Facebook's Creative Labs has just announced a new iOS app simply called "Rooms." The app lets you create discussion rooms based on topics and invite friends through private invitations or a public link. So it's kind of like Reddit, but on your own terms.
For every message board you create with the app, you're given the tools to tweak and design the room exactly the way you want by changing everything from the color scheme to the look of the icons.
The Rooms team describes the app as a return to early internet days where chatrooms, messages boards, and forums pretty much ran the web, but with a focus on posting photos and video, a byproduct of our new Instagram-fueled mobile world. Because of this, Rooms is laid out much like Instagram, as just a vertically scrolling feed of content based around the Rooms' pre-determined subject. However, its function is closer to community forums like Reddit. Imagine the ability to create your own subreddits with all the familiar message board tools like setting age restrictions, posting rules, and jettisoning anyone who doesn't play by them.
Here's how the Rooms team, led by Facebook's Josh Miller, describes their new mobile creation:
A room is a feed of photos, videos, and text – not too different from the one you have on Instagram or Facebook - with a topic determined by whoever created the room. Early users have already created rooms for everything from beat boxing videos to parkour to photos of home- cooked meals. There's even a room called "Kicks From Above" that showcases photographs of cool shoes in cool places.
Much like the team's mission of reclaiming the early internet nostalgia of like-minded people gathering in user-generated chatrooms, the way you actually join those rooms also feels somewhat antiquated. You have to use a QR code. Yes, a QR code. When you create a new message board, Rooms will generate a QR code on a square ticket looking thing. You can then text or post that image, so you can control who could possibly join. Then would-be users screen capture the image and hop in the Rooms app. The app then analyzes the photos in camera roll for any QR invitations, and lets you join.
This all seems unnecessarily complicated. The Rooms app also has no discover feature, so it's hard (at least right now) to even find Rooms worth joining. Once I was in a room, I decided to join a "Parkour Spots" room for example, the chatroom is just a steady stream of videos and images related to the topic with customized "Like" buttons and comments tabs.
Facebook's app game has been shaky as of late. Creative Labs released its Snapchat competitor in the summer, which also brought unneeded confusion to the world of ephemeral messaging. But quick first impressions suggest Facebook might have something with Rooms. There's lots of scenarios where something like this would be handy, whether a small group of friends posting about normal everyday stuff of extreme hobbyists wanting to talk about their share obsessions. It just might take a few future updates to realize that potential.