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I’ve often said that social media is nothing new, just old tricks with new tools. The latest app from Facebook Creative Labs fits that definition perfectly. Those of you ‘experienced’ enough to remember dial-up modems will remember an early form of social media: the chat room, IRC (internet relay chat) systems. The arrival of Rooms brings that concept to the current online generation.

On its own launch blog Rooms pays homage to that very legacy:

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 chat rooms were meeting places for people who didn’t necessarily share geographies or social connections, but had something in common.

That’s Rooms. It’s standalone from Facebook, you don’t even need to surrender your privacy to the huge corporation either. Just an email address logs you in and offers you the semi-anonymous opportunity to geek out with others who share your passion for a subject. Facebook’s community standard guidelines still apply, keeping it legal and fairly family friendly, but moderators have a high level of autonomy as to what their room looks like and also who can access it – invited guests only. In fact, law professor Daniel Citron told Wired that he sees Rooms as perhaps the future of the internet due to this different approach to privacy and identification:

“This could be a sign that we’re starting to create a middle ground that takes advantage of the best qualities of anonymity.”

Moderators can also choose to filter content, literally moderating posts and banning those who go too far, so why is it lacking the wow factor? Possibly because of the limited launch. The team that created Facebook’s other standalone apps Slingshot and Paper the Facebook Creative Labs team have limited the launch of Rooms at the moment to iPhone app only. If take up is strong expect other platforms too, but will take up be strong?

If people understand the benefits properly, then possibly yes.  Rooms technically allows people to talk in a relatively safe space, amongst like-minded people, about interests they have passion for, without the need to be anxious about people connecting those opinions with their real identities. To some that actually shepherds in the worst of social media to others it seems less inhibiting. The problem probably lies in the lack of understanding people have about the social media platforms they already have. What you post online, stays online, effectively in a public arena even if you have privacy settings high – those you allow to see it can just as easily copy and paste elsewhere and rightly attribute it to you. Once it is there, there is no turning back. Deleting a tweet only deletes it from your timeline, but somewhere a bot has already copied and stored that as a permanent record.

Interestingly, what Facebook Rooms may serve best is the debate about internet privacy. On traditional platforms people are often too worried about what speaking up for privacy might mean to them, but in rooms without that personal identification, there may be more scope for a reasoned argument to ensue.

Finally, the biggest threat to Rooms is probably its older brother. Many new ideas and platforms have come and gone but the sheer size, weight and power of Facebook probably leaves little room if any for an alternative or complementary platform to make any sort of inroads.

Have you used Rooms? Can you see yourself using Rooms in six months’ time? Is there any chance for a new platform to come in and rival Facebook and Twitter?

 

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