Facebook launched an iPhone app yesterday, Rooms, that is markedly different from its flagship app in many ways. It doesn't link up with your Facebook account or ask you to import your phone contacts, and you don't even have to use your real name. While Facebook is mostly based on real-life connections, Rooms consists of mini-message boards focused on a certain interest. If you love astronomy but your friends want you to shut up about the lunar eclipse already, you can create a room dedicated to your passion and invite others to join.
App developer Josh Miller sought to create a kind of throwback to when the Internet was new, and conversing with strangers online was a novel idea.
"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," Miller said in a statement introducing the app. "Forums, message boards and chatrooms were meeting places for people who didn't necessarily share geographies or social connections, but had something in common."
Of course, there are still numerous online communities today for certain hobbies and interests, but Rooms brings the chatroom experience to mobile devices. Each room is customizable, and contains a feed where users can post text, images and video. Users are able to go by a different nickname in each room, therefore developing a new identity within each space.
"One of the things our team loves most about the Internet is its potential to let us be whoever we want to be," Miller said. "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."
What's also unique about the app is how you get invited to join a room. You have to be sent a QR code that you then save to your camera roll. When you open Rooms, the app recognizes the code and adds you to the matching room. While this feature is innovative, it's also a barrier to entry that might limit the growth of the app. When you download it, you do have access to a few rooms to get started. These include rooms dedicated to food, backpacking, and live music.
The reaction to the app on Twitter has been mixed so far.
After playing with rooms for a bit, I like it. It's such a unique app.
— Anthony Castelli (@neueanthony) October 24, 2014
Anyone else played with @facebook’s new Rooms app yet? The QR thing feels like a bit of a barrier. — Nick Atkins (@ideabake) October 24, 2014
I'm not sure if it's gonna adopted by many but Rooms app has some awesome features. — Nassos K. (@nassoskappa) October 24, 2014
— f0xish (@f0xish) October 24, 2014
It's too early to tell whether Rooms will be successful, but if kittens are involved, that's probably a good start.