What F8 2015 taught us about the future of Facebook and technology

Facebook Messenger Platform

This year, F8 revealed a vision for the future of Facebook, as well as its family of platforms. Following some high-profile acquisitions over the last few years, Facebook has repositioned itself as a collection of applications and platforms to best serve an ever growing audience of users. Growing from a single blue app on your mobile, the ‘family’ now spans the Facebook app, with 1.4-billion active users; 600-million people using Messenger; 700-million WhatsApp users; an additional 700-million Facebook Groups users; and 300-million on Instagram.

Facebook has diversified for a number of reasons. First among these, is the company’s recognition of the importance of capturing different groups of people, and engaging with them over their preferred medium. As an example, the demographic of WhatsApp vs Facebook Messenger users is very different. The likelihood of one group switching applications to the other is low; while Messenger is prolific in regions such as the US, here in South Africa, WhatsApp dominates. Collectively, these two applications hold an audience comprising over 1bn people.

Similarly, when Facebook evaluated the social media habits of younger users, analysts noted the appeal of Instagram. Roughly 18 months ago, the giant purchased the platform, thereby capturing users that may not be as active or engaged on Facebook. Realising that they would not be “won over”, the move ensured that Facebook’s reach would be not compromised by the preference of younger users.

Notably, Facebook has established that user preference must be noted and respected. Acquisitions of late uphold Facebook uncontested domination in the social media space.
Additionally, Facebook has acquired organisations that will enhance both the user-experience and potential in the marketing and ad sales arenas. LiveRail, Parse, and Oculus have developed technology that bears mention.

Firstly, LiveRail has extended its existing video advertising platform. Now, in-app mobile display will be possible, providing a service-side platform for publishers. Bought by Facebook about 18 months ago, the service now extends to all Facebook advertisers via integration with Facebook’s Network Audiences product, across numerous publishers – and using Facebook’s powerful innate targeting (advertisers will at this stage have information on an user’s age and gender), both publishers and advertisers can deliver far more focused and relevant ads to users — keeping the users, advertisers, and publishers happy.

As users’ demand grows for a more interactive experience, Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus — a virtual reality (VR) company — positions the company as the leader in “spherical” video. VR has until recently been largely overlooked as a gimmick and throwback to the 1980s. Now, pundits are touting VR as the technology that will, within the next three to five years, supersede video, chat, and photos.

Launching VR goggles at F8 for demonstration purposes, Facebook revealed the depth and scope of VR in everyday life – from sharing something as simple as a birthday party with relatives far away, to creating a full three-dimensional experience in the boardroom. Implications for the e-commerce and medical industries are limitless.

The technology, from a user’s perspective at least, is pretty simple. Using a matrix of six GoPro cameras, facing in all directions, a room can be made accessible to someone with the corresponding goggles to engage with the video stream broadcast to the VR “bubble”. The end-user enters a full VR audio and visual sensory experience. With the goggles already developed and available in the US, the Oculus VR spherical video experience is set to become the norm in the very near future.

Parse, purchased in 2013, has yielded a platform that allows for the so-called “Internet of Things” or IoT to become the domain of entry-level developers. Parse provides the serious back-end development of mobile apps – to simplify things somewhat. Developers need just worry about front-end queries: once objects have been defined, they will basically have mobile apps on the ready. The latest announcement includes a library that works similarly for IoT. With the purchase of the Parse-developed chip, extremely simple mobile apps can be written that would allow, for example, for the remote watering of your plants; it can integrate with the lights in your home. Developers can connect, with the right infrastructure in place, to practically all electronic mechanisms in the real world. If you’ve got the idea, and some programming basics, you are good to go.

And, while Facebook’s penetration in the developed, connected world is ubiquitous, the question of outlying regions has been tackled from various angles of late. Facebook’s answer to the problem of billions of disconnected people, for whom terrestrial infrastructure is not an option, has been the development of solar-powered drones through its Internet.org project.

The project’s drones hold the record for the longest self-sustaining flight, and provide wireless internet connectivity via satellite link-ups. The company’s plan is to eventually be in a position to provide internet access to approximately 5bn people who do not yet have it. While Zuckerberg admits that commercial production of the drones is some years off, initial testing has shown success.

Exciting times ahead – the drones have wingspans greater than a Boeing 737, and the impact of reliable, sustainable internet connectivity to third world countries, including deep rural areas on the African continent, cannot be underestimated in terms of its future socio-economic development. It also means brands will have a direct line of communication to millions of people that have not yet been reached.

Disclaimer: Gil Sperling is chief technology officer at Popimedia, a Facebook Marketing Partner



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