Learnings from F8 2018

Good for People + AI + Deeper Connections + VR – Video

That’s how I would summarize my Facebook F8 2018 attendance if I had to in one sentence. Let’s dig in.

 

F8_Allan

 

Good for People

Because of the recent attention Facebook has received for perceived data breaches, fake news, and political ads delivered on their platform, “Good for People” was a major theme (and phrase) that was used throughout the conference.  

It was used in many contexts from helping block fake news, to removing hate speech, detecting bullying, and blocking fake accounts.

The intent felt honest and well-intentioned but when you’re operating at Facebook’s scale, with 2B+ active users, you need to automate. Enter AI.

Artificial Intelligence

If there was one main technical theme for Facebook F8 this year, Artificial Intelligence was it.

As CTO Mike Schroepfer indicated in his keynote on Day 2, “AI is the foundation of everything we do”.

Last year, Facebook’s image recognition AI could tell you if something in a picture was ‘food’. Now, it can tell if that food is a cupcake. This advancement came as a result of new ways to train AI at scale by accessing libraries of public images that have hashtags.

You may have noticed recently that Facebook automatically translates posts and comments into your language of choice–and is enabling people to communicate using Messenger with those that speak a different language. While that isn’t new per se, advancements in AI do a better job of understanding what is being communicated and translating that into more natural phrases.

This brings us to Facebook’s desire to raise the game in terms of how people connect.

Deeper Connections

Facebook announced last year that they tweaked their algorithm to focus more on people and less on companies so that your timeline is filled with stories related to your friends rather than pages.

They stepped this up at F8 with several significant announcements.

First, group calling for WhatsApp. If you live in North America and thought WhatsWhat? Know that WhatsApp has over 450 million users worldwide, more than double Snapchat! It’s a big deal.

Second, AR effects for Instagram. Finally! Instagram account owners will be able to tie effects to their specific accounts and will be able to use that as a way to attract followers.

Third…well, many of us thought this one was a bit of a joke. Facebook has taken “bringing people closer together” to a logical extreme by announcing a new dating feature after they realized that many people naturally meet on Facebook through friends. Don’t expect a dating app per se, but rather, private specialized features to help people connect.

To explain why Facebook went down this path, Zuckerberg said “Did you know that 1 in 3 marriages in the United States starts online? We haven’t built any features to help people find partners. There are two hundred million people on Facebook that list themselves as single so there’s clearly something to do here. This is for building long-term relationships, not just hook-ups”.

This is ‘coming soon’ and probably the biggest story coming out of F8.

 

F8_dating

 

What blew me away the most, however, when it comes to connection, is the life-like avatar technology and location recreation tied to their VR products. A perfect segue.

Virtual Reality

Facebook announced Facebook Space, the VR version of their social network last year. This extension to Facebook allows you to create an avatar that looks like a cartoonish version of you. The spaces themselves are also animations of virtual spaces. It is interesting but didn’t feel like you were really there with the others in the space.

However, Facebook demoed an advanced version of this idea that blew people away. The result was avatars that are lifelike and move their lips in sync with your own voice. They also showed 3D recreations of spaces that were virtually imperceptible from a video of the location.

Given that my family and I recently moved 4,000 miles away from everyone we know in Canada, I can totally see how my daughters would use this instead of FaceTime to chat with friends, play games, and just stay connected. Truly mind-blowing.

The cherry on top of the VR cake was Oculus Go, the world’s first standalone VR set.

And it starts at $199!

I tried it on the expo floor and have been playing with it for the last few days since all attendees got one to bring home! Yes, you read that right. I’m very impressed with what I’ve experienced so far.

At that price, and with others likely following quickly behind, we could finally reach the tipping point for VR.

 

F8_VR

 

If you’re a media company, don’t think this is just for gaming. It is just as much and if not even more for connecting with others and even more so for media consumption.

The Oculus folks shared some interesting stats when it comes to media on Gear VR, which uses smartphones in headsets optimized for VR. A much less elegant solution:

  • People spent more time-consuming content on their phones when it was docked in the Gear VR set
  • 40% never played a game on Gear VR
  • 99% watched video
  • 83% of all time spent was on media and entertainment apps

So, for anyone that thinks of VR primarily as a gaming platform, these stats, and the stats that are likely going to come out of Oculus Go, will point to VR being used primarily as a social and media consumption device.

Related: A Primer on Immersive Reality

Which brings me to video and Facebook, or the lack thereof. Video was strangely missing.

Video

At last year’s F8, there was a lot of talk about video.

360 Video and the incredible 24 lens camera Facebook developed and open sourced. The Facebook Video OTT video app that was released in March 2017. A content team, led by Ricky Van Veen, as well as several panels on this topic.

The message at the time was “we understand that monetization is a huge issue for publishers and we are working on it”.

This year, there was barely a blip of discussion about this video, other than the Oculus video partnerships.

And yet, Facebook launched Facebook Watch and is investing heavily in video. There has been numerous executive-level hires in the last six months and lots of activity.

It tells me they will continue to aggressively explore what Facebook users want and to figure out the best way forward.

We are doing our part to explore partnerships that can bridge publishers and Facebook, and are very optimistic about video bringing people together, whether it is on the web, the Facebook app, OTT apps, or VR.

I encourage you to check out all the sessions here: https://developers.facebook.com/videos

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