Facebook has just launched a standalone app that doesn't even allow you to connect with Facebook (even if you wanted to) and also lets you be anonymous – to a certain degree. It's called Rooms, and you can download it now at the App Store (if it's working, which it may not be right now).
With Rooms, Facebook Creative Labs seems to be playing with the idea of early internet nostalgia. It's said to be "inspired by both the ethos of these early web communities and the capabilities of modern smartphones."
At its core, Rooms is a forums app. It lets you create and join mini message boards, each one focused on a specific topic. This is free-form foruming if you will (as opposed to pre-made board topics), which means each "room" can be as general as movie discussion or as specific as traditional Jewish cooking.
Each room is basically a vertical feed, populated with photos, text, and videos.
And each room's creator acts as a moderator, as app head Josh Miller says,
"Not only are rooms dedicated to whatever you want, room creators can also control almost everything else about them. Rooms is designed to be a flexible, creative tool. You can change the text and emoji on your like button, add a cover photo and dominant colors, create custom 'pinned' messages, customize member permissions, and even set whether or not people can link to your content on the web. In the future, we’ll continue to add more customizable features and ways to tweak your room. The Rooms team is committed to building tools that let you create your perfect place. Our job is to empower you."
And in a departure from Facebook's much-discussed real name policy, Rooms allows you to remain anonymous – or at least lets you adopt a screenname.
"That’s why in Rooms you can be “Wonder Woman” – or whatever name makes you feel most comfortable and proud. You can even create different identities for different contexts. In my room for technology industry discussions I am “Josh” but in another about backpacking travel I am “jm90403” – a homage to my hometown zip code. Sometimes I want to go with my real name and sometimes I prefer a nickname. It depends," says Miller.
If you download Rooms today, you might find it hard to find room to join. That's because Rooms doesn't (yet?) have a browse or search function. In another hit of internet nostalgia, finding and joining rooms is all based around QR codes – which are autogenerated for each room, and then used as tickets of sorts to join the boards. The app will scan your camera roll for any QR codes you've saved, and that's how you enter into a room.
It's too early to see if the idea of Rooms catches on – but the concept of easy-to-create and easy-to navigate mobile message boards seems interesting enough. When it comes to Facebook's standalone apps, at least Rooms isn't derivative. That's more than we can say for some.
Images via Rooms, iTunes