Facebook Kicks Off F8 Developer Conference with Spotlight on Bots
As expected, Facebook kicked off its F8 developer conference in San Francisco today with a spotlight on bots, those increasingly sophisticated apps that can help users with a wide range of tasks thanks to automation and machine learning.
CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg (pictured above) launched the conference with a keynote address that spelled out Facebook's 10-year roadmap for making the world "more open and connected." A big part of its mission is to help the large number of people -- more than four billion -- who are not yet online join the connected Internet era, he said.
Facebook also aims to make it easier for businesses to interact with prospects and customers who are already online. To enable that, the company today launched a beta version of its Messenger platform, vice president of messaging products David Marcus announced.
'Giving All People a Voice'
Zuckerberg began his presentation by noting that Facebook stands for "bringing people together, for giving all people a voice, for free flow of ideas and cultures, across all nations." He contrasted that with an apparent reference to front-runner for the U.S. Republican presidential nomination Donald Trump. "I hear fearful voices calling for building walls," he said.
"That's why I think the work we're all doing together is more important now than it's ever been before," Zuckerberg said. Among the technologies he said will help people build better connections are virtual reality, artificial intelligence, more immersive video and lightweight drones that can bring high-speed Internet connectivity to underserved parts of the globe. Advances in technology will also help with such things as medical diagnoses and accessibility for the visually impaired, he said.
Enabling those technologies, are Facebook's many developers, who have grown dramatically in numbers around the world. Globally, the developer community expanded by 40 percent last year, with much of that growth taking place outside the U.S. in countries like India, Zuckerberg said.
Zuckerberg concluded his portion of the keynote by announcing that everyone attending F8 would be getting a free Gear VR virtual-reality headset, along with a Samsung smartphone.
Account Kit, Beta Messenger and More
Deborah Liu, Facebook's vice president of platform and marketplace, then took the stage to unveil Account Kit, which lets users sign into apps using just their e-mails addresses or phone numbers, rather than having to remember usernames and passwords. She added that Account Kit does not require users to have Facebook accounts to function.
Another new feature Liu introduced is Save to Facebook, which can be integrated into other apps and allows mobile users to quickly and easily copy and save online content for future reference via their Facebook accounts.
Later in the keynote, message products VP Marcus took the wraps off of the beta version of Messenger, which will support a wide new range of bot-enabled services for businesses and individuals online. He demonstrated how the e-business Spring is using the new version of Messenger to allow users to launch searches for shoes, browse products and order new footwear all via a seamless user interface.
In a second demonstration, Marcus showed how a bot-enabled app called Poncho features a cat persona with a "dry and witty sense of humor" to provide weather forecasts and information in a really fun way. "We believe the combination of UI and conversation is what's going to work," Marcus said. "Truly your imagination is the only limit here."
Later in the keynote, Facebook also introduced a new 360-degree video technology whose hardware and software will be open-sourced later this year.