Amid new controversy, Mark Zuckerberg will lay out Facebook’s future at F8 developer conference

zuckf8-2016

Facebook Inc.’s annual F8 conference is usually a coming-out for new technologies from the social network. This year, Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has some other concerns to deal with too.

The conference for developers, which runs Tuesday and Wednesday in San Jose, California, is naturally focused on geeky stuff such as the evolution of app design frameworks, delivering real-time artificial intelligence to mobile devices and how to build cross-platform VR content. But over the weekend, the company came under intense criticism for allowing a video of a murder posted on Facebook to be viewed for several hours before pulling it off. Facebook has made video the foundation of its service and the advertising that brings in billions of dollars a quarter.

Zuckerberg (pictured at last year’s F8), who likes to issue manifestos and 10-year visions of his company’s future, may feel compelled to address that and other short-term concerns such as efforts to damp down the “fake news” that has been endemic on the site. At least that’s what media, including SiliconANGLE, will be looking to hear about as he starts his keynote at 10 a.m. PDT Tuesday.

Whether or not Zuckerberg goes there, he will no doubt have plenty of other new developments to talk about. Facebook’s not letting on what it will introduce, but it will surely be aimed chiefly at giving developers, 4,000 of whom are expected to show up in San Jose for the conference, a roadmap for where Facebook is going next.

It’s worth noting that not everything Facebook brings out takes the world by storm. Its search service never caught on and its phone initiative went nowhere, to name two. “Facebook takes some pretty big swings at the fence and they strike out a lot,” said Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.

The bots are coming

Another case in point may loom large this year as well. At last year’s F8, Facebook took a big swing at transforming messaging into more of a full-fledged platform for services and apps, and this year it could double down with new wrinkles for its Messenger app bots, in particular group bots for delivering relevant information to groups, according to TechCrunch. At last year’s F8, Facebook introduced a platform for creating bots atop Messenger.

But since then, bots, and in particular the chatbots that got so much attention, have disappointed both users and marketers who had hoped they would provide a more intimate way to reach customers. “Facebook overset expectations at F8 last year,” said Peter Friedman, chairman and CEO of LiveWorld, a social customer experience company. “After acknowledging the limits of AI in chatbots, Facebook will course-correct by focusing on the utility of bots, without diminishing the company’s long-term plans for Messenger.”

Indeed, Facebook itself has already flagged those plans for less flashy but perhaps more practical bots that are more like information providers than conversational partners — “more structure, less conversation,” as Mikhail Larionov, an engineering lead for Facebook’s Messenger Business and Platform team, wrote in a recent blog post.

Asaf Amir, CEO of chatbot platform startup Chatsuite, said he also would like to see a good bot store and recommended bots for people to find the, as well as better bot sharing abilities. “The group sharing option, which is expected to be presented at F8, is a big step forward,” he told SiliconANGLE.

Secret hardware

Also rumored to be on the agenda at F8: hints, or more, of what’s coming from Facebook’s top-secret consumer hardware group called Building 8, headed by former Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and Google advanced projects executive Regina Dugan. According to Business Insider, that could include camera drones, augmented reality and brain-scanning technology.

In any case, since Zuckerberg talked about accelerating hardware plans a year ago, Facebook also unveiled a hardware prototyping lab, Area 404, in August that surely has been getting used extensively for more than a few potential products. And that’s in addition to potential news from Facebook-owned VR hardware unit Oculus.

Beyond that, it’s likely Facebook will talk about new developments in advertising. After all, the reason a lot of developers, many of whom are game and other app developers, come to F8 is to find out about new ways to find and better engage customers. A large chunk of Facebook’s advertising business is still believed to be app installation ads.

On the business side, some would like to see more information on and improvements to Workplace, a business edition of Facebook that looks intended to address the popularity of Slack and other team collaboration services. Moorhead, however, said he’s skeptical that Facebook can make the move from consumer to business communications.

More generally, Zuckerberg is sure to provide an update on his 10-year plan for the company and how it’s coming along in that journey.

SiliconANGLE will be covering the event starting with Zuckerberg’s keynote at 10 a.m. PDT Tuesday.

Photo: Robert Hof