Just when you thought all anonymity on the Internet was lost, Facebook announces its latest app –Rooms. That’s right, the 10-year-old social media giant, often ridiculed for requiring its users to use their real names, is bringing back the anonymous chat room.
The free app, available in the App Store, is completely separate from Facebook and requires no personal information such as name or location. In order to start chatting, you need to be invited to a room. Invitations come in the form of special QR-like codes that can be shared on social media, email, or even in print.
According to Facebook, “Rooms lets you create places for things you’re into and invite others who are into them too.” The emphasis is on creativity and empowerment, allowing users to not only develop a room about any subject, but also customize its every detail, including colors, photos, permissions, like buttons, etc. Beyond the rooms themselves, freedom of expression is promoted with the ability to create your own identity and even different identities for different rooms and interests.
This ability to remain anonymous and openly express thoughts, feelings, and interests is one of the most appealing aspects of the new app. In an age where we are so concerned about being scarred by our digital footprint, we are yearning for the ability to share online without fear of our opinions affecting future job opportunities or relationships.
In his blog, Product Manager Josh Miller reminds us of the beauty of the 90s chat room – the ability to connect with people with shared interests with whom we may have never otherwise had the opportunity to connect. The anonymity and topical nature of Rooms brings the focus back to what users themselves are interested in rather than the interests of their friends and other social connections.
So, what sets Rooms apart from other anonymous apps like Whisper, Secret, Reddit, and YikYak, where users can express themselves freely? According to Facebook, the difference is that their stringent community guidelines still apply; meaning abusive behavior and/or imagery is not tolerated. In theory, moderation will limit the spam, trolls, bullies, and abuse seen on other, more “hands-off” sites.
As the user count grows and the app comes to life, we’ll be watching for a few things:
• Will people trust Facebook, a company not known for its appreciation of privacy, enough to use the app and use it as it’s intended? Despite skepticism over their purchase of Instagram and WhatsApp, people are continuing to use the apps, which speaks to Facebook’s understanding that different platforms need different content.
• How successful will Facebook be at moderating and policing content? An app that allows people to express themselves freely, but not too freely, is a big undertaking.
• Is there room for anonymity and connectivity on the Internet? There has certainly been a shift from the early private chat rooms, to the real-name enforcements seen on social networks, like Room’s creator. This may be the start to finding middle ground.