At each of Facebook’s F8 Developers Conference events, the company shares its vision for the future of its platforms — kicked off by a keynote address from CEO, Mark Zuckerberg. F8 is an apply/invite only event, so it was especially exciting to be in San Jose this year. It’s definitely an upgrade from watching via live stream like I’ve done in years past.
Facebook shared a compelling vision for its platforms – including Facebook, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus. I’m organizing that vision into three themes.
- Facebook’s Future is Private.
- Facebook’s Future is Messaging.
- Facebook’s Future is AI and Machine Learning.
The Future is Private
These were almost the first words Mark Zuckerberg spoke at the opening keynote. It’s no secret that Facebook has an uphill battle to earn back broad public trust, but I was impressed that the issue was addressed so directly and so consistently.
This statement, and its supporting directives were repeated throughout F8; finding their place in many sessions.
End to End Encryption. This means a message (text, photo, and video) can only be decrypted by the sender and intended receiver. Not even Facebook can read the message’s contents. This is similar to how Apple’s iMessages work.
Reduced Permanence. The word “ephemeral” is popping up all over these days. Ephemeral content has an expiration date; becoming inaccessible to anyone but the creator after its expiration. Snapchat was the pioneer of ephemeral media sharing, but Facebook and Instagram “Stories” have seen big adoption rates.
One of the Facebook leaders presenting on stage said they felt strongly about reduced permanence because (and I’m very loosely quoting), “people shouldn’t get in trouble for something they said years ago.” Bad, or just unpopular, choices recorded on social media have undoubtedly cost people jobs and job opportunities many years later.
As a social media user, I mostly support the move to more reduced permanence. I can also see that Facebook might be hoping to retain the younger users of Instagram with this focus. And still a harder sell, but they may be hoping to recoup some of the young Facebook users who left years ago to avoid their parents.
As a marketer, reduced permanence could be good, and I don’t expect it will be bad. Even if a Facebook Story expires, I expect that Facebook is still using the content to influence what’s targeted to that user. And if reduced permanence makes them post more often, and more frankly, then the targeting data we advertisers crave could actually get better.
The Future is Messaging
Each month on Messenger, more than twenty billion (20,000,000,000) messages are exchanged between consumers and businesses.
First generation social media is the opposite of private. It could be described as “sharing everything with everyone – forever.” The rising use of private messaging is undeniable, and Facebook has the data to prove it. Facebook has seen explosive growth in Messenger, Instagram direct messages, and WhatsApp.
You may not be familiar with WhatsApp, but it is the most popular messaging app in the world with 1.5 billion users; 15% more than Messenger. Its adoption rate is relatively low in the United States (at 23 million users), but it’s used by over 200 million people in India and 120 million people in Brazil. There was a lot of conversation around WhatsApp at F8 – a reminder that Facebook may be the world’s most global company.
Facebook is reacting to this shift with its introduction of end-to-end encryption to protect user privacy. And bigger yet, Facebook is moving to unify 1:1 and group messaging across Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp. This will allow a conversation to start and continue with users on any mixture of those platforms.
Unified messaging will not only make it easier to communicate with friends that have a different “favorite” app, but it also connects people who may not even have access to one of the other apps.
Builders need to care about this because consumers are increasingly expecting to communicate with businesses in channels like these. We’ve implemented Messenger chat on dozens of builder websites and have seen great leads and incredible conversations happening there. It’s simple for a consumer to use. And the best part? Unlike the typical “live chat”, the conversation stays in a user’s Messenger app, so they can pickup the conversation long after they’ve left your website using the Messenger app, the Facebook website, or the just-announced-at-F8 Messenger desktop apps coming this fall.
Bonus: Facebook is graduating the Messenger “Schedule an Appointment” feature out of closed beta. This means site visit appointments via Messenger are coming soon.
The Future is Machine Learning
Warning. I’m going to nerd level seven in this section.
Admittedly, I’ve always been a little lukewarm on the prospects of AI (Artificial Intelligence). Some of this is due to “A-I” becoming the most buzzy, overused, and misused acronym in technology. Machine Learning could be described as the education system of artificial intelligence. It is the systems used to teach an AI what it “knows.” Facebook pulled back the curtain way back on its machine learning efforts at F8, and shared the details on how it makes its AI systems so smart. I was incredibly impressed.
If you’re interested in a contrarian take on artificial intelligence, I highly recommend reading Life After Google by George Gilder.
Facebook’s AI makes a suggestion four hundred trillion times each day. That’s this number → 400,000,000,000,000. Some of that is lightweight lifting like predicting who you’re trying to mention in a post, but Facebook shared some amazing uses of AI to analyze shared links, photos, and even the content inside video. While many have mixed feelings about Facebook’s ability to scan the content of a video, consider the power of this example. Facebook has trained its video analyzer using 65 million videos and boasts a 82% accuracy rate for identifying more than 10,000 different actions. This machine learning process involves only 80 hours of human review, as opposed to earlier training methods that would take over 12,000 hours of human review. This means Facebook trains its AI 150x faster, but it also means being able to stop the spread of violent video content that much sooner.
If that’s not technically complicated enough, consider that Facebook accurately scans text, audio, and video content in over 4,500 languages, handling translation from both spoken and written words.
Why should builders care?
Facebook is serious about keeping users happy and attracting new ones. This should give everyone a little confidence that investing in Facebook advertising and advertising platforms is a good bet.
If Facebook can use AI to help identify patterns and remove unapproved content, what could they help us learn about what our customers want to see? This leans back toward the scary spying territory, but the possibilities for advertising to improve its genuine relevance and helpfulness is exciting.
An Incredibly Well Run Event
I’m not sure why I was surprised, but F8 ran smoother than any conference I’ve ever attended. Doors opened on time. Sessions started on time. You couldn’t walk fifty feet without seeing a staff member in a matching shirt ready to help answer your questions. Every single member of the staff was friendly and eager to say, “hello.” The security, guides, food service, custodial, and software engineers – I felt genuinely welcomed by everyone.
Attendee comfort was clearly a focus. There was hot breakfast, lunch, and nearly-dinner food served each day. Espresso and coffee bars were setup in multiple locations. And check out the snack bar — all free to grab. This must be the kind of snack options Facebook employees enjoy :). Oh, and the after parties and happy hours were the real thing. The only thing better than the classic video games was watching tipsy developers dance 😉
So much more happened at F8. I shook the hands of Facebook team members I’ve only previously video chatted with. I met key engineers that will be the ones helping the ONeil team build our next big innovations. I hope to have the opportunity to attend again.
Thank you Facebook. I’m still a little intoxicated by the possibilities.
More of my favorite photos from F8