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Facebook's anonymous 'Rooms' could cause IT headaches

Matt Kapko | Nov. 10, 2014
Facebook released a new app that's designed to provide anonymity and encourage users to discuss things, in secret, that they might not normally share with friends. CIOs and their IT teams would be wise to keep an eye on apps like Rooms that let users perform private activities over corporate networks.

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A new mobile app from Facebook could prove to be a cause of concern for CIOs and IT managers. Facebook Rooms, the latest in a series of niche apps developed by Facebook's Creative Labs division, lets users anonymously create and join small online communities based on specific topics.

The Rooms app doesn't require personal information to sign up, and it operates independent of Facebook's social graph. Rooms' photo, video and text feeds are similar to feeds you'd see on other social sites, but they're tailored to enrich specific topics, trends or ideas. Nicknames and pseudonyms are encouraged and can be changed between rooms for anonymity. For example, a user who joins a room for bourbon enthusiasts could use the nickname "BellyFullOfBourbon" before jumping to a pour-over-coffee lover's room and using a name like "JavaToTheBone."

Inspired by Early Web Communities
Facebook Rooms is a throwback to what the Internet used to be -- before social-media-persistent identities and countless logins. It's a nod to a time before users were forced to fill out so many forms and remember piles of passwords.

Facebook product manager Josh Miller, who joined Facebook when his team at Branch was acquired last January, says Rooms is "inspired by both the ethos of those early Web communities and the capabilities of modern smartphones."

"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," Miller wrote in a post that outlined the vision behind Rooms. "Today, as we spend more time on our phones, primarily to communicate with friends and family, the role of the Internet as a 'third place' has begun to fade."

Rooms isn't trying to reimagine or copy the anonymous chat features found in apps such as Secret or Yik Yak. The idea of connecting around mutual interests and the "potential to let us be whoever we want to be," is the central idea of Rooms, according to Miller.

"Our job is to empower you. That extends to the presentation of yourself," Miller wrote. "It doesn't matter where you live, what you look like or how old you are -- all of us are the same size and shape online. This can be liberating, but only if we have places that let us break away from the constraints of our everyday selves."

Miller and the rest of the team behind Rooms encourage users to "celebrate the sides of yourself that you don't always show to your friends."

The concept of selfless thinking can go a long way toward making communications more open and free. One potential downside, however, is that cyber bullies and virtual predators could use that same freedom and anonymity to menace others.

 

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