In 2011, Josh Miller left Princeton in his senior year to co-found a group blogging startup, Branch.
Branch then raised $ 2 million from a group of notable investors and was advised by Twitter co-founders Evan Williams and Biz Stone. In January, it was acquired by Facebook for an estimated $ 15 million.
Since then, Miller and his Branch team have been working on a new stealth app for Facebook’s Creative Labs group. As part of this, he has frequent meetings with Mark Zuckerberg to discuss the direction of the app.
Today, Facebook is announcing what Miller is working on. The app is called Rooms, and it hopes to revive the old but popular idea of Internet forums on mobile devices. It allows users to create forums for content that interests them. Then the admin can invite other like-minded people to contribute to the feed with a unique QR code.
Early reports suggested that Miller’s stealth project was a clone of the popular anonymous apps Secret and Whisper. For Miller, it’s strange to have preconceived notions about what he’s building just because he’s a part of Facebook. Facebook was recently accused of cloning other popular apps like Snapchat and TapTalk.
While the app has anonymous components, Miller’s Rooms app looks more like WordPress or Tumblr than a gossip exchange site.
“The reason people got excited about the internet is because they realized, ‘Wow, I can find other regular people for me,'” Miller said of the inspiration for Rooms. .
For example, if you are interested in Syracuse Orange, you can create an “SU Basketball” room, write a quick description, change the look of the stream, and start a discussion.
HThis is what a beekeeping room might look like.
The pieces look a lot like the layout of the popular Secret app, where a large photo from a camera roll can be overlaid with text or icons. Links and videos can also be added to feeds.
Rooms are easily customizable in terms of privacy settings, background colors, and even similar buttons. For example, if you’d prefer forum contributors to express their appreciation with a beer mug emoji and the word “Cheers!” “Than a thumbs-up and” Like “you can configure it.
Each room has a unique QR code that can be captured by a guest. When that guest opens rooms, the app automatically recognizes the QR code in the user’s camera roll and lets them enter the forum.
Rooms is not tied to Facebook or mobile contact lists at all. To register for a room, you must create a username of your choice, but you can have multiple usernames on the app. No identifying information is collected which is very different from Facebook. So, just like comment sections on traditional websites or forums, fake names can be used rather than real identities.
Facebook strives to remove all branding from the experience, in the same way that WordPress allows blogs like TechCrunch to use it without displaying its logo everywhere.
Miller’s team has been working on Rooms for the past six months, most recently in London where they spent a year gathering tech talent and collaborating with iOS guru Alan. Cannistraro. Cannistraro created some of Apple’s classic apps, such as iBooks.
The rooms, says Miller, were not a shower idea and there was no “aha!” time for that. It also wasn’t from a Facebook hackathon, like Slingshot did either.
“When we joined Facebook, we were considering a few other companies,” Miller said of the acquisition. “Facebook was really excited to see us working on the same issues here. What we have achieved at Facebook is that if you add up all the forums and message boards on the internet, it’s huge. But there isn’t. no forum apps in the top 100 mobile apps. “
The product is almost too simple. There’s no search feature for people interested in participating in like-minded rooms, for example. Miller says there are a bunch of features that Rooms intentionally leaves out of launch.
“We thought, ‘Before we make it more complicated let’s see what people think,” Miller said. The theaters will observe how people use the product and develop the features accordingly.
Miller says Mark Zuckerberg is excited about Rooms and his team has had monthly meetings with the Facebook CEO to discuss the app’s progress.
When asked if he was thinking about the fact that he was a student three years ago and now has monthly meetings with the Facebook manager, Miller laughed and said his close friends kept him going. feet on the ground.