Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB), which has a zero tolerance policy for fake and anonymous accounts, released a new app called Rooms which will allow users to chat with each other anonymously.
The most popular social networking site which had more than 1.32 billion active users by the end of the second quarter of 2014 has insisted on its users registering with their real names at the time of sign up. Surprisingly, Facebook Chief Product Officer, Chris Cox, had justified the company policy of not allowing any fake users, saying users are safer if they are more open with their personal information not very long ago.
Apps like Secret and Whisper which allow users to post anonymously have been gaining popularity of late. Some see this new app which allows setting up virtual rooms to be Facebook’s reaction to Ello, a new social platform which has promised its users not to treat them as commodities and not to divulge their personal data to third parties like advertisers. Though Ello is still evolving and is going through its teething troubles, it did claim of getting as many 40,000 new users every hour a few days back.
What is “Rooms” all about?
Rooms is one of the latest attempts by Facebook owned Creative Labs to widen its user base and to reach out to a larger number of smartphone users.
The app has been made available only to iOS users in USA and Great Britain so far and will be rolled out for Android and desktop versions and other countries soon.
“Rooms lets you create places for the things you’re into, and invite others who are into them, too,” Facebook product manager Josh Miller said. “There is a good reason in a lot of situations why you don’t want people to know who you are and it’s not because of something sketchy. We want to give people flexibility because that’s what they want”.
Any room is a feed of text messages, pictures and videos like a Facebook group or Instagram, the only difference being the users’ right to safeguard their privacy by staying anonymous.
Anyone who creates a room or sets one up can invite others to join in and discuss their views on the topic with their chosen alias. The creator of the room gets the exclusive ‘right’ to choose its cover photo, background and room icon. He also gets the exclusive right to control what gets posted on the wall in that particular room. To make the app look more cool and interesting, it comes with emojis. Further, he can also control the privacy settings of the room.
Users can sign in to the app and then chat choosing interesting aliases or pseudonyms like “Fast and furious”, “Kung fu panda” and “Queen of hearts” or pretty much anything they like. They can enter a room only when one of the existing members of the room sends them an ‘invite’. This invite is passed on along the circular QR code by posting it online, or printing it as a photo offline.
One of the best features of this app is that one does not have to be a Facebook user to be able to use this app. Members of a room can choose to share text messages, pictures and videos with people in their room, just like they do over normal Facebook chat.
Not only that, users can have different identities for varied interests. A baseball lover who loves to cook can have two different pseudonyms. A golfer might choose to chat with his own name in his room “Avid golfers” but choose an alias like piscean0045 in a dating room.
Highly reminiscent of Yahoo chat rooms, where one had all the privacy till, of course, one decided to spill the beans!
The already popular rooms are about home-cooked meals, Beat boxing, parenting, beekeeping and a lot more. One can choose to create or join rooms where conversations are centered around health, chess, sex, nail art, tattoos, personal finance, makeup tips, UFOs, travel, religion, Sudoku- very much anything under the sun! Kendama, a traditional Japanese game, has been a huge hit with a large number of Facebook employees. Besides playing games and chatting, users can discuss sensitive issues which they wouldn’t normally be comfortable talking about with real life friends.
Josh Miller believes that “the app is a throwback to the early days of the Web when people from all over gathered in forums, message boards and chat rooms, and used pseudonyms to discuss topics they had in common. Now you can connect with people anywhere around the world who like something as much as you do.”
Social media analysts, however, believe that Rooms is a take-off from Twitter based public and private real time conversations. If so, this wouldn’t be the first time Facebook has copied a Twitter feature so blatantly, the most popular ones being hashtags and, of late, “Trending” features.
Facebook’s earlier attempts with messaging apps have not been too successful. Anyone remembers Snapchat look alike Poke launched in 2012? It ran out of steam in 2014. Earlier this year, it came up with another Snapchat clone called Slingshot, the response to which has been lukewarm too, to say the least.
The two giant networks, Instagram and WhatsApp, acquired by it are going great guns though.
Still too early to guess how many occupants will queue up for Rooms ….