For a social network that’s as obsessive about verifiable information as Facebook, publishing an app that allows groups to communicate semi-anonymously seems a bit peculiar. But that’s what Facebook’s done under its Creative Labs division: Rooms for iPhone, which launched today, lets people set up spaces for discussion about … well, anything.
Its features will not be unfamiliar to longtime IRC users. Elevated users can customize the appearance and function of a room, including its topic, name, maturity level (e.g., 18+), background color, and emoji. He or she also chooses who to invite. Rooms are not publicly accessible, and there is no directory. Besides a few modernizing touches like the ability to share text, photos, videos, and comments, the experience is largely similar to chatting protocols that have been around for decades.
But Rooms is arguably much easier to use. It doesn’t require an account of any kind and joining is accomplished via a QR code system. Streamlined moderation tools allow administrators to ban devices from rooms, or flag discussions as inappropriate. Members identify simply by nom de guerres of their choosing.
Some may dismiss Rooms as a fascimile of Secret, but lead developer Josh Miller says that’s a mischaracterization. Miller, who led Branch before its acquisition by Facebook in January, believes the casual elasticity of Rooms is its greatest asset — the opportunity to discuss things freely in as inclusive or exclusive a setting as the participants wish.
It’s unclear how widely Rooms will be used, but Facebook believes there’s a lesson in the app’s future failure or success: It’ll either help to improve the company’s existing products, or become an essential part of the Facebook ecosystem. Internally, at least, it’s perceived as a win-win and that bodes well for its longetivity.
If you’d like to give Rooms a spin, check it out on iTunes.