5 min read

This year’s F8 Conference is one of the most closely watched ever, but not necessarily for the right reasons. Thanks to the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Mark Zuckerberg getting flustered in front of Congress, the spotlight is shining brightly over Facebook and its CEO.

Zuckerberg’s keynote speech was a focal point. Would he apologize? What would the big announcements be? In truth, the keynote was actually pretty interesting. There were some big surprises and interesting developments. Notably absent, however, was any form of apology from Zuckerberg. The MIT Technology Review were particularly incisive on this:
“Safety,” yes; “sorry,” no‘ runs the headline on their F8 Conference analysis.

So while the F8 keynote speech may have lacked an apology, it was an interesting exercise in avoiding the issue. There was plenty of positivity, and lots of new initiatives that indicate that Facebook remains an optimistic and forward thinking organization. Either that, or labouring under considerable seld-deception – that depends on your viewpoint.

5 announcements from Facebook’s F8 Conference you need to know

So, let’s take a look at 5 of the biggest announcements from Facebook’s F8 Conference and what they might mean.

Facebook is going to launch a dating app

What’s the best way to say sorry? Build a dating app! That way you can detract attention from the problems your product may or may not be causing civic society as people begin to get distracted by ill-advised crushes and unnecessary flirting.

There are a number of ways you could view this announcement. On the one hand it looks a lot like Hubris, trying to beat established dating apps like Tinder at their own game. From this angle, it certainly looks like a feint to distract people from some of the thornier issues around the platform. But on the other hand it might just be a genius move from Zuckerberg. Literally billions of people live their lives on Facebook; why shouldn’t their love lives be a part of that too? When you consider that the share value of Match Group – the organization that owns Tinder and OKCupid – took a tumble, Facebook might just be on to a winner to get itself out of a hole.

Facebook is going to let you clear your history

Although much of the commentary on Zuckerberg’s F8 Conference keynote speech has been critical of the Facebook chief, one announcement did indicate that perhaps Facebook is actually learning its lessons. “Clear History” is a feature that does exactly what you think it does. It allows you to wipe any data that has been collected by sites and third party applications.

Zuckerberg was keen to warn that this feature might make the experience ‘worse’ for users. This is what he said:

“When you clear your cookies in a browser, you may have to sign back into dozens of websites… The same is going to be true here. Your Facebook won’t be quite as good as it relearns your preferences. But after going through our systems, this is the kind of control we think people should have.”

It will be interesting to see whether users actually do want this level of control, or whether they’re happy to give up some degree of privacy for greater personalization and convenience.

The Facebook app review process is coming back

By contrast, this announcement from Zuckerberg looks a lot more like an attempt to draw a line under the problems have been facing over the last few months. After closing the app review process following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, it was revealed that third party apps and chatbots would be able to go through the process once again.

It’s not clear how much this process will have changed and whether any other forms of governance will be in place – that remains to be seen. However, Zuckerberg didn’t reveal a date as to when this might happen. Whether that means they need more time to refine the process or they’re simply delaying it, it suggests that this announcement was as much to strike a tone of positivity with the developers in attendance.

Facebook is simplifying the messenger app

Anyone who has used Facebook messenger will know how irritating it can be too use. It certainly isn’t minimal, and it would be hard to describe it as slick. This is something Zuckerberg seemed to appreciate, saying “when you’re messaging, you really want a simple and fast experience.”

This announcement was a nice counterpoint to news around the dating app. Just as it looks like Facebook has finally thrown the kitchen sink and everything else into the user experience, Zuckerberg takes a step back with a clear acknowledgement of user needs.

A clean and slick application might not make you forgive him for undermining the foundations of western democracy, but it does make the bitter pill of reality in 2018 a little easier to swallow.

Oculus Go is now available for $199

The VR headset market has been quietly growing. With the Oculus Go, Facebook have a product that might just capture the attention of millions of people who haven’t yet felt comfortable with the options out there. Not only is it relatively cheap at $199, it’s been described as a “game-changer” by TechCrunch. The reviewer writes that the headset “minimizes friction and promotes a surprisingly capable baseline for bringing new consumers into VR for the first time.”

With VR memories also touted to soon hit news feeds, Facebook might just be on course to make VR mainstream. Despite the hype, no one has been able to do that yet.

F8 Conference: was Zuckerberg papering over the cracks?

Clearly, there was plenty to get excited about in Zuckerberg’s keynote speech. Whether you’re a Facebook user or developer, there’s enough to make you think there’s still plenty of life and confidence in the platform yet. Perhaps rumours of its slow death have been exaggerated.

But you can’t deny there are problems at Facebook. A dating app isn’t going to fix them. Oculus Go isn’t going to transform the fortunes of the company overnight. What Facebook really needs is a frank conversation about what it does well. And that, really, is about delivering a platform users can’t help but use. Once this year’s F8 Conference is over, maybe that conversation can happen. Until then, let’s just watch what happens over the next few days.

Co-editor of the Packt Hub. Interested in politics, tech culture, and how software and business are changing each other.


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