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Facebook’s F8 Conference 2016: The Important Bits

The 2016 F8 Facebook Development Conference has come to a close, and the digital world is now digesting all the latest announcements and plans from Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of the Facebook team. Let’s take a look at the biggest news and developments from the social media giant.

Connecting More People

While throwing some jibes at Donald Trump’s plans to build a wall on the Mexican border, Zuckerberg opened the F8 conference with details on how Facebook plans to make the world more connected than ever before. “Instead of building walls, we can help build bridges,” he said, before revealing that drones, lasers, and satellites would be just a few of the ways in which they hope to increase connectivity.

Facebook hopes that Aquila, a solar-powered drone, will bring Wi-Fi to currently unconnected areas. While minimising environmental impact with the use of solar energy, the drones will be designed to grab wireless signal from connected areas and rebroadcast it to areas without connection, thus providing internet access without the need for huge amounts of cabling and infrastructure.

There are also a couple of other Wi-Fi solutions in the works, both terrestrial-based. The idea is to use ‘street furniture’ – street lights and the like – to transmit Wi-Fi to surrounding buildings. When a building is connected, it could then use Ethernet or access points to spread coverage throughout, to each floor, apartment, office or room.

Big Plans for Virtual Reality

Although solar powered Wi-Fi drones may not come to fruition for many years to come, virtual reality is definitely within our grasp and Facebook was eager to talk about this technology; after all, as the owners of Oculus Rift, they’ve got plenty of VR headsets to play with.

They have created a VR selfie stick, and have given a demonstration of how Oculus Rift could allow friends to meet up virtually in a location of their choice and take a selfie together. They also unveiled a new piece of hardware capable of shooting 360-degree videos. Although not a new concept, Facebook plans to open-source the design to enable manufacturers and hobbyists to take advantage of their technology. Currently, the device retails at $30,000, which means it may be some time before 360-degree videoing becomes a reality for the majority of Facebook users.

New Tools for Intuitive Web Surfing

In terms of news for developers, Facebook unleashed a group of new tools designed to make browsing the web more intuitive and streamlined. One such example is the Account Kit, which allows users to sign into apps or website accounts with just their email address or phone number. Currently, many apps and services enable sign-in via Facebook, but for those who don’t have a Facebook account, or simply don’t want to use it to access other apps, Account Kit is an excellent alternative. The tool looks set to help developers increase their number of sign-ups and increase in-app engagement.

Another handy tool for both users and developers is the Save to Facebook button. The button will work in much the same way as Facebook’s in-app Save button which allows users to save statuses, videos and images to their account, but it will be implementable on any website. Unlike Facebook sharing buttons, saved items will not be publicised on a user’s profile, but kept hidden – a little like bookmarking. For digital marketers, it could be a handy little tool to increase returning visitor rates. There’s also a nifty new quote sharing tool that will enable Facebook users to share snippets of text with their friends with ease. By simply highlighting a few of their favourite lines from a web page, users can hit Share Quote to post the snippet and a link to the full article.

Messenger Bots

One announcement that Facebook was particularly eager to make at F8 was the launch of Messenger Platform, which allows developers to create bots for the app. Facebook’s main intention is to give business and brands the opportunity to interact with their customers via the Messenger app. It will give developers chance to experiment with AI and make lives easier for their customers; in time we could be able to order our groceries or book travel with just the Messenger app and those friendly bots.

Currently, only a handful of brands are taking advantage of the Messenger platform, but the technology already looks promising. Poncho, a weather app, can respond to users’ requests for weather updates, while the CNN bot can provide you with news stories on specific topics or offer a digest of the day’s most important stories. Although there is a long way to go with AI until bots are truly smart enough to handle our every demand, the Messenger Platform will make the technology more accessible to businesses who want to see what AI could do for them. After all, with 900 million Messenger users, it makes a lot of sense for business to target consumers via an app they already use.