The future of Facebook is platforms. And to encourage developers to build for the Facebook ecosystem, the company debuted a bunch of new tools today (April 12) at its F8 conference in San Francisco.
Here’a s rundown of what was announced:
Just last week, Facebook said Messenger hit 900 million users, who collectively send 60 billion messages each day. Today, Facebook launched the beta version of the Messenger platform, opening up a set of APIs so developers can create their own chat bots. “Many people have talked about bots like a command-line interface,” says David Marcus, Facebook’s vice president of messaging products. Instead of interacting with bots by typing commands, he envisions a more natural form of communication. ”We think a combination of [user interface] and conversation is what’s going to make this work.”
With its massive user base and more than 50 million businesses using Facebook pages, Marcus believes “you have the making of a great new platform.” Marcus showed off some retail integrations, adding that “I guarantee you you will spend a lot more money than you want on [Messenger].”
To enable these types of conversational shopping experiences, Facebook debuted a send/receive API that supports the transfer of text, images, and call-to-action buttons. Facebook also showed off its new Bot Engine, the technology behind its intelligent assistant M, so developers can create more complex bots. “You feed the Bot Engine with sample conversations, and then it can handle any variation of that conversation on its own using AI machine learning,” said Marcus.
On the heels of the launch of the Oculus Rift virtual-reality headset, Facebook today showed off a new camera rig called the Surround 360 Camera. Made up of 17 synchronized cameras that can shoot 8K video at 60 frames per second, the rig “spits out footage that’s ready to upload with very little post-processing,” said Chris Cox, Facebook’s vice president of product.
But Cox notes that Facebook is “not planning to get in the camera business.” As a result, the company is open sourcing Surround 360 and will share the hardware design and stitching algorithm on Github this summer.
A week after the launch of live streaming on the social network, Facebook is ready to see what developers can do with the functionality. Its new Live API will let third parties integrate Facebook’s live streaming capabilities into broadcasts. As one example, Zuckerberg brought a drone on stage, noting that it will livestream the two-day conference on Facebook.
To encourage developers to think about the next billion internet users coming online, Facebook launched the Free Basics Simulator, which lets developers see how their apps load over Free Basics, the free but limited internet service that Facebook provides in 37 countries by partnering with local wireless carriers. It’s also providing analytics tools so developers, whose sites are hand picked and featured on the Free Basics platform, can see the age and gender of their users.
Facebook is relying on the developing world to continue its momentum as it reaches saturation in Europe and North America. In addition to partnering with telco companies, it has also built a drone called Aquila and will deploy a satellite in the coming months to beam internet to regions where it doesn’t reach.
Borrowing the naming convention of Apple’s developer frameworks, Facebook debuted Profile Expression Kit and Account Kit. Profile Expression Kit lets developers integrate their photo apps into Facebook so users can select rich images, such as GIFs, as their profile pictures.
Account Kit makes it easy for users to sign up for accounts without a password. Apps that use Account Kit only require a phone number or email address to register. Instead of typing in a password, users enter a code that’s sent either to their mobile phones or to their Facebook accounts to log in.
Developers that use Facebook Analytics for Apps, which was debuted at last year’s F8, will get better insights into their users with aggregated and anonymized demographic data. Further, new push and in-app notifications will let them send targeted messages to their users.
A feature called Quote Sharing will let users share quotes they find on the web or in apps with their Facebook friends. A new Save Button will let them save articles, videos, websites, and other types of content outside of Facebook. Hashtag sharing lets developers suggest hashtags when users compose messages from the Facebook app.