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New Facebook App A Throwback To Old Chatrooms

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Facebook launched a new app this week. It's called Rooms but really there's nothing new about it.

MIKE ISAAC: Think of it as a sort of mobile throwback to the Internet of yesterday, when most of how we went online was AOL or chat rooms that you pick a username - so like football fan 1234 - and you just start chatting away.

CORNISH: Mike Isaac is a tech reporter for The New York Times. The app allows you to choose from a variety of chat rooms. There's Photography Lovers Unite and Noms From Above - that's for food lovers by the way. There's even one for finding the best parkour spots.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

You connect with others about common interests but you remain anonymous. You can take on a different identity in every room.

ISAAC: Say I want to know more about an illness or some world problem that I'm either too scared or embarrassed to talk about it in person.

SIEGEL: Mike Isaac says this new spin on chat rooms also raises all of the previous concerns - with a truly open space come potential dangers, especially for younger users.

CORNISH: Isaac says there are safety settings but there are still risks.

ISAAC: It is a little more free-for-all than, say, going on traditional Facebook and talking to people on there. And that's sort of dangerous as far as how can I protect my child from the craziness that is the Internet these days?

CORNISH: This concept of multiple anonymous identities is a shift for Facebook. The company has come under fire for deleting the Facebook accounts of people who did not provide their real names.

ISAAC: They've realized there's much more room for who we are and it's hard to sort of pigeonhole ourselves into one person online.

SIEGEL: Facebook has also realized that it needs to do more to compete for people's attention. The company is trying here to take on the likes of Twitter and Reddit but The Times' Mike Isaac says Rooms isn't much of a threat so far.

ISAAC: I would say Reddit and, you know, other little micro communities aren't quite worried at this point. It's sort of like keeping a wary eye on what Facebook is doing.

SIEGEL: Isaac says it's not clear whether the Rooms app will have the momentum to become the next well - the next Facebook.

CORNISH: And you can chat with us anonymously or not at our Facebook page, npratc. You can also join the conversation on Twitter. We're chatting all day. The handle is the same, @npratc. And you can chat with Robert, right? What's your handle?

SIEGEL: @RSiegel47. I actually tweeted today.

CORNISH: Actual tweets came out of that handle. And you can reach me at @nprAudie.

SIEGEL: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.