Facebook's Creative Labs has launched an iOS app called "Rooms," and whether or not it succeeds, it is indicative of some key trends in social media that we should all watch.
First, let's understand Rooms as a concept. The app brings back the chat room concept of the early 1990s, which, at the time, used something called IRC (or Internet Relay Chat). It allowed users to chat anonymously with screen names. Facebook has brought that back, outside of the Facebook platform, around areas of interest, including art, cooking, and anything else that tickles your fancy. To join a room, users scan a 2D barcode, which can be shared across social platforms. The moderator controls the content and guest list, and, unlike the chat rooms of yesteryear, Facebook's standard community guidelines apply. Abusive behavior or imagery will not be tolerated, and rooms have age ratings for appropriate content.
Here are some of the trends that I think we can gauge from Facebook's creation of Rooms:
1. Communities of commonality are important.
It's sometimes less about who you know, and more about what you want to talk about. Jason Miller, Product Manager at Facebook, said in his blog post, "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...Forums, message boards and chatrooms were meeting places for people who didn't necessarily share geographies or social connections, but had something in common." You see this popping up a lot with networks like Pinterest, where people follow boards related to things that interest them, versus boards that their friends put out that may not resonate as much. Rooms allows us to focus on what matters to us, versus Facebook, which focuses on what matters to our friends.
2. We miss our privacy online.
There was a time where you could offer a political commentary online and not fear that it would be part of your digital footprint forever. There was a time when you could remain somewhat anonymous on the web, connecting with people who didn't know every which way they were connected to you. That is no longer the reality, and it's clearly a void that we miss. "In Rooms you can be 'Wonder Woman'--or whatever name makes you feel most comfortable and proud," Miller said. This is a stark contrast to Facebook's uber-connected network, where everything is about being your authentic self. I see Rooms as a response to Ello, and other networks that focus on privacy. It will be interesting to see if users can get over the fact that Rooms is a Facebook product, part of a company that's not known for its protection of your anonymity.
3. Facebook understands the concept of diversified feeds.
Many of us thought Facebook was nuts when it acquired Instagram for one billion dollars. Many of us questioned when it purchased WhatsApp for 19 billion dollars. But Facebook has really grown to understand that different feeds have entirely different purposes. I might not share on my Facebook News Feed, primarily filled with friends and family, about my love of 19th century art. I would, however, want to talk about that on Rooms. I might not want to clutter my Facebook feed with pictures of my Pumpkin Spice Latte, but on Instagram, it's a go! Facebook understands that each network's content will vary, and it has focused on acquiring and creating networks that meet different needs for users. Rooms is the next iteration, and whether it succeeds or fails, it signifies yet another need in the market that Facebook is looking to solve.
Have you tried Rooms yet? Let me know in the comments.