Business Today
Facebook shows us the future

At the F8 developer conference in San Francisco, we got some glimpses of where the social network is taking the world - of course, it's hoping the lead vehicle will be FB!

Chitra Narayanan, deputy editor, Business Today

Facebook shows us the future


Chitra Narayanan, deputy editor, Business Today

First we exchanged only text comments on Facebook, next we shared pictures, now we are slowly moving into videos. What's next? Well, tighten your seatbelts as it's going to be virtual reality and augmented reality. We might all soon be wearing Oculus Rift headsets and watching immersive 360-degree videos.

At Facebook's big meet last week in San Francisco -  the F8 conference for developers - we got some glimpses as to where the world is headed to.

Facebook's Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer talked a lot about Oculus VR role and 3D videos streaming across the globe, though the likelihood is that FB would in the immediate future focus more on the video experience rather than zoom at once into virtual reality.

Expect small incremental improvements like the ability to embed videos on your FB page. This means you can easily share videos posted on FB to other sites unlike now.

But the showstopping announcement at the F8 meet was undoubtedly the news on its Messenger, which it finally threw open to app developers.

Surf and shop on Messenger

WeChat, Line, Viber, et al have opened up their services to brands and businesses but Facebook with not one, but three chat apps in its toolbox - WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger - had been keeping the world waiting.

The guessing game finally got over as Mark Zuckerberg announced he was throwing open the Messenger platform to app developers. This means we will see content and commerce on the Messenger channel. To start with, around 40 apps, including ESPN, Meme Generation, Stickered and the Weather Channel, will be integrated on Messenger so you can shop directly by texting companies and get your order updates, or you can catch up on sports action. This could even be the place where customers chat with businesses on their grievances. Zuckerberg showed how customers can place an order with an online retailer and then change the order later via the Messenger.

Of course, the big question - why open up Messenger, which has around 600 million active users every month and not WhatsApp, which it acquired for $19 billion and which has almost 750 million active users, is not really clear. No, it's not morphing into one and turning into "WhatsInstaMessage" as Mary Meeker, who hosted a panel discussion among WhatsApp founder Brian Acton, Instagram co-founder Mike Krieger and Facebook's Vice President of messaging David Marcus, joked.

One possible explanation of why FB is choosing Messenger could be that it is safer to experiment on this platform and keep the WhatsApp and Instagram experience clean, simple and focused. Not all customers would want their chat apps to become a platform of 3Cs - commerce, content and communication.

Facebook is a big family now

The other big take away from the developer meet was how Facebook has grown from one single animal into a big zoo, housing all kinds of menagerie. Through acquisitions and unbundling, it has now a family of apps all crowding your mobile phone. And indications are that the calling feature - a new functionality on Messenger - could be unbundled too. As Zuckerberg said, "Moving from a single service to a family of world-class apps is the biggest change we have made in years."

Now the challenge for Zuckerberg is to keep all his family together and talking to each other. The danger when you have too many apps and many of them with similar functionalities is that they could cannibalize each other.

And finally, as analysts were predicting that the Oculus Rift takeoff is still some way away, comes a mind-blowing use case from South Africa Tourism (SAT).  A five-minute holiday film using Oculus Rift headsets is being shown to consumers in bars in London and Manchester and takes them kite surfing, paragliding and feeding elephants virtually in South Africa.

Facebook may have shown us the future. But the future is already here.

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