Reddit is introducing a new chat room tool, in a throwback to the old days of the internet when those were a thing. The feature, called “Start Chatting,” will randomly sort users of popular subreddits into small, private group chats. Reddit says the feature is rolling out to around 16,000 SFW subreddits this week. To use the feature, you’ll want to visit a popular subreddit that has the feature enabled. You’ll see a button labeled “Start Chatting” beneath the community’s description. Click that, and you’ll be randomly matched with a small group of up to seven other users who are also in the subreddit. The group will be entered into a chat room for private discussion and meme-ing.
Reddit isn’t the only platform increasing its focus on chat. Facebook revealed earlier this year that its vision has shifted to prioritize its messaging services, including WhatsApp and Messenger, as the majority of new users show low interest in Facebook’s traditional website and mobile app. Last week, the company released Messenger Rooms, a video-chat service for groups of up to 50 people. It also doubled the capacity of WhatsApp’s video calls and added the functionality to Facebook Dating. Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a recent blog post that Facebook hopes to make Instagram Direct, WhatsApp, and Messenger interoperable with SMS.
These are tools to help you stay in touch, though; what’s unique about Reddit’s service is that it’s focused on forming new connections. It seems like a smart idea — plenty of folks would probably love to develop close connections with other Reddit users, but might be wary of reaching out themselves. And while the random chat rooms of internets past often led to awkward (or creepy) experiences, the fact that Start Chatting takes place in a subreddit means participants already have a shared interest and an easy conversation topic. At a time when in-person opportunities to make friends are limited, this could be a fun way to form virtual contacts.
Reddit has experimented with private group messaging in the past. The platform tested community-wide chat rooms in 2018, but it wasn’t a huge success; most of them weren’t particularly active, and many had their share of jerks and spammers that you’d expect from a quasi-anonymous online community. Whether this new iteration sees greater success may depend on if Reddit can effectively moderate chat rooms’ content while still letting users feel comfortable expressing themselves.
In a statement to The Verge, a Reddit spokesperson said that chat rooms will be moderated by Reddit admins. “We have a number of safety tools built into the feature and have integrated our general reporting flow, so users can report any messages or policy-violating content within the group chat,” the spokesperson said.