Chatbots and more: What to make of Facebook's F8 reveals?

 
Martin Garner
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Mark Zuckerberg laid out the company's plans at F8 (Source: Getty)

Facebook’s announcements from its F8 developer conference push two of its key products into becoming full ecosystems in their own right.

With large numbers of companies and users using them, as well as a number of different business models running on them, both Messenger and video have reached a scale where they are ready for this next step.

When it comes to Messenger and its 900m users worldwide, the key ambition is to turn it into a place where consumers and the companies they deal with can interact with each other. Some of this will be simple notification messages such as booking confirmations and parcel tracking; some will be for finding information such as the weather and cinema times; and some will be for more complicated discussions including browsing, choosing, buying and paying for products or getting after-sales support.

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To do this Facebook, like others, is making a big push with artificial intelligence powered chatbots. These are pieces of software that will run specific services on websites. They will accept and respond to voice queries, text and images and should (if done well) make for more natural and enjoyable dealings with companies – and that should provide a welcome break for users from automatic telephone voice response systems.

Facebook also believes that bots will be much easier to find and use than downloading an app for each brand, creating a new login and so on. That may mean we end up doing less with many of the apps that we use today and doing a lot more with Messenger.

With video Facebook has seen huge growth thanks to celebrity posts, video sharing, video ads, video profiles, 360 degree video and – most recently – Facebook Live which lets users to stream live video as a status update. Facebook has now opened up its video system so that any app or device can send live video to Facebook.

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This is a big move. It means that we can expect to see live TV, gigs, weddings, product launches, video from drones and home security cameras as video feeds direct to Facebook – some for public viewing, others private or in groups. Facebook is also one of the companies pushing 360 degree video fastest, and moving the world towards virtual reality with its Oculus Rift headset.

Between them, these moves open up many new possibilities for Facebook. They will bring completely new ways for users to use Facebook’s services, and they will bring new ways for Facebook to earn revenue. Of course Google, Microsoft, Amazon and others have similar ideas, so Facebook will not have everything its own way. But, if it is successful with these moves, the way we think about Facebook will change considerably over the coming five years.

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