Awaiting a great kick off to the summer, we arrived in the Bay area a day before the event. The cool morning air zapped the jet lag right out and we were brimming with excitement for F8 2019. Given how Facebook has been amidst privacy controversies over the past year, everyone at the McEnery Centre in San Jose knew that privacy would be a major theme this time around. Post a short registration and rather average catering, we were all ushered into the main hall where the keynote was to kick off the event.
As Mark walked onto the stage, a few murmurs and whispers rippled across the audience. Without too much surprise privacy is what he opened with. With it, he goes onto talk about how it is the future and Facebook is leading the curve with respect to the vision that the “Future is private”. He subsequently, touches upon major technological shifts in the way the tech companies at scale ought to operate at. (Going by recent news, Facebook clearly was not operating in such a way, given the storage of millions of user passwords in unencrypted plain text files.)
Major updates to Messaging @ Facebook. Messenger and whatsapp will soon be accessible from one single updated interface, launching in Q3. Along with major user experience updates, a major change in the backend has occurred with Facebook sharing the launch of their new UI, powered by Lightspeed, a framework built at Facebook, with cutting edge technology.
It was repeatedly mentioned by all the speakers that the next aim would be for Facebook to transition from being the Digital town square to the digital living room. Implying tighter connections between people. And to enforce this, Groups were announced. Groups would be the way to steer users away from the dying news feed and communicating more with people closer to users. Although groups as a feature existed earlier, with the advent of stories and messaging-first approach, users interacting with groups and their members is a major pivotal change required in the evolution of Facebook users. The look and feel of the new Facebook prioritises Stories across the Facebook family of platforms (Instagram, Messenger, Status for Whatsapp). The new UI emulates the mobile app version which has been a clear winner in terms of usage over the last few years. The shift is to bring people closer on facebook, use messaging to conduct e-commerce and change the way we look at stories by the introduction of stickers as a new way to communicate.
Whatsapp for Business saw the addition of product catalogues for business owners to display their product range within whatsapp. This could lead to higher business conversions using Facebook’s messaging platforms. Messaging is clearly going to be the new focus of this tech behemoth. All this reaffirming the underlying feeling everybody had that the “News feed as we know it is dead”.
Instagram announced a new camera configuration for the mobile app. With stickers, an Instagram story does not necessarily have to be a video or an image, but also a poll, or a request to donate money to an organisation. Another major move into commerce saw Instagram launching the “Check out” feature directly on Instagram. Earlier, merchants could show products off on Instagram and use a hyperlink out of instagram for users to purchase. Now, users can directly checkout from instagram by seamlessly browsing the merchants products and buying them within the app itself. It takes this to a whole new level where, users can tag brands on apparel or products they’re using in their instagram post. Other users viewing the post can click on the product tag and they can purchase the product after being redirected from a post, to the merchants handle and subsequently the checkout page.
Among these major core product updates, it was clear that the Facebook narrative for the year also included major advances in Machine learning. Introduction of semi-supervised learning techniques for AI, were a major development. Earlier, to train a machine learning model, one required large corpuses of data labeled manually for the machine to understand that “Ball” is represented by a particular object in a picture, for a task such as image recognition. With this new technique, with a much smaller sample of labelled images, one can train a model iteratively on a large corpus to achieve greater results. Results from these experiments all look great as part of a presented narrative, but how they fare in production and the immediate tech that we use today, is yet to be seen.
Given these updates to the Facebook suite of products, we at DAN can reaffirm ourselves about the path that we’re currently on. Moving ahead of the game, we had already started advances on conversation commerce in the early part of last year to develop bots on Messenger that performed specific tasks. (Our bot could create a media plan in less than fiuve minutes). It was quite clear to us that conversational commerce would be the new outlook on social and stories are going to be huge. Surely, this turned out to be the case post this year’s F8. Watching all these tech developments excites me as tech-marketer. There are so many new ways to add value to clients, and opportunities to build better products that deliver exponential value. It’s absolutely clear that we are at the cusp of a technological shift in the way we perceive marketing, and we at DAN as usual, like to be ahead of the curve on this one.
The writer had attended Facebook F8 annual developer conference held in San Jose, CA in Silicon Valley between April 30 and May 1, 2019.