What is This Thing Called Houseparty?

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OK, so your socially-isolated kids have burned through their favorite books, games and streaming TV shows and are now asking … pleading … begging you to let them join in on this thing called a Houseparty. And as a protective parent, you harken back to days past when a house party was a usually teen-filled gathering where the supposedly chaperoning parents were out of town, red plastic cups littered every surface and the youthful assemblage was up to no good. I mean, those booze-filled and disastrous events have been part of nearly every high school movie ever made, right?

But, of course, in this case your son or daughter is talking about a new kind of house party. And this one doesn’t require them to have Solo cups or even leave their own house. It’s the Houseparty app, and it’s a digital meeting place where two to eight friends can get together, chat, text, work on projects, play games and wile away their empty self-isolated hours.

So, what should you know about this little harmless-sounding application? Let’s dig in and see.

Set Up and Roll

Houseparty is an always-open-for-business, connect-with-friends app where you video chat and text with folks on your contact list. So right out of the gate the app will require that the user enter their name and age, create a username and password, and give it access to their camera and permission to tap into their phone and social media contacts.

Hey, this is a social connection device, so all of the above is pretty much required.

From there, the app does everything else. Friends will get a notification indicating that you’re “in the house” whenever you log in, and you will get the same. Then it’s as simple as tapping a little hand-waving emoji to say hi and a phone-call emoji to make a video call. And you can hit a plus symbol at the top of the page and pull down your contact list and invite a whole group of pals all at once. Oh, and like an actual house party, users can move from “room” to “room” and visit with up to seven other friends who might be gathered and chatting in the next room over.

As friends join in, the screen splits so you can see everyone at once. And along with the group conversations and gathered face-to-face screen time with friends, Houseparty also offers games to play if you hit a little dice-shaped emoji at the top of the app. You can access decks of cards to play with, trivia games to compete in, and little drawing boards you can scrawl pictures on with your finger and send out.

What, Me Worry?

If your parental Spidey sense is starting to tingle a little, let me say that there are indeed a few things to be aware of here. First up is the fact that all of the online chats and video interactions are unmoderated. That means that inappropriate behavior and cyberbulling can be a part of the mix if someone were inclined to head in that direction.

Private video chats can also be, uh, memorialized via screenshot on any of the connected phones for future viewing and/or future posting to social media. So if something questionable were to happen among friends, there’s no guarantee it won’t be posted on Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat soon after.

Oh, and friends of friends can jump into the chat, too. In the iOS App store, Houseparty is rated for kids 12 and up, but the fact is, any kid or non-kid stranger can sign in and join the throng if they have a friend-connection with someone already there.

Now, on that front, there are some safety features that can be put into effect. Houseparty notifies users if someone new enters their room, so it would be easy to exit if an unknown person digitally steps in. Cautious users can also tap a small lock symbol at the bottom of the Houseparty screen to keep anyone else, friend or stranger, from entering the room. And if one of the other friends unlocks the room from their end, then everyone is notified that the conversation has been opened up for free access.

Encouraging kids, then, to get into the habit of keeping their chats locked and stepping out if a stranger does enter would be advice well given. And before they text or say something in a group—even if they think it’s private and among the best of friends—your young house partiers might want to ask themselves: “What if what I’m doing or saying or showing was on public display in my school, church or family room? How would that make me feel?”

And there you have it. Like so many social media sites and apps, Houseparty is great fun and super convenient … until it isn’t. So, be safe everyone.