Tech

Facebook Places Bets on Messaging, VR at F8

Facebook unveiled its vision for the future of the company and its apps at its F8 conference in San Francisco.

At Facebook’s F8 conference in San Francisco, the social networking giant unveiled its vision for the future of the company and its apps.

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Facebook head of messaging products David Marcus addresses the crowd at Facebook's F8 conference in San Francisco. Photo: Facebook
Facebook head of messaging products David Marcus addresses the crowd at Facebook’s F8 conference in San Francisco. Photo: Facebook

According to company CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Messenger was the company’s fastest-growing platform in 2015, and the second most popular app on iOS globally (behind Facebook). The app has ballooned to 900 million monthly users, compared to the 700 million monthly active users announced at last year’s F8. This outpaces other Facebook-owned properties like WhatsApp and Instagram.

According to Zuckerberg, Messenger and WhatsApp combine to receive 60 billion messages a day, compared to the 20 billion messages a day sent globally through SMS.

The company also announced that the company’s “save for later” function, which is a Pocket-esque way for storing articles, videos, and the like in the app is being used by 250 million people every month.

Facebook announced a Save to Facebook button for the web that publishers can add to their standard article templates, so users can save the article/video directly to their Facebook queue when they tap the button. At launch, the save button will be available on Silicon Valley hunting site Product Hunt and e-commerce site Overstock.

Facebook Messenger chatbots

Businesses can now deliver automated customer support, e-commerce guidance, content, and interactive experiences through chatbots. This is similar to the bot platforms found on apps like Kik, Line, and Telegram.

Initial partners include 1-800-Flowers, which lets you order flowers by sending a friend’s name to its Messenger bot, and CNN, which will send you a “daily digest” of stories that match your interests.

Through the Messenger Platform’s new Send/Receive API, bots can respond with structured messages including images, links, and call to action buttons.

A persistent search bar at the top of Messenger will help people discover bots, with companies already connecting with customers over SMS being able to shift the conversations to Messenger through a partnership with Twilio. A block button also appears at the top of every bot conversation so users can silence them.

Surround 360

The Surround 360 is a flying saucer-shaped reference design for a high-end video capture system that’s being released as an open-source project on GitHub. It uses a 17-camera array and accompanying web-based software to capture 360-degree images that are rendered automatically.

The rig features 14 wide-angle cameras bolted onto the flying saucer, along with a fish-eye camera on top and two more on the bottom, allowing the device to capture the surroundings without showing the camera itself. The cameras also use a global shutter instead of a rolling one, which ensures the resulting footage doesn’t display artifacts from the closing of individual shutters.

It exports video in up to 8K resolution, and can be viewed on Gear VR, Oculus, and inside the Facebook app, among other places.

According to Facebook, buying the materials necessary to build a Surround 360 will set you back $30,000.

The rig’s open-source designs will go live on Github sometime this summer.

Profile Expression Kit

Lastly, Facebook’s Profile Expression Kit gives Facebook users a way to publish recorded videos on third-party apps as their Facebook profile pictures.

Initial partners include Instagram, Cinemagaph Pro, MSQRD, Vine, lollicam, and BeautyPlus.

According to the company, developers will also get attribution in News Feed whenever a video from their service is posted as a profile picture.

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