You can pinpoint exactly when Facebook stopped being a social network for hip youngsters and started becoming the giant all-consuming, many-tentacled internet behemoth it is today: During its first F8 developer conference.
On that day 10 years ago, Mark Zuckerberg introduced the social graph, Facebook’s complex map of the connections between everybody on the planet. He also announced he’d be giving developers access to that data and to Facebook as a platform. Big stuff. In the years since, Zuck and Co. have used the annual conference to map out where the social network is headed, and how it will continue to rule your life.
Think of the F8 keynote as a heatmap for Facebook, a signal of what the company cares about—and doesn’t.
When Zuck takes the stage Tuesday in San Jose, it won’t feel anything like that first conference. He’s a better speaker, for one thing. He’s long since swapped the college-bro North Face for that trademark gray shirt. But most of all, he’s got a lot more to talk about. He’ll mention the “Big Blue App,” of course. But you also can expect updates on Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, Oculus, Facebook for Work, Facebook Lite, and the rest of the company’s portfolio that collectively serves an audience pushing five billion people. It’s going to be busy.
Facebook spent a good chunk of the past year making your camera the centerpiece of all your online experiences. That meant ruthlessly copying Snapchat’s Stories format across nearly every product, giving you a way of posting disappearing selfies no matter where you are. It’s also focused on creating filters, lenses, and the same sorts of proto-augmented reality tools that make Snapchat so much fun. Expect more of that at F8, and expect it everywhere: in Facebook Stories, Instagram Stories, Messenger Day, WhatsApp status, and probably six or seven more places we don’t even know have Stories yet. A listing for a “Camera Effects Platform” session at the conference also makes it sound like developers will soon be able to build even more new things (and ads, oh so many ads) to go around your face.
As Zuck And Friends continue grappling with Facebook’s role in the distribution of information online, you can bet they’ll talk all about company’s plans to combat fake news, promote news literacy, improve its tools for verifying people and stories, curb revenge porn, keep users safe from surveillance, and more. Facebook has been reluctant, even unwilling, to accept the responsibility that comes with the power it wields with regard to what the world consumes and how they understand it all. But Zuckerberg seems to have had a change of heart lately, and F8 could bring it to the forefront.
Not only that, Facebook recently started quietly testing an entirely new experience for finding stuff. A few users have been seeing the so-called Explore tab’s rocket icon for the last few months, showing them pictures and videos from outside their friend group and comfort zone. This might be a brief test for a cool feature no one else will ever see, it feels like the right product for the right time on Facebook.
Messenger looks like Facebook’s favorite new plaything, and seems due for some changes. Last year’s big experiment didn’t go as planned, but Facebook still wants to know how it can insert itself into your conversations. Expect to hear more about the new M Suggest feature, and about more things the M assistant can do. And messy rollout and user frustrations be damned, that bots platform ain’t going away.
With Oculus VR, change comes bigger and faster. You can bet virtual dollars to virtual donuts Zuckerberg dons a Rift at some point to show everyone the latest in VR. That headset might be the much-hyped standalone Rift Zuckerberg teased last fall, but it’ll likely still be in prototype form. He’ll almost certainly have newly social things to do, as the Oculus crew keeps working on what life looks like once everyone’s in VR.
Just as interesting as what comes up at F8 is what’s left unsaid. Think of the keynote as a heatmap for Facebook, indicating what the company cares about. Word has it that live video hasn’t taken off the way Facebook hoped. Will the company turn away from convincing people to go live? Instant Articles created friction with publishers. Will Facebook stop pushing them so aggressively? The company’s renowned for declaring something The Future, only to abandon it months later, sometimes to the frustration of partners and users.
Facebook’s reach is such that even small changes feel massive because they affect so many people. As it tries to figure out what users want, and define how they’ll live on the internet, F8 is as much an annual check-up as anything. WIRED will liveblog the keynotes and cover the conference as it happens, and you don’t want to miss any of it. Think of it this way: Don’t you want to be watching when Zuck announces he’s running for president? We’re not saying it’ll happen, but we’re not saying it’s won’t.
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