4/12/16, 9:50 am
It’s day one of F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference, and the keynote is about to begin. We’re expecting to hear about chatbots, more developer tools, live video and, of course, more about virtual reality.
It’s hard to imagine that, for most of us, the platform is barely 10 years old; it was opened to anyone who had a valid email address in September 2006. But, even beyond the realities of a digital and social world, in which we collectively create and share millions of pieces of content daily, we are now living in an age in which artificial intelligence and virtual reality are real, and are becoming even more embedded in our everyday lives.
“Today we’re going to do something different. We’re going to walk through our roadmap for the next 10 years,” says Zuckerberg. “Before we get into detail, I want to talk about our mission, and why the work we’re doing together is more important than it’s ever been. Facebook’s mission is to connect the world, and the Internet has enabled us to access and share more information and ideas than ever before.”
For the first time that I can remember, Zuckerberg is venturing into the political, at least in this venue. He alludes to politicians who talk about building walls, and inciting fear of the other. “It takes courage to choose hope over fear,” he says. “It’s this hope and this optimism that is behind every important step forward…instead of building walls, we can help build bridges. And instead of dividing people, we can bring people together, one connection at a time.”
How this all comes together 10 years on, at least from a product perspective, is the Facebook family of apps: WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook, Instagram and Groups.
Here’s a peek at the top news.
Save to Facebook
This has always been a somewhat buried feature (but even so with 250M monthly active users), but today Facebook announced the ability to save any page to Facebook, and the ability for developers to add this button to their sites. (Hello conversion attribution, those of you running social programs for brands.)
Today, 900 million people use Messenger daily. Today, Facebook is launching Messenger Platform so developers can build chat bots for it. The idea is that, as a user, the more you use it, the more it is able to tailor its recommendations to you. “Now, in order to order flowers from 1-800-FLOWERS, you never have to call 1-800-Flowers again.” This is particularly interesting for brands that want to scale customer conversations across digital channels, either for service, sales or other purposes.
“We’re at the beginning of a golden age of online video.” Zuck tells the story of a woman named Laina, who, when her mother was sick in the hospital, streamed her wedding so she could see it. And Facebook is opening up the video API. Again, tremendous potential for branded content as well as for surfacing user content of interest.
Zuckerberg concludes by laying out the top three priorities for the next 10 years: Connectivity, Artificial Intelligence and Virtual Reality.
It’s tempting to think of these as separate entities, but the truth is each reinforces the other in some way. Connectivity of course is the infrastructure that enables digital tools to reach people at scale, and plenty has been written about Facebook’s efforts (and agenda) in this area. Artificial Intelligence is at a critical juncture, because (at least in my opinion) it is still something many people think of as science fiction (films like Her, Ex Machina, Black Mirror come to mind) rather than part of our daily reality.
Bu if you use Facebook, you already interact with AI on a daily basis. The “Moments” app includes facial recognition, Messenger uses AI to filter spam (sometimes a bit too well, as recent news stories will attest), Newsfeed uses AI to curate your newsfeed and Accessibility uses AI to interpret photos for the blind. So it’s already here, already so much a part of the way we will communicate in the future. Not for everything, but it underpins as much of what you see as how you interact.
Virtual reality is the piece that, beyond the early adopters, still feels like science fiction. If you’re not a dedicated gamer, what use do you have for it? Is it like Google Glass, which seemed cool (or not) at the time? Will the price point and user experience ever make it accessible enough for everyone?
Clearly Zuckerberg and Facebook believe it will. In Zuck's word's, “VR has the potential to be the most social platform.” That’s interesting when we think about how quickly technology moves and how clunky it always is in its first incarnation. In the future, strapping on a heavy piece of plastic will look quaint (it does already), and we’ll interact with VR in ways that fit more naturally into our daily lives, whether with our phones, or with glasses, or with new devices or immersive screens we can barely imagine today.
My two takeaways so far this morning are this: we’re done with the first phase of digital; ten years ago we had one app—Facebook—that did pretty much one thing. Today there’s a family of apps, and an acknowledgement that we each want and need different types of connectivity for different situations.
But what’s also clear is that there is much more talk today of opening APIs, building ecosystems and fostering development. The cynic in me reads this as even more thirst for world domination, while the optimist hopes for a bit of what Zuckerberg alluded to at the top of his keynote: less wall-building, more bridge-building.