Rooms is a sort of throwback to the early days of the internet, perhaps even to bulletin boards before the internet existed. It is an app for iOS devices like the iPhone that people can use to create chat rooms. Unlike modern social networking services like Facebook, Twitter and others, Rooms is anonymous and that could be a problem.
The concept of Rooms is interesting and the idea is that you can create a chat room of your own on any subject you like, or join one that someone else has made. A chat room is dedicated to a particular topic, so it could be a fan club for your favourite celebrity or football team, a hobby like fishing, golfing, mountain biking or cooking, or anything else you can think of.
It is that ‘anything else you can think of’ that could be a problem. Rooms could become a place to discuss all sorts of unsavoury topics by people you would not want to meet in real life. Just look at the Rooms rating on the iTunes store, it warns of fantasy violence, sexual content and nudity, realistic violence, alcohol, tobacco and drug use, gambling, horror, profanity, crude humour, and suggestive themes.
That is really worrying. Although the app is made by Facebook, you don’t log in with Facebook and Facebook does not have access to your account or profile. In fact, you don’t need to give any information at all. I created a chat room without giving any details about myself and joined others without giving any info.
Surely this just invites troublemakers? In some ways, an open app with no privacy would actually be better. It would stop people talking about things they shouldn’t, it would discourage bullying, and it would make people accountable for what they say.
The app’s privacy is strange, although it will appeal to people paranoid about privacy, but it is strange in other ways too. For example, there is no way to discover chat rooms apart from a tiny number of suggestions within the app. It doesn’t have, say Instagram’s popular page.
Joining a chat room is weird and it uses a sort of circular QR code that it displays on the screen. You then take a screenshot of it or load a photo. (For those that don’t know how to take a screenshot, hold down the home button and press the power button.)
The chat rooms themselves are actually quite good. If you create one, you can enter a title and description. You can select a Like button, pin a message to the start, choose whether people can post directly or if posts have to be approved, make posts searchable, manage members and moderators and so on. This sounds old-school and it is, but done in a modern way on a top-end smartphone.
You can post text, photos and videos to the chat room, like people’s posts and add comments. I joined Photography Lovers Unite and found it to be similar in some ways to an Instagram feed in which you have followed a bunch of photographers. I quite like it and I am sure there are many others, if only I could find them.
It is actually not that difficult to find chat rooms outside of the app and you can just search for #rooms in Twitter or Instagram, and there is a reddit thread for example. No doubt sooner or later someone will post a list somewhere on the web.
Rooms is actually quite a good app and there are some interesting chat rooms being created. However, I just wonder whether it has a dark side where people chat about who knows what. And how do you stop kids from joining?
I haven’t looked into this side of it and maybe someone somewhere is keeping an eye on the legality of what is being discussed, what photos and videos are being shared, and who is looking at them. I certainly hope so. I really don’t see the benefit of anonymity, although I can see why certain people would find it attractive. Anonymity just encourages some people to behave badly.
I do hope I am wrong about this, because it could be a great app.
- Written by Roland Waddilove
- Published: 25 October 2014