F8 2017: highlights from day one of Facebook’s annual developers’ conference

Facebook is trying to seize on augmented reality, a mix of the real and digital worlds best known from the hit smartphone game Pokemon Go, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said on the opening day of F8, the company’s developers’ conference. He said Facebook was an obvious hub for businesses to reach people and experiment with augmented reality, although he did not suggest the company was planning to make similar games itself.

Pokemon Go, jointly developed by Nintendo Co and Niantic Inc, has generated masses of followers around the world as players use their phones to capture animated characters that appear in real locations. Other uses of augmented reality have included the ability to hang out with a hologram of “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm or assemble a virtual human brain, all on mobile devices. A push by Facebook to add camera features to its suite of smartphone apps will help the company popularise similar features, Zuckerberg said. “Even if we were a little slow to add cameras to all our apps, I’m confident that now we’re going to push this augmented reality platform forward,” he said.

For a company that began as a way for college students to see pictures of each other, Facebook’s move toward augmented reality represents another step in its long evolution, reports Reuters. It also raises the stakes for its competition with rival Snap Inc, the maker of Snapchat that describes itself as a camera company. Zuckerberg said people could use the technology to leave a virtual note for a friend at a bar, or to find virtual street art on a wall that in real life is blank. “This isn’t just about finding a Pokemon in a one-block radius,” he said. Eventually, he said, people would use augmented reality on eyewear, although he did not give any details about possible Facebook hardware. In 2014, Facebook acquired its Oculus virtual reality goggles unit for $2bn, although that division is a long way from making a mass-market product or contributing significantly to the company’s earnings.

As part of his conference address, Zuckerberg addressed shortcomings on another major project, Facebook’s push into video. He said the service needed to do more to prevent the spread of violent videos, such as one on Sunday of a fatal shooting in the US city Cleveland that was visible on the site for two hours.

More than 4,000 people attended the event at the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose, California, and millions watched the keynote via Facebook Live. Zuckerberg opened the conference with a keynote about how the camera is “the first mainstream augmented reality platform”. People are already using the cameras on their phones to write text on images, add digital objects and modify existing things with face filters and style transfers. That’s why, he said, Facebook was announcing the Camera Effects Platform, giving developers the power to build AR tools for the camera and bring people together in new ways.

Deb Liu unveiling AR Studio

It is offering a suite of tools to give its community of artists and developers the power to create a full spectrum of effects for the new Facebook camera, from simple photo frames to interactive effects and masks using the latest in augmented reality technologies. The Camera Effects Platform includes two products: Frames Studio and AR Studio. Frames Studio is an online creative editor, available now, that allows you to design frames that can be used either as profile picture frames or in the new Facebook camera. AR Studio, now open for beta applications, can be used to create masks, scripted effects, animated frames and other AR technologies that react to movement, the environment or interactions during live videos.

Other highlights:

Rachel Franklin outlining Facebook Spaces

Facebook Spaces, launching in beta for Oculus Rift, is a VR app “where you hang out with friends in a fun, interactive virtual environment as if you were in the same room.” With Facebook Spaces, you can view Facebook content with friends in VR, including 360 videos and photos that can “transport you to new places. You can draw in the air with a virtual marker to create anything you can dream up, from a decorative hat to a handmade tic-tac-toe board. Facebook Spaces lets you easily phone a friend in the real world with Messenger video calling, so you can bring even more people into your VR space. They can answer your call on their phone to instantly open a window into your virtual world. Of course, there’s a selfie stick too. Use it to take photos of your experience and share the memories you create in VR with your friends on Facebook.

Ime Archibong describing Developers Circles

Developer Circles, a programme for developers all over the world to “connect, learn, and collaborate with other local developers”. Developer Circles is a community-driven programme that’s free to join and open to any developer. Each Developer Circle is led by members of the local community who act as leads for the circle, organising events offline and managing a local online Facebook community. Developer Circles are forums to share knowledge, collaborate, build new ideas and learn about the latest technologies from Facebook and other industry leaders.

Places Graph, provides free access to data on more than 140 million places around the world. These include everything from public spaces and parks, to restaurants, stores and other local businesses. The data includes place names, addresses, photos, Facebook consumer ratings and more. Apps can use this data to create location-aware experiences that help people learn more about where they are so they can make informed decisions about where to go and what to do.

Identity: If you have an app and a Messenger bot, Facebook has made it simpler for you to connect with the same person using both. Its new API allows you to map between a Facebook Login ID and a Messenger ID, so you can serve your customers smoothly across both experiences.

Facebook Analytics, formerly known as Facebook Analytics for Apps — is a “powerful, free product for accessing rich audience demographics, and measuring customer behavior across channels”. The company announced new capabilities designed to help you understand and optimise your customer journey across the channels you use to interact, such as your app and website. Its Automated Insights tool uses advanced machine learning and artificial intelligence to bring valuable insights. With this new feature, you’ll see insights such as changes in purchases for a new version of your app, or variations in engagement across people in different cities.

David Marcus discusses Messenger

Messenger: Since the Messenger Platform debuted a year ago, “it has become an essential channel for businesses, developers and consumers,” said Facebook. The ecosystem has more than 1.2 billion people, 100,000 developers and 100,000 monthly active bots, and 2 billion messages are sent between people and businesses on Messenger every month. New features and tools announced include:

A Discover tab that allows people to find the bot for Messenger they’re looking for in an intuitive and thoughtful way, right from the home screen in Messenger. It has also enabled discovery in the physical world with new parametric Messenger codes. This gives people the option to scan Messenger Codes through the Messenger camera and link to their favorite brands and businesses;

Chat Extensions, which allow multiple people to chat with the same business at the same time. People can now add in a bot directly in a group thread and share the conversation and experience.
Messenger’s AI assistant, M, now offers the ability to order food through delivery.com. For instance, if you’re chatting with friends about what to grab for dinner, M will suggest placing an order. The whole experience can be completed in Messenger, including group ordering and payment;

Smart Replies, which help Pages to respond to the most frequently asked questions that small businesses receive, such as business hours, directions and contact details and Hand-over Protocol, a new way for businesses to work with multiple developers for different experiences on Messenger.

Watch the full keynote here.

F8 2017 continues today, with a focus on Facebook’s “long-term investments in connectivity, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality, and hardware”. Keynote speakers include Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer; Connectivity Programme Director Yael Maguire; Applied Machine Learning Director Joaquin Quiñonero Candela; Oculus VR Chief Scientist Michael Abrash; and Building 8 Vice President Regina Dugan.