This week, on Tuesday and Wednesday, Facebook will host its F8 developer conference in San Francisco. Rumors are already circulating about what Mark Zuckerberg and co. will focus on.
If these rumors have merit, Facebook will announce a Messenger-embedded chatbot that will serve businesses yearning for more business, bringing a more literal meaning to the term “messenger.” We’ll certainly hear about Oculus and virtual reality, Facebook’s Free Basics program, and the promising future of video sharing. Facebook is also expected to announce its progress on and plans for pushing Facebook Live (its live-streaming platform) further into the social media orthodoxy.
Facebook Messenger: Talking business
Tuesday afternoon, after Mark Zuckerberg’s opening keynote, we’ll hear more about the Messenger news. The title of the midday lecture is “Messenger: Connecting People and Businesses.”
If we’re to trust these rumors, and if my imagination (or appetite) serves me well, this Messenger announcement would mean that you’ll soon be able to order pizza via Facebook Messenger. In this hypothetical scenario, the pizza place will have a chatbot that will answer questions for you and “discuss” your order.
…No, no pepperoncini on the Number 4, thanks.
Okay, Joe, I will make sure that there is “no pepperoncini on the Number 4, thanks.”
When can I expect the delivery?
You can expect the delivery at 9:00 p.m. this evening, Joe.
Thanks, Pizzabot! 😄
Something along those lines. These chatbots, however, may not be as benign as they appear: if you have a bad (or, alternatively, admirable) habit of ordering pizzas at 8:00 p.m. every Friday night, but are looking to eat healthier, these chatbots may not get the message. Wall Street Journal reports that these chatbots may note your past behavior and spring the trap right when you’re most vulnerable. So six o’clock on Friday rolls around and all the sudden you’ve got a new Facebook message: Hey, Joe, how about a large number 4? 😉
At F8 last year, Messenger was likewise touted, and some businesses incorporated Messenger into their customer support programs. These support lines, however, were not chatbots — these were good old humans. Many businesses would gladly enslave a chatbot to pursue their commercial conquests, but most such businesses don’t have the capacity or resources to do so. Enter Facebook, which continues to push artificial intelligence boundaries: build the chatbot’s skeleton and allow businesses to give it flesh. (Already, you can hail a Lyft ride within Facebook Messenger.)
Here’s what Facebook itself says about F8:
“This year’s event features more than 40 sessions along with product announcements, interactive demos and the opportunity to get one-on-one help from the Facebook team.”
- “Keynote” – Zuck doin’ his thing
- “Reaching the Next Billion With the Free Basics Platform”
- “VR Capture Technology”
- “The Future of Video on Facebook”
- “After Party: Chvrches”
(Admittedly, that last event is not altogether crucial to Facebook’s future.)
And on Wednesday:
- “Keynote” — mysterious, vague, and enticing
- “Messenger: The Future of Communications”
- “A Look at WhatsApp: Engineering for Success at Scale”
- “The Technology Behind 360 Video” & “Optimizing 360 Video for Oculus”
The catch-all categories with which one can filter the schedule’s events are, understandably, the most populated: “Engineering & Open Source,” “Facebook Integrations,” “Growth & Monetization,” and “Media And Publishers” all boast the most subsumed events. F8 is, after all, a developers’ conference: we, the relative Luddites, are just given the icing on the cake.
As for the Live rumors, we won’t be expecting too much: Facebook just played that card. Last week, it announced new Live-popularization efforts and released its ever-enthralling Facebook Live map. While Facebook could use F8 as an opportunity to expand this map’s features, we won’t be holding our breath.