The glory days of the chat room are far behind us. These days, the term “chat room” is just a vulgar way of saying “group chat” — much like excusing oneself to use the poop room instead of a restroom. Yet, new social app Banter makes a compelling case for why chat rooms deserve a second chance.
The startup, which was cofounded by iChat creator Andrew Busey and former Zynga engineer Tony Chen, launched new iOS and Android apps that enable you to seek out conversations about a particular topic with strangers. The app also lets you follow other users you speak with often, and it lets you send private messages.
This is not a new concept by any means. However, the Banter team succeeds in ways that Facebook and Twitter fall short.
“I think we have to identify what we’re doing as chat rooms because that’s what people know and understand,” said Busey in an interview with VentureBeat. “That doesn’t mean they can’t be improved.”
Banter rooms differ from the old-school chat rooms of the ’90s in some pretty big ways. For starters, the service isn’t really interested in grouping chat rooms together by arbitrary categories. Instead, there’s more of an emphasis on matching people with good conversations. And messages aren’t restricted to a mix of text and stupid emoticons. Banter chats let you send photos, summaries for URLs, and the universal language of our generation, animated gifs.
Also, the service doesn’t log every single thing that’s said. Public chat records are only available for 24 hours, while private chats stay archived for six months. Banter also wants to allow its users to set basic requirements for those who wish to participate. For instance, you’ll be able to create a room that’s specific to people with the same geolocation data.
By comparison, Facebook logs virtually every action you make and generally isn’t good for randomly striking up conversations with people outside your social circle.
In an interview with VentureBeat, Busey mentioned how people use Twitter to live-tweet a current event, linking their thoughts — and the thoughts of everyone else commenting about it — by adding a hashtag. But trying to follow a conversation by reading through a stream of hashtags is difficult. And responding to someone else rarely grabs the attention of more than a handful of others.
“You just end up blasting back and forth, [occasionally] stopping to respond to someone,” Busey said, adding that this gets old after a while if all you want to do is find a good conversation.
That said, Banter does provide a consolidated feed of messages from all the chat rooms you’re currently participating in, should you feel the need to quickly scan where conversations are going. These are individual bits of a conversation like on Twitter, so if you read something interesting, you can always delve in.
Founded in 2013, the Austin, Texas-based startup has raised $800,000 in seed funding. For a closer look at the service, check out the demo video below.