Skip to Main Content

We Invite You to the (Organising) HouseParty!

With so many communities under lockdown around the world because of Covid-19, many of us are looking for new ways to (virtually) connect with our friends, families, and communities. Some video conferencing tools that a lot of us use at work are now being used amongst friends to have virtual happy hours, by teachers to set up virtual classrooms, or to connect to grandparents and other family members. Zoom use, for example, has gone up exponentially, with a more than 20 fold increase in the past few months.

body-houseparty.jpg

But with tools like Zoom, things need to be scheduled and links need to be shared, which takes away from the spontaneity that exists in so many of our in-person and more casual social interactions. For organisers, the traditional knocking on a door to talk with neighbours about an issue or candidate you care about is off the table for now, and organisations are scrambling to find ways to employ the same kinds of outreach and voter engagement activities to make sure our movements are headed in the right direction. 

With so many new apps coming out for folks desperately seeking social interaction, it can be a challenge to weed through the good and the bad. We know most new apps and social networks will likely fail (app financial success rate around .1%), so we always want to be mindful about taking enthusiasm for new apps with a grain of salt. That said, we think that HouseParty shows a lot of promise. It’s growing rapidly (50+ million new sign ups in the past month alone) and there’s a lot of money being put behind its development (it was acquired last June by Epic Games, the company behind Fortnite). Plus, we think it’s got the advantage of coming onto the scene at a time when people are looking to virtually connect in unprecedented ways. For those of us in the political tech world, we think HouseParty has a lot of potential to help organisers reach out to their communities to garner enthusiasm for their causes and candidates. 

(Please note that this app is new and undergoing rapid development. We’ll be updating this post as well as sending larger updates as they relate to organising through our Tectonica Organising Network.) 

 

 

What is HouseParty?

HouseParty is a new social network that lets you group video chat on your mobile phone or computer. It’s set up to make it easier to “drop in” on friends or folks in your communities without a pre-set time or invitation to meet up. You can jump into friends’ chatrooms without an invite (you can also make rooms private) and get notifications when your friends have signed on. On the desktop version, you can share screens to watch movies or shows with friends and on the mobile version, you can play games with other users. There’s also no pesky time limit on chats. 

How might it be used for organising?

The organising potential for HouseParty is huge. Especially now, with major restrictions in many areas due to social distancing that prohibit in-person voter contact through door-to-door canvassing, we think there are huge opportunities for relational organising. Unlike Zoom, where meetings need to be scheduled and links shared, HouseParty allows drop ins and has a deep social component reach. It builds off your existing networks (phone contacts, Facebook friends) and you can easily invite people not on the app to join (an organiser’s dream!). The barriers to entrance for participation are low--the app meets you where you are.

Many people have tried to develop their own apps for organising (Tectonica has, too), but we only recommend doing this in rare circumstances--especially if you don’t have the resources to build something outstanding or a network of highly involved people (willing to go through the headache of downloading, installing, and registering an app - not exactly low barrier). Instead, it’s usually better to build off something people are already using, particularly something that’s on the rise with fast adaptation. We think HouseParty fits the bill. It’s both a video conferencing app and a social network. Like if Facebook and Zoom had a baby. 

Every platform has its own way of communication, a “communication culture”. You don’t tweet, facebook post, or have a phone call with the same information. HouseParty’s communication culture is still in development and taking shape. Any organising recommendations really need to centre and pay attention to how the app’s culture develops and think about how people are using the app when crafting a successful outreach strategy. Some ideas: drop in and drop out quickly seems to be an acceptable way that people are connecting. The culture seems to be very open to anyone joining (wherein lie the opportunities). The openness of the groups is one of the app’s defining features. Anyone can easily create or join a group to talk about a candidate they support (or maybe feel lukewarm about, but hey, it’s a contest between the lesser of two evils) or a cause they care about. You could also host or join a fundraising group to raise money for a cause or candidate. Here are some other examples of how we think HouseParty can be used for organising:

  • Discussions and debates around political topics 
  • Snowflake organising model deployment for building, training and coordinating groups
  • Online deep canvassing: Volunteers can add contacts from lists and invite them to talk regularly.
  • Online mobilisation towards fundraising goals, petitions, GOTV, etc. Supporters can spread the word doing peer or group calling

 

Advanced uses of desktop version:

  • Better user experience for longer-lasting sessions.
  • Computer screen share for presentations.

 

Recruiting:

  • Possibility of adding people you don’t know--you can add any HouseParty user.
  • Recruiting HouseParty friends through a sharing link.
  • Very easy to bring your network in inviting not yet users through SMS
  • Build out an API 
  • Hope we can develop our own games or game content (eg: own personalised trivia as training modules) 
  • Advertising within the app. 
  • Integration with Zapier or other automation platforms to connect with other organising tools.

 

body-2.jpg

 

HouseParty’s UI Design:

The interface somehow manages to move out of the standard “video” conference software common places. You don’t “create” a meeting, you’re free to hop from one “room” to another, relying on spontaneity more than on planned meetings. You’re “in the house”/“around”, but that doesn’t mean you have anything planned specifically--unless you do. This fresh approach helps to “gamify” the whole experience of video conferencing. Earlier video conferencing software tends to borrow from more classical “metaphors” of encounter to establish their uniqueness: Skype used the “phone” icon, but as video calls gained widespread use, Zoom started to use the “camera” as the distinctive element of the brand. HouseParty’s “waving hand” completely omits the “technological” component as it assumes it (no need to explain what it is), and aims to become something more organic.

HouseParty Features:

  • Group calls where any contacts can drop in or be invited even with the app closed
  • Thematic groups up to 16 members with a chat and the possibility to making calls
  • Calls can be private as well.
  • Screen-share and recording facemails during calls are possible.
  • Distribution of short facemails among your contacts.
  • Private mode: Running the app with private calls option pre-established
  • Possibility of playing Games within the call 
  • Direct call someone, leave a facemail or say hi!
  • Show if you are available or see who in your network is available
  • Chrome extension version and desktop app for using this on the computer (better than WhatsApp in this way)
  • Sharing link to add you in HouseParty. 
  • Search and add people (even if you don’t know them you can ask them to add you as a friend).

Limitations of the app:

  • 8 person max in a call
  • 16 person max in a thematic group.
  • Security - always a huge concern. It is hugely open, but also carries with it concern 
  • Couple of buggy things still 
  • At least for now, there are not advertising opportunities - according to privacy policy they aren’t using the data for this kind of things (looks like gaming with be their monetisation) 
  • No open game or game content creation for now (wouldn’t it be great to build games for voter registration or GOTV?) 
  • Photo, or other type file sharing within the chats or calls is not available
  • No system for organising contacts

Our wishlist for the app:

  • Build out an API 
  • Hope we can develop our own games or game content (eg: own personalised trivia as training modules) 
  • Advertising within the app. 
  • Integration with Zapier or other automation platforms to connect with other organising tools.


Try it by downloading it here: 

iPhone

Android

Mac

Google Chrome Extension

(And feel free add me: https://houseparty.com/add/nedhowey)