I attended Facebook's F8 Annual Developer Conference earlier this week in San Francisco (April 12 - 13, 2016). It was an amazing two-day experience that makes you think to innovate and be a part of it. Facebook kept the audience limited to about 10,000 people from all over the world.
Mark Zuckerberg laid out the company’s 10-year roadmap and made tons of announcements backed by the philosophy of 'Give everyone the power to share anything with anyone.'
Today Facebook runs an extensive social network of 1.6 billion users. Next, five years will be focused on connectivity via the family of existing apps & product features enabling rich communication between one-to-one, small groups, friends, community and the world:
Year five to ten is the real innovation where Facebook wants to bridge social and digital gaps through focus on three core areas:
Connectivity: Drones, Satellites, Lasers, Terrestrial Solutions, Telco Infra, and Free Basics
Artificial Intelligence (AI): Vision, Language, Reasoning, and Planning
Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality (VR/AR): Mobile VR, Rift, Touch, Social VR, and AR Tech
Mark's intent is to connect 4.1B population who is not online today and empower 2B people whose languages are not supported online.
Interestingly they did not talk much about 'Facebook' as a standalone social platform except the mentions of:
Facebook Lite: An android app that works smoothly with poor data connections and low-end phones.
Free Basics: It's a platform that provides people with access to useful services on their mobile phones in markets where internet access may be less affordable.
Over the two days, keynote speakers dove into updates on the future vision of each of the core products and technologies that will enable the future of social and digital connectivity:
Messenger: Today Messenger has 900 Million users sending 1 Billion messages a month. Facebook is standing up Messenger as a platform for the future of communication. They announced Messenger for Business Beta where businesses from their websites can connect with their customers on Messenger for chat, and pushing structured messages about their orders, deliveries, marketing promos, travel boarding passes and so on.
Drones: Facebook is building drones to provide internet coverage to the unserved areas of the world focusing on Sub-Sahara Africa and India. Drones made with carbon fiber, powered by four engines, and solar panels have a wing span of Boeing 737. These drones will fly at about 60,000 feet above the ground providing internet coverage via laser beams to the population. Facebook drones can stay in the orbit for up to 3 months and named 'Aquila.'
Telco Infra: Facebook plans on taking over the telecom infrastructure space very soon. They are partnering with leading OEM's to develop a new breed of antenna and base stations that would provide unstoppable high-speed coverage at macro and micro-level without a signal degradation or speed drop.
Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI is very close to me since it is all about content, personalization, and prediction. Facebook is already very active in this space through image/video recognition at the single pixel level. They have developed AI algorithms to detect objects in the picture and depict outcome with a very high accuracy. 'Chatbots' is the new buzz word from F8. Bots leverage AI backed text analytic algorithms to automate responses that are personalized and contextual. These bots learn individual preferences over time through machine learning and provide automated outcomes. These technologies, however, have yet to achieve maturity. A hybrid approach of bots assisting humans could be the future of AI for the next few years. AI in its summary is about:
Best Content at a Massive Scale
Virtual Reality/Augmented Reality (VR/AR): It looked very exciting when the Facebook team did a demo of two colleagues in different locations went to London via VR and took selfie in front of Big Ben. The talked about friends and families playing ping pong in a VR and even punched each other on losing a point, and you can express reactions as a cartoon! It's fun stuff, but this has to evolve. All of us are watching it closely to see some real-life examples of VR/AR evolution.
Surround 360 Open Source VR Camera: Facebook is getting more and more into hardware. They announced Surround 360 Camera carrying 17-camera array that is capable of delivering high-quality 360-3D production ready videos (14 wide-angle cameras bolted onto the flying saucer, plus one fish-eye camera on top and two more on the bottom). Each camera kit costs $30,000 and available later this year.
I couldn't get to meet Mark Zuckerberg in person, but admire the work Facebook is undertaking.
Each of us had a big surprise too. Mark gave every participant gadgets to test VR (Oculus Gear VR, GamePad, and Samsung Galaxy S6). Thanks, Mark!
Lastly, a lot of us attended F8 and watched videos, a very few knew what F8 means? F8 was conceived on an important piece of Facebook culture, the hackathon.
At Facebook, a hackathon is a chance to work on your passion project, the idea you don't have time to tackle during your regular work day. F8 was about sharing those extra 8 hours with the developer community and inspiring them to build their passion products based on the new technologies Facebook launches.