Social media’s hot new trend is actually from the ’90s


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Remember when you’d fall asleep while instant messaging your friends into the early hours of the morning, the digital trill of incoming messages lulling you into slumber?

The days of (slow) AOL chat rooms may be long gone, but today’s teens are getting their dose of ‘90s nostalgia with new forms of Web 1.0 features creeping onto social platforms.

While younger millennials may not remember what it was like chatting with friends in poorly designed text windows, a number of startups are bringing them the same feeling (which many are not even old enough to be nostalgic for) with a new twist via well-designed apps.

Some of these include the recently released Snapchat Groups, Kik Group Video, and of course, the rapidly growing video chat app Houseparty.

“If you look at other contemporary apps, most project a ‘one-to-many’ theater,” Arielle Goren, director of communications for Houseparty, told The Post of apps like Houseparty and its predecessor Meerkat. “We realized that’s not something that works for the majority of people — but more for media companies or celebrities.”

Houseparty — which debuted on the app store last February from the same creators as Meerkat — is a real-time video chat platform catering to those uninterested in broadcasting their lives to random viewers online. Indeed, after the initial novelty of the Facebook and Instagram Lives of the digital world wears off, there’s not much else to “go live” with for the average person.

‘If you look at other contemporary apps, most project a “one-to-many” theater. We realized that’s not something that works for the majority of people — but more for media companies or celebrities.’

 – Houseparty director of communications Arielle Goren

As Goren explained, “There’s too much pressure to put on a show and be funny and have something to say” on public livestreams. Not to mention, a lot of people like to have a little more control over who’s watching.“Rather than create a theater, we created a ‘house party’ — that’s where the name comes from — where it feels casual, comfortable and users can pop in and out of it without the pressure to perform.”

Given that video chats without an advance warning are still seen as passé, the Houseparty team wanted to “break down the barrier of the stigma around video call,” Goren explained. So instead of presenting video communication in the style of corporate conference calls, Houseparty’s platform aims to provide that “magical moment” of running into someone on the subway platform or your neighborhood coffee shop.

To start a private group video on Houseparty, you just have to ping your friends and start chatting with whoever opts to log in at the moment. No pressure, no awkward missed calls.

Boasting more than 1 million users a day — with the average party on the app consisting of four people — Houseparty’s strength lies in its synchronized communication in the style of Web 1.0, in which one party sends a “message” and waits for the others to join.

This brings us to teens in 2017, who have proven to favor authenticity over branding and ad space. As Goren noted, the next generation is a bit more guarded and private, which has them using platforms in ironic and interesting ways. To put it simply, “it’s not just about chasing likes and hearts anymore.”

Given that 60 percent of Housepartiers are between the ages of 16 and 24, according to the company, the app hasn’t seen a problem growing organically among the much-coveted millennial market. Factors such as word of mouth, friends onboarding friends and family and its appearance on several “best apps of 2016” end-of-year lists helped push its popularity further.

And for the young millennials, Houseparty’s “rules” are resonating. As 20-year-old Ashley Andaluz of New York City explained it, the app has become the best way for her to talk to an entire friends group at once.

“I have a couple of friends that live far away,” she said. “And FaceTime only lets you talk to one person at a time, while Houseparty allows eight people in one room.” Her friends live all over, including in New York City’s Bronx, Brooklyn and Long Island, along with Florida, Indiana, Chicago and the UK.

‘Every night before bed, most of my friends and I use the app and talk until we fall asleep on it. We do this practically every night on weekdays.’

This vital feature is why millennials like Andaluz feel connecting with a select group of people is a more personalized way than “typing in a group chat or texting.” She added that while most Houseparties start casually with a ping to the group, “the ‘wave’ option comes in handy most of the time, especially when it’s like, something ‘urgent.’” With the “wave” function, users can send what is essentially an SOS one-on-one chat before entering a larger group chat.Like everything else today’s teens do online, creating authentic interactions while using platforms “ironically” — as Goren mentioned — is no different when it comes to the Houseparty app and its contemporaries.

Take, for example, the micro-trend of Houseparty users “falling asleep” live on the app with their friends. A quick search on social media shows this to be a ritual in the vein of staying on the landline with a crush while you both fall asleep.

Jonathan Sierra, 17, of Albuquerque, New Mexico — who uses the app to talk to local friends — said that “Every night before bed, most of my friends and I use the app and talk until we fall asleep on it. We do this practically every night on weekdays.”

Similarly, Andaluz described her Houseparty slumbers as a communal event, saying that after two or three hours of chatting one night, “we didn’t want to get off and go back to talking in the group chat, so we decided to fall asleep together and it kind of felt like being in one room with my friends,” she reminisced. “It was a really nice, like, moment.”

Despite their similarities when it comes to general social media patterns, millennials and Gen Z have nuanced differences when it comes to making connections — namely the craving for more privacy by the latter — which is where apps like Houseparty come in.

To that point, Jodie Cook, managing director of JC Social Media Limited, explained: “Whereas Generation Y went from having private conversations — like text messages, MSN Messenger, AOL Messenger — to having public conversations (like on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram), Generation Z have grown up with those public conversations and are now seeking more private ways of communication,” Cook said.

This includes reverting to communicating through messaging, Snapchat, private Instagram messaging, video chatting and smaller group chats. The age of the public overshare appears to be coming to a close.

“Generation Z have seen many Generation Y members post too openly and miss job opportunities, or embarrass themselves,” Cook noted. “So they’re more aware of their own personal brand from the outset.”

On the other hand, David Lee King, author of “Face2Face: Using Facebook, Twitter, & Other Social Media Tools to Create Great Customer Connections,” explained that perhaps “nostalgia” isn’t necessarily the driving factor behind this new wave of social apps, but merely an inspiration to push platforms forward.

“It’s sort of like ‘Let’s build on a familiar concept, like texting, and make it visual,’” King said.

Regardless of whether Silicon Valley is borrowing from Web 1.0’s early social media success, Cook believes that internet cycles will naturally occur when it comes to resonating qualities.

“The nostalgic internet features that are simply being repackaged into new designs seem to be having such success with today’s social media users for different reasons,” she explained. “For many social media users, these features aren’t ‘nostalgic’ at all, because they weren’t old enough to remember them the first time round!”