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BW Businessworld

Is There Room For Facebook Rooms?

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The current decade would most probably be remembered as the age of mobile technology. The world is going digital and the scale of involvement is massive. No company wants to miss out out on the revenue pie. Thus, a new day, a new smartphone app has pretty much become the norm these days. It is like a fashion trend: they come and go; few stay but a product from a big player never goes unnoticed. Facebook Rooms is one such app.
Rewind your brains a bit, go back to the days when we only had a dial-up connection and chatting meant the world for us. Yes, the great Yahoo Chat is what I am talking about. Back in those days it was the only way one could connect to unknown people across the world without revealing any identity. But then things changed.
Services like Hi5 and Orkut marked the beggining of a virtual social world where you need to have an identity. Until recently, this idea was the sole focus of all messaging and social media companies but Facebook decided to go retro!
There got to be some business logic behind this, right?  
"When you are a company that's more than ten years old and you have been number one for so long, you are in a prime position to make attacks and create headlines. You need to introduce things in order to keep your user base fresh. Facebook's original audience lies in the '20s and '30s age group but the company needs to maintain its relevance for 16-year-olds as well. They got their in-house innovation team for the first time three months ago, so expect more news from Facebook," says Jason Mander, Head Of Trends, GlobalWebIndex.
Allo, a free chat application, won rave reviews from US and UK users for being completely ad free and offering secure annonymous networking. This further pushed Facebook to take a reactive approach and launch its own Rooms app on similar lines. 
With IT driving the Indian growth story, the country has a growing consumer base of text applications with a solid chunk of young population to back the growth where competitors can co-exist profitably. "There is a clear transformation to multi-networking. Apps are going to compete with each other but from the user's perpective, they are not hard wired to one single application," says Jason. 
Facebook already has a massive user base through two of its premiere offerings: Facebook Messenger and Whatsapp. Of all the internet users in India who actively use chat applications, Whatsapp is the favourite with 52 per cent users. This is followed by Skype with a market share of 42 per cent. Facebook will definitely use its established platforms to market Rooms and draw young and diverse user base towards it. So what are competitors doing? 
"In a short span of time since entering the Indian market, we have achieved 30 million registered users milestone.The peer-to-peer messaging is growing at an astounding rate of 23 per cent in India and the numbers are likely to spike further," says Damandeep Soni, Head, India Business, LINE. We have an application called LINE Hidden Chat which promises to delete each message from LINE’s servers after a certain period of time to indicate how privacy and security is one of our foremost concerns. LINE prioritizes user privacy protection and stable service support as top priority, and we continue to offer the most dynamic services that can be trusted anywhere around the world."
WeChat, with a market share of 26 per cent Indian internet users, has been using star power and has been running regular campaigns since a long time. This has enabled it to scale up its user base with a massive increase of 2364 per cent from Q3 2013 to Q3, 2014. They already have chat rooms and intend to add more features and functionality to it.
It is clear that Facebook Rooms is an experiment from the social media giant. The app, in its present form, has limited functionality. Users have reported that it is difficult to locate a room (one can name a room of his/her choice). An anonymous chat application always comes with security concerns and the app has already found an audience with evil minds. The established players are combat ready and it won't be easy for this new kid to carve a place for itself. 
On the brighter side, Rooms might still be able to recreate that old charm of anonymous chat rooms. After all, seldom does any one return empty handed from the land called India!