With Rooms App, Facebook Tries To Resurrect The ’90s Chatroom

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We’ve discuss a lot on anonymous social network in our class. Now Facebook, the biggest social network based on acquaintances, also want to take a piece of this big market. This article introduces Facebook’s new app named Rooms, which is an attempt to recreate the experience of the chatrooms and message boards, where identity was a thing to be constructed rather than verified.

“On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog,” runs the caption of The New Yorker’s most popular cartoon ever. Now, not only does everyone know you’re a dog, they also probably know where you went to obedience school and what your puppies look like. The “Rooms” want to turn the clock back to the old pre-dog-knowing days. “One of the magical things about the early days of the web was connecting to people who you would never encounter otherwise in your daily life,” writes Josh Miller, the leader of the team that created Rooms within Facebook’s Creative Labs incubator unit. “Forums, message boards and chatrooms were meeting places for people who didn’t necessarily share geographies or social connections, but had something in common. Today, as we spend more time on our phones, primarily to communicate with friends and family, the role of the internet as a “third place” has begun to fade. ”

While Facebook has had a tool for group sharing for years, called Groups, Rooms differs from that product in a number of ways. First, it’s designed for mobile, with an Instagram-style scrolling feed as the interface. More to the point, it’s complete divorced from one’s Facebook account or other social profiles. A user creates a Room by sharing a QR code with invitees, and moderators retain control of the discussion. In that respect, it’s not dissimilar from Branch, the startup Miller founded before joining Facebook. And Rooms was created with the expectation that users will prefer to use pseudonyms rather than their real names.

Miller: “One of the things our team loves most about the internet is its potential to let us be whoever we want to be. It doesn’t matter where you live, what you look like or how old you are – all of us are the same size and shape online. This can be liberating, but only if we have places that let us break away from the constraints of our everyday selves. We want the rooms you create to be freeing in this way. From unique obsessions and unconventional hobbies, to personal finance and health-related issues – you can celebrate the sides of yourself that you don’t always show to your friends.”

Of course, there are some “unique obsessions and unconventional hobbies” that a company like Facebook would prefer not to empower — child porn trading, drug deals, hate speech, etc. Facebook has historically been intolerant of those sorts of things, even if it hasn’t been especially punctilious about enforcing the rules. How will it police Rooms to discourage the seediest activities while encouraging law-abiding users to feel that what goes on there is their private business? As I’ve said before, if Facebook wants to be a player in the burgeoning realm of anonymous and private sharing, it will have to grapple with some of its fundamental assumptions.

Question for the class: Do you think it’s a good attempt for Facebook entering the anonymous social network market and why they want to launch this product? What’s their potential advantage compared to other products? Will you use it to meet strange people using a virtual identity?

Wanting Yang

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