Snapchat crashes the Houseparty with group video chat

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Up to 16 people can talk, and use the Snapchat lenses in the new video chat.
Up to 16 people can talk, and use the Snapchat lenses in the new video chat. Credit: Snap Inc

The imitated becomes the imitator: It is now Snapchat's turn to co-opt hot features from less-popular rivals.

On Tuesday, Snapchat unveiled a group video chat, which enables up to 16 people to share the screen and converse live with each other atany given time. That's the core activity in Houseparty, an app growing in popularity among teens and the younger digital set. Snapchat's main audience is under 25 years of age, and it has had to defend itself from older rivals like Instagram—which blatantly borrowed its "Stories" feature—and newcomers offering fresh distractions.

"We designed Chat to feel less like texting and more like hanging out," Snapchat said in a blog post Tuesday.

Or, as Houseparty puts it on its website: "Join the party."

Of course, there are other apps with multiple, simultaneous chats, but not as many as 16. Facebook Messenger lets six people share the screen and 50 more can watch the conversation.

Instagram, owned by Facebook, has been a relentless Borg-like foe to Snapchat, assimilating its best features and threatening its business survival. Most famously, Instagram took, name and all, Snapchat's Stories, the 24-hour video diaries that disappear at the end of the day. It then offered the same vertical video ads that occupy Snapchat's Stories, giving brands an alternative to Snapchat's unique ad format.

And Facebook developed augmented-reality lenses, another digital innovation first made popular by Snapchat.

The group video app Houseparty was founded by the co-founders that created the live-streaming app Meerkat. That was another mobile craze co-opted by bigger rivals, as everyone from Facebook to YouTube to Twitter raced into the space.

Snapchat has been looking for new features to keep its users on its platform longer. Group chat could be the next new activity to consume its 187 million daily users.

Snapchat reaches almost 70 percent of U.S. internet users between the ages of 12 and 17, according to eMarketer. This is a group that is obsessed with checking the app for streaks with friends, which is when they maintain consecutive days of messaging each other.

Snapchat also is trying to repair some ill-will with its audience since it introduced a redesign that has gotten bad reviews. Many vocal users have said they prefer the older layout.

On Tuesday, Snapchat also introduced a "mentions" feature, which will let people tag each other in videos, and notifies people when they get mentioned. This another way to open up the app and create more sharing among the community, similar to other social media platforms like Instagram and Twitter.

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