to worry about positioning the device so my friends can see my pretty face the best and then holding it. With the smartphone you have to have it setting up on something or you have to hold it, while chatting — kind of annoying.

Another reason why I prefer to use Houseparty on my laptop is because I can see all my friends easier as they are on a bigger screen, especially when talking to several people. I think the desktop screens also offer a softer screen and make everyone easier on the eyes.

One downside to this app, which again I think is the same as other video apps, is it does freeze sometimes. But it’s not for a long time or anything, just for a few seconds.

Is Houseparty secure?

It doesn’t matter who you are or what app a person uses, the question of if an app is secure and safe always crosses a person’s mind.

According to a tweet by Houseparty March 30 on Twitter: “We are investigating indications that the recent hacking rumors were spread by a paid commercial smear campaign to harm Houseparty. We are offering a $1,000,000 bounty for the first individual to provide proof of such a campaign to bounty@houseparty.com.

“All Houseparty accounts are safe - the service is secure, has never been compromised, and doesn’t college passwords for other sites.”

I personally have not had any privacy issues with Houseparty, but it doesn’t mean it can’t happen. I couldn’t find any issues with Houseparty online besides the issue I just mentioned.

Could there be a cyber risk of people who you don’t know come into your video chat? I guess, it is possible, but again if you use the “lock the house” feature, I don’t believe anyone could get in your chat room. What makes Houseparty seem safer in my eyes is you add people by inviting them who are already in your contact list or on your Facebook account. Look at Facebook, which I do use and enjoy, it allows friend requests between total strangers.

Everyone has to choose the right video chat app that works for them. The good news is that there are several free apps so you can try them all and pick the one you like. I will continue to use Houseparty, unless I start seeing some red flags.

But for now, it has been a fun app to connect with my friends from all over the Midwest.

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at jennifer.kraus@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.