Future Proofing with Facebook

Facebook's latest projects include VR chatrooms and facial movement recognition - proving they're working hard to stay as the primary social channel.

It feels like every few months the headline “Is Facebook dead?” makes its way round blogs and online media.

In 2014, Princeton University went as far as to release a study predicting that Facebook could lose 80% of its users by 2017. As of 31st March this year Facebook reported 1.94 billion monthly active users, up from 1.2 billion in 2014, so it looks like Princeton’s forecast was a bit off.

The truth is that Facebook is still the primary social channel for many brands and it’s working hard to stay that way.

At this year’s F8 Developer Conference, Facebook stepped up its plan to dominate the digital space, from fun new camera features to futuristic tech that wouldn’t look out of place in a dystopian novel.

Here are a few highlights that you should keep an eye out for:

Augmented Reality

Thanks to Snapchat AR-powered effects are not new to social, but Facebook’s end-game is to make these products much more accessible to brands and developers. With the launch of Frame Studio and AR Studio, artists and developers will be able to create 2D overlays and 3D masks which respond to facial movement without having to write code or invest in expensive technology.

As ever, Facebook loves its live video function, with an example shown at the conference featuring a Nike branded overlay with personalised live stats on a run. Holding your phone in front of your face while jogging down the street probably isn’t the best idea, but it gives a glimpse into the potential of the platform’s AR capabilities. It will be exciting to see what developers who have access to the platform will come up with in the next few months.

Going beyond fun selfies, Facebook showed-off tools that allow you to place virtual objects in real places, such as recommendations on a restaurant menu or ‘AR art’ you are only able to view through your phone. According to Mark Zuckerberg the future will be “people standing around looking at blank walls.”

Sounds lovely.

Facebook Spaces

Last year Zuckerberg shared that he sees virtual reality as the future of social interaction. Facebook Spaces is the first big shift in that direction, offering a VR chatroom for up to four friends to hang out in. Integrated with Facebook, the app creates a customisable avatar from your photos and offers participants functionality to draw and create 3D objects, play games or watch 360-degree videos. Users can also invite friends to call in from Messenger, allowing the poor souls without the spare cash for to buy an Oculus the chance to join in the chat.

Still in Beta, it’s too early to make a call on Spaces. However with Facebook apparently working on a new PC-free (and hopefully cheaper) headset…maybe the future is VR.

Facebook Messenger 2.0

It’s no secret that Facebook’s aspirations for the Messenger app is to become the West’s answer to China’s WeChat. A number of new integrations for the platform were announced, including many that are designed to make interacting with brands more seamless than ever.

Facebook’s virtual assistant ‘M’ will be able to drop helpful hints to users while they chat to friends, whether that be what sticker to use in the conversation, or a gentle nudge to order food through Delivery.com if someone mentions getting a bite to eat.

Bots are also getting a boost with the ability to be used in group chats such as using Kayak’s bot to collaborate on holiday planning or using Spotify to create a group playlist. A new Discover tab is also being rolled out, helping users to find businesses and bots on Messenger.

New ways of communicating

The second day of F8 got a bit sci-fi with a few announcements from Facebook’s research team, who are tasked with creating “social-first” consumer products.

The first of which is a system which will allow people to type 100 words per minute with their brains – apparently five times faster than what the average person can type on a smartphone today. While emphasising that Facebook won’t be reading your thoughts, the tech will in theory be able to allow users to communicate with the speed of voice but with the privacy of text.

Another interesting project the research team are developing will apparently allow people to “hear with their skin”. Described as similar to learning a new language, the technology will apparently translate sound into vibrations that your brain can translate.

This all might feel somewhat outside the scope of a social media platform where people generally share photos of cats and stalk exes. What it does demonstrate however is Facebook’s big ambition to become leaders in communication in all its forms.