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Facebook tests out chat rooms

The social network is borrowing a popular format from the '90s to stimulate conversations and get members hooked on its messaging products.

Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook event, June 20, 2013.
James Martin/CNET

Facebook is currently testing a chat room product to stimulate viral discussions among friends, TechCrunch was first to report. The social network later confirmed the test to CNET.

Facebook chat rooms would allow members to click "Host Chat" from atop their home page, TechCrunch reported, citing a source familiar with the project. Once a person decides to host a chat, any of their Facebook friends could then join the chat without an invitation.

Chats would be promoted in News Feed, though the host would have the option to set privacy restrictions, TechCrunch said. The rooms, however, reportedly only support text for now, which makes them far less functional than Google Hangouts, the search giant's more modern take on the chat room concept.

Facebook chat rooms, at least as they've been described, seem to overlap in purpose and function with Facebook Groups but could be a less structured, more kid-friendly way for the social network to stimulate active discussion threads and keep people using its site and mobile apps for extended periods of time.

The chat room product is also likely intended to drive more of the social network's 1.11 billion members to use Facebook Messages. The cross-platform messaging app, which now features a panoply of sticker packs to draw in younger users, faces stiff competition from a growing crop of messaging applications with massive audiences including WhatsApp, Kik, Viber, and Line.

Earlier this week, Branch, a startup backed by Twitter's inventors, launched Potluck as a modern-day twist to the chat room where friends and friends of friends can hang out and chat about links. Perhaps the dated chat room format is poised for a comeback.

Update, 2:54 p.m. PT: With confirmation from Facebook.