Facebook's research division — the folks who brought you Paper and Slingshot — unveiled their latest app, Rooms, Thursday. It's a group-based social networking app focused on small communities and anonymous identities.
Rooms bills itself as a mobile-focused version of early chat rooms and forums. Users group up into micro-communities — the rooms — and share photos, videos and text in a communal feed, which can be easily moderated.
The rooms are invite-only, and spread through QR codes, theoretically making each group as private or as public as the creator wants it to be.
Rooms' other big selling point is its pseudonymity: Rooms users don't have to go by their real name, but can use "whatever name makes you feel most comfortable and proud ... [and] even create different identities for different contexts."
The ability to mask your own identity on Rooms has drawn a lot of comparisons to other anonymous social apps, notably Whisper and Secret. But Rooms lead Josh Miller, whose startup Branch was purchased by Facebook last year, says the app is more about building communities than protecting anonymity.
In an interview with TechCrunch, Miller said Rooms is trying to create the same ecosystem of the early Internet, where "each place looks very different from the previous one. We behaved very different, what we talked about was different there, and you can also bring a different side of yourself."
But the idea that a Facebook product isn't tethering users to their real names is getting a lot of buzz — mostly because of the company's previous missteps in that field.
Facebook witnessed a mini-exodus last month after its real-name policy inadvertently targeted drag queens for using their preferred pseudonym. The social network has since apologized and promised to relax its rules.
One of the beneficiaries of that whole blow-up was social media startup Ello, which spiked in popularity in the days following Facebook's bad press. The site recently announced it has raised $5.5 million from investors — despite pledging never to collect any revenue from ads.
Ello's success speaks to a potential hurdle Rooms is facing — standing out from the crowd of social networks already out there.
And a SlashGear writer notes the rooms "reminds me of Google+ communities," which is probably not the comparison you want your app to start off with.