#Facebook has built a new feature codenamed “Host Chat” that lets people set up chat rooms their friends can join without an invitation, a source familiar with the feature tells us. I’ve contacted Facebook and it confirms it has begun testing this feature in the wild. Reminiscent of the old #AOL chat rooms, it could get Facebook users to meet friends of friends and spend more time on the site.
Facebook verified with me that it’s testing the feature, but wouldn’t comment on details beyond saying “we do test things from time to time with a small percentage of users.” These tests can be a small as a fraction of a percent of all users, and are sometimes isolated to particular countries, so it’s unlikely you’ll see this in your own Facebook unless the feature does well and receives a wider roll out.
The leak comes as Facebook is fighting a war for messaging. It’s own cross-platform chat competes with SMS, Apple’s iMessage, and now Google’s new unified messaging system Hangouts. Meanwhile, it’s battling independent international players like #WhatsApp, sticker-focused products like Japan’s Line, and novel communication forms like #Snapchat.
The stakes are high as messaging generates huge amounts of engagement, direct monetization opportunities through ads and sticker sales, and valuable data on who someone’s closest friends are. For tech giants like Apple, Google, and Facebook, messaging encourages platform lock-in, driving time spent on their other products.
Chat rooms could be a powerful weapon in this fight because of their relatively passive nature. With direct private communication, users typically pop in and out just to send and read messages. But people often keep chat rooms open for long periods of time. That meshes well with Facebook’s strategy of driving high amounts of time-on-site. Facebook users might browse the news feed or friends’ profiles for longer and see more ads to fill time while they gab in chat rooms.
HOW FACEBOOK CHAT ROOMS #WORK
Our source provided extensive details on how the feature works. There’s always a possibility that the feature gets scrapped rather than rolled out, its interface evolves significantly, so know the details might change if Facebook decides if it is worthy of a wider release.
The Facebook chat rooms feature creates an option to “Host Chat” in the Facebook home page’s status update composer. Currently users see buttons for “Update Status”, and “Add Photos/Video”. The “Host Chat” button would be a third option there.