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In yet another attempt to encourage users to spend more time with their friends online, social media giant Facebook has built a new feature codenamed “Host Chat”. If ever rolled out, this feature would allow users to set up chat rooms with friends who can join without invitation. This news comes from TechCrunch, who shared the news this morning courtesy of “a source familiar with the feature.”

Facebook has since confirmed its work on Host Chat to TechCrunch, but clarifies that it will often “test things from time to time with a small percentage of users.” In short: the feature is in development, but may never see a public release if Facebook deems it unnecessary. But given Facebook’s glaring obstacle of keeping conversation happening on it rather than competing social platforms, it’s likely in their interest (and plan) to make the feature available soon.

In fact, Facebook is directly competing in the messaging space against Apple’s iMessage and Google’s Hangouts with their simple Messenger app – so this Host Chat feature would not be an unwarranted addition to Facebook’s family of software. This “War of Words” between companies is over high stakes, as messaging today generates massive user engagement as well as monetization opportunities through advertisements and purchasable sticker packs for use in chat. Additionally, the elusive data on a user’s closest friends are on the table, data valuable to giants like Apple, Google and Facebook seeking ways to better engage and advertise to its audience.

Credit: TechCrunch
Credit: TechCrunch

So, how does Facebook Host Chat work? In theory, quite simply. A Host Chat button will appear on a user’s homepage, similar to the placement of the “Update Status” and “Add Photos/Videos” buttons. In this case, selecting the Host Chat option will let the user to set a name for the chat as it regards to an event, a topic, or something totally unrelated – it’s up to the host. They can then add specific friends to the room, similar to the messaging system in place now, or they can open it up to their entire friends list to join.

When this is selected, the game is a foot – any one of your friends can join and start posting immediately. Those that do will have seen it in their news feed as a story, as Facebook will auto-generate a notification to alert friends of your new chat room. Hosts can also set privacy restrictions like a user limit or the ability to boot undesired folks out.

Early internal tests of the feature only allowed text (no photos or videos), but it’s likely that Facebook’s proprietary sticker feature, Emoji, will be included – though it’s not yet confirmed. These early tests were also limited to web-only use, but Facebook’s persistent insistence that it’s a mobile company may indicate its desire to ensure the service’s arrival on mobile app stores.

If it means more engagement for Facebook, you can be fairly sure they’ll make it happen. That much was made clear with the creation of its independent Messenger smartphone app.

All of these details on Host Chat could very well change before the feature’s potential rollout, so be wary until we hear more of an official announcement from Facebook.

Whether or not this potentially eventual feature will make a large enough splash in the messaging space to warrant more user time on Facebook is unclear – though one fact is. The way we connect online has come near full-circle. We prefer chatting in groups, tagging all of our friends, and sharing locations we visit together online. We enjoy conversing together more often than one-on-one, and we want to share our thoughts with many.

If we’re moving on from direct messaging in favor of group discussion and persistent sharing, Facebook is certainly aware of it, and is making big moves to capitalize on it.

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