Most Brock students are probably too young to remember the days of comic chat and Internet Relay Chat clients, more commonly known as IRC. In the early days of the Internet, before social media and YouTube stars, maintaining your anonymity was key. Internet users went by creative handles and divulging even the tiniest bit of information about yourself was considered not brave, but reckless. Who you were in real life didn’t reflect your online life. You could be anybody, and your username said a lot about who that anybody was.
When Facebook was first introduced in 2004, some older users were nervous about putting their real name online, let alone their birthdate, photos of themselves or their kids, or even what country they lived in. Social media changed all that. In the 12 years since Facebook’s launch we, as a society, have done a complete 180 on online anonymity. People post everything online: Family photos, overshares, political opinions and everything in between. Commenting on the social media posts is common. Sharing every detail of your life online has become normal. People who use usernames instead of real names and profile photos without their face in them are thought to have something to hide or to have potentially nefarious intentions.
Despite that, some people might miss the days of ‘Shopgirl’ and ‘NY152.’ Facebook has found the solution with its new app Rooms. Although the service is not 100 per cent anonymous, it does harken back to the days of usernames by allowing users to call themselves whatever they want in different ‘rooms.’ The rooms can be joined through a link or a scannable QR type code, or instead by invitation if you’re looking for something a bit more private. Moderators can invite people to the room or make them public. Blocking users from a room will block their device so they can’t pretend to be someone else and rejoin like trolls did back in the days of AOL instant messenger. Users can then change their name by clicking on the room name.
“Before, the way you organized on the Internet wasn’t around your address book contacts or the people you went to highschool with,” said Facebook’s Josh Miller in an interview with TechCrunch. “It was around these kind of islands of people and things that you felt an affinity to: interests, topics, those sorts of things”
Miller built Rooms from the ground up with Branch, a company he co-founded that was acquired by Facebook in January of this year. He says Facebook hasn’t neglected this aspect of online interaction, but it is different from what they’ve been doing so far.
“A lot of the companies that could have been great that have failed lost focus of what they were good at and what they cared about and what their mission was. So I think Facebook’s mission, and I think what always makes Facebook so awesome was friends and family, and creating a community for people that you know.”
While many of the features are not exactly self explanatory, the potential for a service like this is enormous. Rooms can be created for clubs, organizations, social groups, etc.. It has the ability to do more than just report a post if it’s offensive or makes people uncomfortable.
With some social media sites, like vine shutting their doors, and others looking to expand through public investment, Facebook needs to find new and interesting ways to stay relevant. Whether Rooms is the way to do that is yet to be determined.