When more than 2,000 people descend on San Francisco this week for Facebook's annual two-day F8 developers conference, their discussions and decisions will have a huge impact on how you and 1.59 billion other people around the world use the social network. Topping the bill, by all accounts, is the company’s foray into chatbots that allow users to order products directly through Messenger.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will be the main keynote speaker on Tuesday, talking at length about the current and near future of Facebook’s products. Day two will feature a keynote by CTO Mike Schroepfer on the company’s innovation path.
In addition to Messenger, hot topics at F8 are likely to include Live Video, virtual reality—since the company owns Oculus VR, which last month launched its highly anticipated Rift headset—and 360-degree video, instant articles, monetizing apps, new areas of improvement in Facebook’s attempts at bringing connectivity to the developing world, and much more.
Over the course of the two-day event, developers will have their pick of dozens of special sessions on topics ranging from virtual reality capture technology, Facebook Pages, building tools for those with 2G devices and connectivity, News Feed, advertising on Facebook and Instagram, and much more.
Facebook will unveil a new chatbot system for Messenger at F8, tools that could be the next generation of 1-800 numbers, reports TechCrunch. The idea is that chatbots, along with live chat between customers and customer service, could be integrated directly into Messenger, which is used by more than 900 million people every month.
The step would follow on the company’s Messenger news that dominated last year’s F8, when it announced the Messenger platform, allowing developers to integrate the communication tool’s features directly into their iOS and Android apps.
The idea now is that "Chatbot providers will help businesses build automated response systems for fielding messages from potential customers," notes TechCrunch. "Instead of having to develop the complex technologies themselves, or fumble around the Internet trying to find someone who can help, they’ll be able to easily find" Facebook-approved developers.
Among the early companies to integrate the chatbots could be 1-800-Flowers, which could use the system to reach out directly to past customers about upcoming family holidays, reports the Wall Street Journal .
Facebook would not be the first to implement such tools into a messaging platform. Others, such as Microsoft, Skype, Slack, WeChat, and Kik, to name a few, have already taken steps down that path. Google, too, is thought to be working on such a system.
Both Facebook and YouTube have been touting the 360-degree capabilities of their video tools in recent months. Given that millions of people now have access to VR headsets—starting with Google Cardboard on the low end and continuing up to mid-range systems like Samsung’s Gear VR and high-quality systems like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive—it’s no wonder that there’s such interest in 360 video, which allows users to see around them in all directions.
While it’s not clear if Facebook will be announcing any news related to 360 video at F8, there’s no doubt a tremendous amount of interest in the topic. Developers at the event will be able to take in two separate sessions on VR video, and tech gadfly Robert Scoble said recently he expects both Facebook and YouTube to offer live 360 video within "months." That could happen within a matter of weeks, sources tell Fast Company.
Just last week, Facebook introduced changes intended to get more people to use its live video feature. That means the company may not address the topic at F8. Then again, the Journal notes, it may have more to say on the matter.
Facebook has also said that during F8 it plans to open its Instant Articles program, first unveiled last year with select publishers like the New York Times, to all publishers.
None of this would be possible, of course, without the thousands of people who conceive of, and create, tools for Facebook. It’s notable that this week’s F8 comes on the heels of Facebook shutting down Parse, a system the tech giant bought in 2013 that helped developers build apps. Many developers are unhappy about Parse’s shuttering, and this will be the first time those people will have the opportunity to confront Facebook about its decision. Some, wrote the San Francisco Chronicle, are hesitant to commit to building tools for Facebook given what happened to Parse.
Still, that sentiment will surely be in the minority as the thousands of developers who flock to F8 look to cash in on Facebook’s monumental global reach.
Please tune in to Fast Company’s live blogs of both Tuesday’s and Wednesday’s keynotes, as well as our other F8 coverage from San Francisco this week.