Facebook launches Rooms: a way to share your interests without sharing your name

Facebook launched a new app called Rooms on Thursday. Unlike Facebook itself, Rooms allows users to comment pseudonymously on different topics – just like early Internet bulletin boards.

Jeff Chiu / AP / File
"Rooms," a new Facebook app, allows users to anonymously discuss common interests. Here, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the company's headquarters in Menlo Park, California.

Facebook unveiled a new app called Rooms on Thursday -- and while the company has been focused lately on forward-looking technologies (think Oculus and WhatsApp), this is more of a throwback to the days of Internet bulletin boards.

Rooms are collections of text, photos, and videos centered around a single topic such as mountain biking, city gardens, or pugs. Unlike Facebook itself, which firmly insists that people post using their real names, Rooms allows people to interact pseudonymously. Conversations happen in real time, and the relative anonymity (participants can change names between Rooms, or even within a single Room) affords users some privacy even if a Room itself is public.

This concept is similar to older online bulletin-board systems that were popular from the late 1970s through the mid 1990s. Those systems, which were also mostly anonymous, allowed users to chat with each other, post news about topics of interest, and use public message boards. Those systems, however, centered around text, while Rooms is designed to encourage users to share photos and videos. It can only be used through an iOS app (presumably an Android version will materialize shortly), and is designed to connect users with others who share their interests, no matter where on the globe those others may be. Josh Miller, the leader of the Rooms team, is quoted in the New York Times as saying, “We don’t want this to be a place where you talk to friends … There are many people out there that you didn’t go to high school with that you want to connect with.”

The app was built by Creative Labs, Facebook’s division focused on smartphones and mobile devices, based on technology built by Branch Media, which Facebook bought in January for $15 million.

Will Rooms catch on? There are already plenty of ways for people to have conversations online without revealing their real names, from mobile apps like WhatsApp, to internet forums, to web portals like Reddit. But Rooms has an appealing combination of public and private aspects – for instance, users can invite others to their Room with invitations that include a QR code, which, when scanned, grants admission to the Room. And while the content of Rooms isn’t particularly private, you must be invited to join a particular Room – there’s no search function.

Facebook doesn’t have an immediate plan to make money from Rooms; the company has said it might eventually sell upgrades and premium features. Right now, the app doesn’t even contain any ads. But for now, Facebook is focused on helping the app gain an active base of users.

Have you participated in Rooms yet? What do you think of the app? Let us know in the comments section below.

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