A/S/L? Banter wants to reinvent the chatroom on your phone

Messaging apps are all the craze and the latest batch have been focused on restoring a bit of privacy to your communications. Andrew Busey, the creator of iChat, remembers a time when chats were anonymous without the need of disappearing messages and digital encryption. Banter is his solution, a mobile revisiting of the days of the chatroom.

The app, built for iOS and Android, officially went live late last week and immediately opened up a time warp to our days of AOL Instant Messenger and IRC. Just like back in the glory days of instant messaging, Banter lets you create accounts without requiring any personal information to register. You can join and follow public chat rooms dedicated to specific topics of interest – which are only logged for 24 hours – or start private chats with friends, which are archived for 6 months. There’s even an option to chat with users nearby, easily the biggest jump in technology from the age old method of asking “A/S/L?”

All of this is great in theory, but we found there’s the slight problem when it comes to Banter: No one is chatting just yet. The most popular rooms on the service currently consist of 50 or so people, and that is with the vaguest of room names like “TV” or “Music.” The odds of you finding participants with similar tastes to you are low as evidenced by our experience in Music, where the two competing topics of interest were the latest Justin Bieber record and a call for John Tesh fans.

Once you start finding more specific topics, it gets harder to carry on conversation. We found subsection of the News category titled Ukraine, a timely and possibly good resource for learning about the current conflict. Or it would be if there wasn’t just one other person in the room when we joined, and exactly zero comments made. Meanwhile, the Flirting room was active and full of text from every user trying to hit on the one person claiming to be a girl. Some things never change.

Still, the app is only a few days old. It will get more users. Since day one, activity has already increased a lot. And even if some chat rooms are slow, Banter has a special weapon: the Stream.

The Stream is the home page on Banter, and one of the features that separates Banter from old school chat. Think of it like a Twitter or Facebook feed. Once you join a room, you also follow it. Every comment on the topic is added to one big feed. Rather than continuously jumping back and forth between rooms, we were able to watch messages come in from all of our interests. If one caught our eye, we could jump into that room and join the conversation.

Chatrooms have always been one of those creations that are sometimes great, but sometimes better in theory than practice. The collective knowledge of a group of people should offer wondrous insight and interesting conversation, but chatrooms are often clogged by trolls and others happy to sling arrows from their veil of anonymity. But we can’t blame Banter for the jerks among us. It’s the first truly modern chatroom we’ve used, and the bigger it gets, the more fun and informative it will be. If you like chat rooms (or have never been in one), give Banter a try.

(Banter is available for free on Android and iPhone)

Get our Top Stories delivered to your inbox: