Facebook sent reporters scrambling to process a virtual big data workload of news April 12 on Day 1 of its yearly F8 Conference on the waterfront at Fort Mason in San Francisco.
While the social network was tight-lipped ahead of time on the bulk of the news items, at least one had been anticipated by a few insiders: That being a new Messenger Platform for developers that includes bots and a Send/Receive API. Indeed, a beta program for so-called Chatbots was announced at the conference.
By providing these new bot components, Facebook is basically opening up the Messenger platform to make it possible for users to message businesses and buy products or services—not unlike messenging friends to arrange a night out at the movies.
Chatbots can provide anything from automated subscription content—such as weather and traffic updates, to customized communications like receipts, shipping notifications, and live automated messages—all by interacting directly with the people who want to get them. More on this in a minute.
In other announcements, Facebook:
–unveiled a new 360-degree 3D camera, the Surround 360, to use with its Oculus Rift VR headset;
–is expanding in a big way its main developer tool package;
–opened its Instant Article feature to all users;
–announced a new 10-year plan of priorities for expansion of product and services development.
Chatbots are interactive software apps powered by artificial intelligence that are designed to simulate human conversation. They are coming into play more and more on messaging services to perform simple tasks.
While they are not yet common in the U.S. and Europe, chat bots have become popular in Asia, mostly in services such as WeChat.
Chatbots will enable users to deploy Messenger to buy products and for businesses to sell items and offer customer support right on Facebook, instead of customers having to search for customer-service 800 numbers or find email support on specific Websites or apps.
Starting April 12, Messenger users have a half dozen more bots on Messenger to try, with another dozen or more coming soon.
Other chatbots will allow users to interact with online services, such as messaging a Google delivery courier to buy your groceries at Target or Safeway. News articles from your trusted news outlets can be sent to you in messages; you can order takeout food and have it delivered using Messenger.
“We think you should message a business just the way you would message a friend,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on stage. “To order flowers on 1-800-Flowers, you never have to call 1-800-Flowers again.
“I’ve never met anyone who likes calling a business. And no one wants to install an app for each business.”
Here’s another example: Users can send a message to mobile shopping sites for an apparel item, such as a baseball team logo jacket. The bot will ask you what your top-line budget is, and then show you some options from several competing sites. Once you’ve decided, then you then can place the order for the L.A. Dodgers weather jacket from inside the Messenger app.
This all might become a shock to users who might still be learning the ropes of desktop Website sales pages. If they’re not comfortable with all of this new-fangled e-commerce, they can touch a button to block messages from businesses if they choose to do so.
Facebook Messenger is used by 900 million people at least monthly worldwide and by 50 million businesses. Early big-name partners in the messaging app include Bank of America, CNN, eBay, HP, Staples, StubHub, Thrillist and Zendesk.
Facebook’s Messenger business model is a bit unclear at this time, but Product Manager David Marcus said the company is not focused on making money on it just yet.
“In the future, if we have enough really awesome experiences between businesses and people, I am sure we will figure out a way to monetize at some point,” Marcus said.
Surround 360 Camera Reference Design
No, Facebook isn’t going into the imaging hardware business just yet. Its Surround 360 camera is a strictly reference design for high-end video capture. The social network has developed the camera as an open source platform for developers to use as a model; the reference design is scheduled for publication on GitHub this summer, the company said.
The round-the-corner-and-more camera features a 17-camera array: 14 wide-angle cameras along its circumference, a fisheye camera looking upward and two more cameras on the bottom.
Using new cloud-based software, Facebook said its camera also can collate and render the 360-degree footage in real time. The resulting imaging is meant to be seen using a VR headset; movies generally render at 8K for each eye and at a smooth 60 frames per second.
The camera resembles a small “flying saucer.” Facebook claims the Surround 360 is the best-designed camera of its kind with the ability to record for multiple hours without overheating.
Facebook Unleashes Big Data Workload of News at F8
Facebook is expanding its main developer platform, too.
For example, a new Save to Facebook button will enable Web developers to add a button to their content that allows users to save content to a private section of Facebook that only they can see. The company says 250 million people already use the feature, and this integration means users will have an even easier way of getting content into the service.
Product Hunt and Overstock.com, along with other partners, have already joined in this initiative.
In addition to the Save to Facebook button, a new quote-sharing feature is designed to make it easier for people to share content they enjoy with their friends. When a developer integrates with this feature, users will be able to share from an article or book without having to copy and paste from one app into another, or take a screenshot of the text before posting it as an image to Facebook.
Amazon is an early integrator of the feature. It now allows users to highlight a section of a Kindle book, then post it to Facebook with a few taps. The move will help publishers increase their reach on the social network while making it more convenient for users to share books and quotes they like.
Facebook opened up its Instant Articles offering to all publishers, allowing anyone to import their content into the social network and add it directly to a user’s News Feed. Previously, the feature was open only to vetted journalists and other Facebook users.
The social network said that adoption has been excellent with more than 1,000 publishers worldwide. “We see clear evidence that Instant Articles provides a better reading experience for people and a significant boost for publishers looking to reach their audiences on Facebook,” product manager Josh Roberts wrote in a blog.
Facebook also said it has added new partners and tools for Instant Articles, including integrations with Medium, Nielsen, WordPress, RebelMouse, ShareThis, Sovrn, Tempest, Adobe Analytics, Chartbeast, and SimpleReach.
Video Rights Manager
Because there is an upsurge of stolen videos on Facebook, the company felt it had to so something to kill the trend. It has been relatively easy for video thieves to copy videos from YouTube, TV, or other Pages, and then post them on Facebook as their own to gain more engagement and fans.
This so-called “freebooting” was driving video creators crazy and Facebook right along with them. Last August, following a article on the topic in Slate.com, Facebook said it would start testing a tool to help stop freebooting. The tests are over, and the enhanced security is now here.
It launched Rights Manager at F8, an administrative tool for Pages that enables video creators upload video clips they don’t want others to take. Rights Manager then monitors for copies of these videos to be posted to Facebook, and can then either automatically report them as violations to be deleted or notify the original publisher.
Rights Manager isn’t openly available yet, but content owners can now apply for access here.
The 10-Year Zuckerberg Plan
Finally, Zuckerberg explained his company’s 10-year plan to “connect the world,” as well as make it a better place to live, work and share Facebook posts.
Zuckerbeg said Facebook eventually wants to reach all of the Earth’s 7 billion people, even if 3.5 billion of them do not have Internet access. He called out indirectly at regimes who limit free trade and immigration.
“We are one global community, whether we are welcoming a refugee fleeing war or an immigrant seeking opportunity, coming together to fight a global disease like Ebola or to address climate change,” Zuckerberg said.
Zuckerberg delivered a shot to Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who has famously suggested building a 10-feet-high wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and banning all Muslims from entering the United States.
“As I look around the world, I’m starting to see people and nations turning inward, against the idea of a connected world and a global community,” he told the 2,600 attendees at the conference.
“I hear fearful voices calling for building walls and distancing people they label as ‘others.’ I hear them calling for blocking free expression, for slowing immigration, for reducing trade, and in some cases even for cutting access to the internet. It takes courage to choose hope over fear,” Zuckerberg said.
Zuckerberg presented his 10-year plan for Facebook development in three sections:
–artificial intelligence, which will help the network better analyze and understand all the photos, videos and updates people post to Facebook;
–connectivity, the goal of making Facebook and the Internet available everywhere and to everyone through lasers and drones; and
–virtual and augmented reality, which Zuckerberg said will someday bring friends together even if they are on other sides of the planet through a pair of “normal-looking” glasses that can overlay digital elements on the physical world.
Facebook F8 continues through April 13.