Video chat platform Houseparty is now the number one app in the iOS store in South Africa and Nigeria, and no. 3 in Kenya

Last Friday night, I received a text message from a friend of mine who I hadn’t seen in ages. Yes, a text message, in the era of WhatsApp and Telegram. Opening the SMS, I saw an invitation which simply read: Let’s (House)party, along with a download link.

For the past two or so weeks, Kenyans have increasingly been having virtual hangouts, spending hours on end, especially on weekends, since the recently imposed curfew, talking to friends and family on the group video chat app, Houseparty. The app has been blowing up since the global coronavirus pandemic forced millions into isolation.

First, how does it work? Well, Houseparty lets you chat with upto eight people at a time, but it intermittently reshuffles the screen every time people enter or leave, and is more often than not punctuated with trivia questions.

The truth is, ‘staying home and staying safe’ has rapidly changed the the way people are communicating. The thirst for physical interaction at social spots has been quenched by the likes of Google Duos, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Zoom video calls. For those still employed or REALLY working from home, work video calls have become a fact of life.

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At where I work, calendarized member meet-ups, workshops and seminars have since transcended into the digital scape, with webinars and virtual events ranging from maintaining thriving businesses through crisis, yoga, online lessons and book clubs, to social drink-ups with friends over video calls. Nevermind that an increasing number are also embracing Chrome add-ons that enable communal movie and series watching on streaming sites such as Netflix.

Video-calling appointments have in the past few weeks replaced hangouts, house parties and clubbing which was the norm, and is now but a reminiscence. It is no wonder that Houseparty is the number one most downloaded free app in South Africa, Senegal and Nigeria, and third (four places up over last week) in Kenya, in the iOS app stores.

Houseparty is not new to the videoconferencing sphere, having first launched in 2016, the app has seen user numbers skyrocket in the past three weeks. According to Similarweb, it’s in the top 20 most downloaded free apps in Ghana, Botswana, Egypt and Rwanda on iOS stores.

The app was founded by Ben Rubin, former CEO of livestreaming app Meerkat, and Sima Sistani, former head of media at Tumblr. In June 2019, Epic Games, creator of Fortnite and the Unreal Engine, purchased Houseparty for an undisclosed sum.

Houseparty App

When joining Houseparty, the app asks permission to connect with your contacts and social networks so it can add existing contacts to your friends list. Opening the app signals that you’re around and free to talk and displays a list of friends who are online and “live” parties you can join. There’s a dropdown tab for games, which include HeadsUp and other trivia.

Houseparty is available as a mobile app, a Chrome extension, and a macOS app—so not everyone can play. Houseparty does however offer users the option to start private conversations by limiting attendees, but it’s not the platform’s default.