Facebook wants to bring back the anonymous chatroom

(CNN) — Remember in the late ’90s when you would kill time in AOL and IRC chatrooms or post on Usenet? You’d strike up conversations with strangers about subjects you were all interested in, say “The X-Files,” container gardening or The Fugees.

Facebook wants to bring some of that community back with a fun new iOS app called Rooms. The free app, released on Thursday, lets you create or join chatrooms based on shared interests.

Start a “room” for “Law & Order” fan fiction writers, toss up a background photo of Olivia Benson and customize your name or like button with gun or knife emojis. People who join the room can post photos, text and videos. You can share the invite wide or keep the guest list short, though the posts are public.

The social media giant is 10 years old.

That’s solidly middle-age in Internet years, as evidenced by the number of parents and grandparents who have successfully colonized Facebook. To avoid obsolescence, the company has been quick to jump on any new messaging trends that are hip with the kids. It bought Instagram and WhatsApp. It made a Snapchap clone called Poke in 2012, and another called Slingshot earlier this year.

Recently, anonymity has been a hot topic embraced by standalone apps such as Whisper and Secret, and cherished by people whose online personas are entirely pseudonymous. Facebook saw first-hand how much people value being able to communicate under their chosen identities. The company started cracking down on members who weren’t adhering to its “real-name” policy and incurred the wrath of activists and drag queens.

Rooms takes the opposite stance. It doesn’t require people to use their real name, and encourages chatters to use as many “nicknames” as they like for different rooms. In the blog post announcing the app, Facebook’s Josh Miller trumpets the key feature.

“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.”

Though the app is showing up in the Apple App Store and many people have successfully downloaded it, some users have reported difficulty downloading Rooms.

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