Previewing Facebook’s F8

This week sees the second of the major developer events of this year — Facebook’s F8 conference. As is often the case with these events, we seem to know some of what will be announced ahead of time, though perhaps not all the details. There will likely still be some surprises and often the details will be the most important thing. Given all that, here’s a quick preview of what to expect at Facebook’s event.

A second developer conference with bots as a major focus

Following the somewhat surprisingly heavy focus on bots at Microsoft’s Build conference recently, we’re now likely to get a second conference in quick succession that makes them a major topic of discussion. It’s no secret Facebook has been building up to launching a bot platform through Messenger for some time now and, this past week, several Facebook users began seeing some brand bots show up in their Messenger apps. Facebook, like Microsoft, has largely missed out on the opportunity around mobile operating systems and app stores and so appears to be placing a big bet on messaging platforms and bots as a possible alternative or even successor. We’re likely to see lots of big brands announced as partners and in that sense, this will be a more meaningful short-term announcement than Microsoft’s, which was largely about tomorrow’s potential than today’s reality.

It will be particularly interesting to see whether Facebook talks much about its own M assistant, which also lives within Messenger but has been available solely on an invite-only basis and still requires significant human involvement. I’m curious to see whether Facebook holds up M as a model of what can be done (and is honest about that human involvement and its importance). It would also be great if M finally opened up to the general public but I’m not sure the product is quite ready for that yet.

It sounds like there may be several elements to the bot announcement, with a “bot store” and a live chat element possibly separate from the bot announcements. So there will be plenty of details yet to come, which will help determine the true focus of these efforts and how meaningful they’re likely to be.

Instant Articles for all

The other big announcement we know is coming – because Facebook has told us so – is its Instant Articles format will be made available to all publishers following F8. It’s already been available to many large publishers, some of whom have made a significant investment in it. This past week, there were reports those publishers are seeing a significant reduction in referral traffic to their sites as a result, which can’t have been a huge surprise. Facebook has also recently been expanding the ad options available to IA publishers, which is likely partly an effort to offset any forgone revenue opportunity more effectively. The thing I’m most curious about here is how the tools work. Apple News also recently opened up its proprietary format to all comers but the tools for publishing to Apple News continue to be clunky and limited – Facebook needs to do better if it wants to attract the long tail of small and medium-sized publishers. Medium has already announced it will support the FBIA format which is a good early sign. I would expect some facts and figures from Facebook about how Instant Articles are performing as well, in an attempt to drive a positive narrative around what is, in reality, a very risky bet by content providers.

WhatsApp advancements

Facebook hasn’t yet done much from a developer (or monetization) perspective with WhatsApp, leaving it largely untouched since the acquisition. But the bots strategy clearly makes lots of sense in the context of WhatsApp too, especially as part of a broader strategy for making money from the conversations businesses have with their customers through Facebook’s communication apps. I’m curious to see if we’ll see any of these same tools made available through WhatsApp as well or whether speakers will at least hint this is coming. At some point, investors need to start seeing concrete progress on making money from WhatsApp, which is now enormous in terms of user base but makes almost no revenue for Facebook.

Oculus progress and 360 degree video advances

I can’t imagine we’ll see massive news on new developer functionality around Oculus, given that the Rift is only now starting to ship. Rather, I expect we’ll see some updates on how the shipments are going and other numbers, and then a focus on how developers can make more compelling apps using existing tools. Last year’s F8 featured an extensive presentation about the challenges of VR, which was interesting enough, but I wouldn’t expect as much keynote time on Oculus this time around. On the other hand, Facebook is also investing heavily in 360-degree video more broadly, something which exists independent of Oculus, and it looks like there are several post-keynote sessions on this topic. Alongside live video, which is clearly a major focus, 360-degree content is another flavor Facebook is investing in heavily at the moment and getting really good content into consumers’ hands will be important for all the non-gaming aspects of VR.

Developer aspects of Reactions

Facebook recently replaced the simple “Like” button with a more complex set of reactions which users can deploy to convey a more nuanced response to friends’ posts. From the look of the later sessions, Facebook intends to create some sort of developer functionality around Reactions and it will be interesting to see what form this takes. This likely isn’t going to be a major focus in the keynotes, but I’m curious to see how this feature goes beyond the News Feed.

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Jan Dawson

Jan Dawson is Founder and Chief Analyst at Jackdaw Research, a technology research and consulting firm focused on consumer technology. During his sixteen years as a technology analyst, Jan has covered everything from DSL to LTE, and from policy and regulation to smartphones and tablets. As such, he brings a unique perspective to the consumer technology space, pulling together insights on communications and content services, device hardware and software, and online services to provide big-picture market analysis and strategic advice to his clients. Jan has worked with many of the world’s largest operators, device and infrastructure vendors, online service providers and others to shape their strategies and help them understand the market. Prior to founding Jackdaw, Jan worked at Ovum for a number of years, most recently as Chief Telecoms Analyst, responsible for Ovum’s telecoms research agenda globally.

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