Fresh off the back of Facebook’s Annus horribilis, marked by misinformation scandals and privacy breaches, the social media superpower has unveiled a whole new array of features at its annual F8 developer conference in Silicon Valley this week. Here are some of the most important takeaways from the event.
To sum up, Facebook – along with its sister platforms Instagram and WhatsApp – are looking to shift away from being a public "digital town square" to a "digital living room". "Privacy" and "intimacy", it seems, are the new words of the moment.
The revamp will see private, interest-based groups and events pushed to the forefront of the platform. Rather than logging on and seeing a News Feed filled with big media platforms and sponsored viral videos, you can expect to see more of the groups you've subscribed to. A new tab will be featured that makes it easier for you to join and subscribe to new groups based on common interests.
A new feature called "Meet New Friends" will also help users, you guessed it, meet new friends by suggesting people in the same location and with similar interests to you.
If romantically swooning on your friends is your cup of tea, they will also be rolling out Facebook Dating across 14 more countries with a new feature called “Secret Crush” that aims to allow people to “explore potential romantic relationships within their own extended circle of friends.” What could possibly go wrong, eh?
The big emphasis on privacy will see the Messenger app get fitted out with new software, hoping to make it sleeker and easier for users to communicate with their friends privately. Messenger will even be trialing a “group watch” feature, where people can invite friends to watch a video together in real time while messaging. Once again, this is trying to foster the idea of a "virtual living room”.
They will eventually roll out end-to-end encryption onto Messenger, meaning nobody – not even techies of Facebook – will be able to see the contents of the message unless you decide to share it.
“We’re building out a lot of deep technical infrastructure and replumbing the whole infrastructure for this company to support this privacy vision,” Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook chairman and CEO, said in his keynote speech.
There’s big news for Instagram too. They will be trialing a system that hides the number of likes any content receives in an attempt let you “focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.” Just recently, a scientific study found that teens react to high numbers of likes on their photos similarly to the “buzz” of a gambling win. This move seems to be a way to take the heat off criticism that hunting for likes can fuel addiction problems.
There wasn’t much talk about when the ambitious plans will be fully rolled out, although Zuckerberg did say it could take some time. As CNN has detailed, Facebook has a bad track record of making plans from conferences come into fruition, as there are numerous instances of big promises that appear to be sidelined or quietly swept under the rug.
However, based on the past couple of year’s trials and tribulations at Facebook, a major overhaul of some kind is necessary.