Facebook’s Next Big Thing: Bringing Back That AOL Chatroom Feeling

A few weeks ago, we all heard that Facebook — the site where your real name and offline social connections are meant to rule supreme — was planning to launch an app that supported anonymous use. Today, Facebook announced their new product for real… and it sounds an awful lot like a phone-focused version of the chat rooms and message boards AOL brought into our living rooms 20 years ago.

The new app is called Rooms, and in a sense, it does exactly what it sounds like, GigaOm reports: users can create chatrooms on a theme and then invite others to participate.

Of course, it’s now 2014, not 1993, and times have changed. Plenty of other discussion forums have sprung up in that time, and Rooms, says GigaOm, takes cues from them, too. Room founders can determine their room’s look, feel, and rules and then invite others to join. And the streams of conversation can include images, sounds, and videos, because nobody wants to live in a world where you can’t answer a question with exactly the right *.gif.

Room links are shared by QR code, because long URLs are a pain in the butt on mobile devices. If someone shares the QR code more widely — say on Twitter or even on Facebook — then a room can attract a wide audience and become a major chattering hub. If the codes are kept private, then your book club can theoretically use the room without any random strangers jumping in.

If that sounds like a phone-focused AOL by way of Reddit, that’s apparently the right idea.

The app is also anonymous in the sense that nothing in it ties to your real (or at least Facebook-real) identity. When you join a room, you enter a username for that room, and that username is tied only to that room. If you want to be “John Smith” in a room with professional contacts, and “Lord Fartface” in a room about bad jokes, that’s up to you.

Anyone who has been on the internet for longer than about three minutes will no doubt guess that the service will rapidly and immediately develop a metric ton of rooms devoted to, shall we say, adult activity. Facebook says all rooms must abide by the Facebook community standards policy, which includes “a strict policy against the sharing of pornographic content.” Somehow, though, that seems like a standard that will be impossible for the company to enforce.

So are mobile chat rooms and message boards the social network that users have been clamoring for? That’s another question entirely. It’s true that there’s definitely a place in the world for discussions that don’t fit on Twitter — too public and too truncated — or on Facebook — where your coworkers and your grandma are. (At least, my coworkers and grandma are.) But whether an updated take on the original online talking tool is indeed the next big wave of the future remains to be seen.

Meet Rooms, Facebook’s semi-anonymous app and first real attempt to fix the broken problem of social [GigaOm]

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