How To Use Houseparty, The App That Lets You Hang With Friends From Home

Going a bit stir-crazy? This app makes it easier to connect with friends while social distancing.

Self-isolation got you down? You might want to give Houseparty a try. The free video chat app, which might be best described as a Snapchat-Zoom hybrid, has been rapidly gaining popularity among those desperately seeking human interaction.

If you’re looking for new ways to kill time while catching up with friends, learn more about how Houseparty works and how to get started.

What Is The Houseparty App, Exactly?

Houseparty has been around since 2016 (it was bought by Epic Games in 2019), but the coronavirus pandemic has only recently launched it into the limelight.

Available for Apple, Android, Mac and Chrome, Houseparty allows up to eight people to hang out virtually. Friends can chat one-on-one, get together in groups and even play games with one another (there’s also a web-based version for other browsers in beta).

If you choose to use Houseparty on a desktop or laptop, you won’t be able to use the app to its full capabilities. Houseparty is really intended for mobile use, which offers full video chat functionality and the ability to play games with friends.

When you open the app on your phone, you’ll immediately be greeted with the self-facing camera view (and a look at your quarantine face ― yikes), along with a cheeky notification or fun fact that rotates periodically. You can swipe up to find a friend and start a houseparty, send a “facemail,” add new friends or invite contacts who haven’t joined yet.

Launch Houseparty to immediately notify friends that you're online and select friends to chat with. You can disable the camera if you don't want to be seen.
Launch Houseparty to immediately notify friends that you're online and select friends to chat with. You can disable the camera if you don't want to be seen.

One feature that may catch a lot of new users off-guard is the fact that you’re essentially live once you open the app. As soon as you log in, friends get a notification that you’re on and can hop into your “room.” “I’ve caught a few friends unaware of this who were just checking it out and suddenly were live on video with me,” said Rhea Woods, a vice president at the marketing firm Praytell who’s been active on Houseparty over the past few weeks. If you’re not ready to be seen, you can disable the camera in the app or lock your room.

What Can You Do On Houseparty?

Houseparty lets you connect with friends in a few different ways, but one of the more unique features is the gaming aspect. “It’s a super fun way to host game night with friends,” Woods said. In fact, she and her friends schedule game nights on Houseparty a couple times a week. Woods also pops into the app throughout the day when she’s notified that friends are online. “It’s a quick five minutes of play to break up the day, then I’m back to work.”

If you want to ping someone to come online, you can simply “wave” at them, “kind of like a nudge for those familiar with Words with Friends and other similar games,” Woods said. Once you have a party room open, you can play a game. Woods is partial to the drawing game, in which one person uses their finger to draw a picture of the word at the top of the screen while the other parties try to guess what it is. “There’s also an off-brand Cards Against Humanity-style game (called Chips and Guac) that was OK, but is best for a larger group of five to six,” she said.

From the home screen, you can add friends, start a game, update your settings and more.
From the home screen, you can add friends, start a game, update your settings and more.

If you want to show off photos from your camera roll or other images on your phone, you can share your screen with friends.

You can also send your friends “facemails,” which are pre-recorded video messages reminiscent of Snaps. However, users are able to save facemails, and there’s no way to know if your facemail was captured in a screenshot or shared with others ― so consider that when crafting your message.

To update permissions, edit your profile (including your username), toggle privacy settings, read up on the house rules and more, visit the settings from the top left corner of the screen.

House Rules

Houseparty isn’t a free-for-all. There are some tips and etiquette to abide by, as well as features you can use to make your activity less known.

Calling: Houseparty gives you the ability to call a friend’s phone by pressing the green phone icon.

Friend of a friend: Technically, anyone can enter an unlocked party room. If you or one of your friends invites someone who doesn’t know everyone else in the room, they’re considered a “friend of a friend” and should be introduced.

Muting: If there’s a particular friend you don’t want “in the house” notifications for, you can mute them. Users don’t know when they’ve been muted.

Notes: You can pass notes to friends by tapping their name or face in the app. All your notes are available in your inbox.

Sneak into the house: If you want to view a Houseparty notification but don’t want to alert your friends you’re in the app, you can pull down on the notification and choose to sneak in.

Private mode: If you enable private mode, every room you enter will be locked, even when you’re alone. You can then decide who to invite in.

Waving: Let friends know you want to chat by tapping the hand next to them. There is a limit to the number of waves you can use.

We time: Once you and a friend have been talking for 120 minutes, you start racking up “we time” ― basically a way to keep track of whom you chat with the most. If you go two days without talking to your friend, the counter expires and resets to zero.

The Sign-Up Process

To sign up for Houseparty, all you need to provide is your name and email address, a username and a password. The app gives you the option of adding your phone number, which it uses to find contacts who are also on the app, but you can choose to skip this step.

Setting up your Houseparty account is simple and requires only a few personal details.
Setting up your Houseparty account is simple and requires only a few personal details.

Next, you’ll be prompted to connect existing social media accounts such as Snapchat and Facebook to find friends. If you choose to skip this step, the app reminds you that “Houseparty literally only works with friends.” And you’ll find that the core of the app really is about connecting with the friends you have IRL, as there are multiple prompts to add friends and invite new users.

After adding friends, you are asked to give Houseparty access to your camera and mic, allow notifications and enable location services. You can allow or deny these permissions as you wish, though you’ll at least need to grant camera and mic access in order to video chat.

Are There Any Security Concerns With Houseparty?

There were reports earlier this week that Houseparty was breached by hackers who used user data to access accounts on other apps such as Spotify and Netflix. Houseparty contends that no such breach occurred, and that the news was in fact a smear campaign that the app is offering a $1 million reward to uncover.

As of now, there’s no proof that a breach actually occurred, or that a smear campaign against Houseparty was ever launched. Even so, that doesn’t mean the app isn’t without some security concerns. Houseparty is a free app, but it’s probably making money somehow ― in all likelihood, by selling your data.

The truth is that there is very little in the digital world that is genuinely secure, according to Paul Lipman, CEO of the consumer cybersecurity company BullGuard. “Houseparty users should take care not to share sensitive information and personal pictures, even if you are craving human connection during this time of social distancing,” he said. If in doubt, Lipman suggests taking a moment to think about what you’re about to send, and ask yourself if you’d be comfortable if it were made public. “This is the bottom line when it comes to ‘secure’ messaging apps ― at some point, vulnerabilities could be discovered and exploited, and your data exposed.”

Lipman said Houseparty users can increase their chances of staying safe while connecting with friends by maintaining good “cyber hygiene”:

  • Ensure that your operating system and apps are up to date with the latest version and patches.
  • Never click on links that appear suspicious.
  • Don’t accept social connections or friend requests from people you don’t know.
  • Never open attachments from people you don’t know, or that otherwise look suspicious.
  • Run anti-malware software on all of your devices.
  • Use a complex password that you don’t use for anything else.
  • Make sure you connect to the internet using a VPN, especially if you are on a public Wi-Fi network.