While the world comes to a standstill, airlines go down the toilet, automakers pause, food and beverages shut down, the one thing that there is no dearth off — video chat. Everyone is adding a video chat feature to their apps. Microsoft Teams has taken off, and Zoom now has a valuation more than Uber. But there is a new app which has been there for a while but has suddenly become the cool thing to be on — Houseparty. In the age of social distancing, Houseparty has become what Facebook and Instagram have been to the world for the last decade and a half. But its sudden rise is itself a paradox. Its usage comes with trade-offs.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Houseparty is that it hasn’t been designed as a video chat. The concept of Houseparty is that of an experience of a real house party but virtually. This means that it is not a video chat app in terms of a user interface, but more like a social networking platform like Facebook. This means that you have a pane where you’ll see all your friends or people who are known to you, more so, you will notice droves of people who are in your phone book joining just like the way people thronged towards Facebook more than a decade ago.

This enables an interesting phenomenon where you’re interacting with more and more people who you’d probably call or message daily. As the app works more like a virtual house party, where it is quite natural for you to interact more with acquaintances, the same happens more on this app. The positive side effect of this is that some friends with who you’ve lost touch, are now back. It all happens very organically.

Unlike many video chat apps, you can be interacting with more than 7 people at the same time which is pretty great. One of the biggest features of this app is fun board games which people can play with each other over video chat, mimicking the experience of a house party. You get something like Pictionary, a trivia quiz which is quite varied and chips and guacamole. Certainly, this helps pass the time in this lockdown.

 

But as is the case with positives, there are negative. Potentially so, more than the positives. Firstly, this is not a video chat app. This shouldn’t be used for work or even personal one-on-one chats. This is a social experience. Houseparty has a concept called rooms — which are either locked or open like in a real house party. If you’re in an open room, literally any person who is friends with you or the people you are chatting with can jump into the conversation making for some awkward moments. This is a potential privacy nightmare if you aren’t careful.

Then the video quality isn’t the greatest on this app. Any chat that has more than 4 people isn’t stable so while it advertises up to 8 people in a single chat, the developer, epic games, are probably struggling with the sudden surge in traffic. My advice would be to not use this app if you’re not in for the social gaming experience.

If you have the app screen open, then you’ll realise that often people can pop on to the screen kick-starting a video chat without consent probably because you were in an open room. The games on this app get repetitive very quickly after a week or so. In addition to this, the games aren’t customised for Indians. There is a lot of MLB baseball trivia and Hollywood stuff which wouldn’t bode well for most Indians.

The app also can double for spamware as it is always bombarding you with notifications tell you who is in or not encouraging more interactions. It is not only a drain on your battery life but productivity. The app also overheats your phone. This is a complaint I’ve received from many people which is highly unusual — including iPhone users who usually have better hardware than Android users.

Talking of Android users, if you want to delete your account — you can’t. You have to mail Houseparty tech support to get your account deleted which is weird and creepy. For some strange reason, this isn’t the protocol for iPhone users. At the same time, if one goes through their terms and conditions, it owns everything you say while using the app and it has the right to share your information with its business partners which is scary. It isn’t even liable to listen to you even if you ask it to delete your private information. It also tracks you by default. As scary this may sound, this isn’t too dissimilar from what you’ve accepted for Facebook and Google.

What’s scarier is that rumours are floating about claiming that the app was hacked, however, Epic Games, denies this and has started a $1 million bounty to find proof about who started this smear campaign. At the end of the day, the joy Houseparty may provide you in the shorter during this lockdown will come with long term consequences. The biggest one being privacy and the ancillary one being your productivity.

If you just want to chat with your friends on video, you will be better off using good old WhatsApp or Google Duo or Skype. If you have real work to get done, then stick with either Microsoft Teams which is free for 6 months or use what everyone else is — Zoom.

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