As the web gets more commercial, more companies want to track and know the real you. The backlash against this — and the desire to have “ephemeral” interactions in the digital world — is why Andrew Busey, the creator of iChat 19 years ago, has built Banter, a chat app with no names and little storage. The app lets people sign up with any user name and discuss … well, anything they want.
With Banter, you can follow certain topics, like gaming or SXSW, create chatrooms and start private conversations. As someone who has spent gobs of time in IRC and old-school chatrooms it feels like a modern refresh of chat, designed for a mobile interface. Busey says that he felt like the world is veering toward the immediacy and conversational nature of chat while valuing the ability to have a conversation that isn’t archived.
And so, much like the allure of Snapchat is supposedly the fact that photos disappear, chats in Banter public rooms are only readable for 24 hours and those from private rooms will be archived for six months. That time may decrease depending on how people tend to use the app, Busey said.
“I wanted to bring back old-school chat that allowed pseudonyms or alias and lets you assume a real or fake persona,” Busey said in an interview. “This type of chat in gaming is popular, and we think it makes sense across a lot of things.”
The app will be available for Android and iOS devices and the plan is to build a revenue model around in-app purchases that might allow for longer archives or perhaps the ability to create many private rooms. Busey is willing to wait to see how people use the app before making big decisions around revenue, but it’s clear that he’s not keen on advertising.
I compared the app to Meebo, a chat program from the mid-to-late 2000s that grew as a chat program and then morphed into a content generation/sharing platform for publishers. It was later purchased by Google for around $100 million. Busey said that he wanted to keep Banter focused more on chat.
The question for Banter, then, is whether now is the time for chat — and whether or not there is a viable business selling “fancier” versions of chat to end users. Even iChat turned to the enterprise to find revenue, providing chat for companies like Sony and Yahoo. But with an app model and easy tech maybe the time is here for a lean chat startup offering aimed at consumers weary of being archived and identified.
Banter Chat Inc., the company behind the app was founded this year, and has raised $833,000 from various angel investors. As the co-founder and CEO, Busey has returned to chat from years spent starting other companies in the social and gaming space. He co-founded Pluck, an online content creation site that sold to Demand Media and a gaming company that sold to Zynga.