Facebook's Zuckerberg Outlines Shift to Messenger Bots, VR

Facebook's Messaging Boom: the Launch of the Bots
  • Businesses can build chat-based bots for e-commerce, fun
  • Company's camera for 360-degree video will be open source

Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg outlined a 10-year plan to alter the way people interact with each other and the brands that keep advertising dollars rolling at the world’s largest social network.

His vision, laid out in a speech on Tuesday at the company’s annual F8 developer conference, includes having users chat with artificially intelligent bots on Facebook’s Messenger to do everything from getting sports updates to ordering a car service. Further into the future, Zuckerberg sees people interacting with virtual representations of places and objects, accessible through digital applications, instead of purchasing the objects or traveling in real life.

“A lot of the things we think about as physical objects today, like a TV, will actually just be a $1 app in an app store,” Zuckerberg said at the conference at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, attended by more than 2,500 developers and partners.

The plan for all of Facebook’s products, from messaging to virtual reality, will require building an audience and then getting developers to build an ecosystem of businesses that communicate with that audience. He encouraged businesses to build bots for Messenger, which has more than 900 million users, saying that interacting directly with customers via the chat service will replace downloading individual apps on phones. Zuckerberg said 60 billion messages are sent daily via Facebook’s products, three times the volume of SMS text-messaging systems.

“People love to interact with businesses and services inside of Messenger,” David Marcus, who leads messaging at Facebook, said at the conference. “It also makes the product a more central part of people’s daily lives.”

Multiple Choice

Developers will be able to use Facebook’s platform to build bots that can give customers multiple-choice options, understand images and process e-commerce purchases, Marcus said. The system will be designed to help the bots be conversational, offering experiences beyond commerce. Marcus demonstrated one bot, Poncho the weather cat, that delivers the forecast in a joking manner, complete with purrs and David Bowie references.

“Maybe today is the first new day of an era,” Marcus said.

Facebook won’t make any money off of the e-commerce transactions, at least in the short term. Once people start to use Messenger to interact with businesses more naturally, the company will develop a business model, Marcus said.

Facebook Surround 360.
Facebook Surround 360.
Source: Facebook

The company also emphasized the impact of live video, and said it has built a way for people to stream via devices as well, such as drones. The social network developed its own camera for 360-degree video, and will make the design open source so others can build it. Facebook wants to encourage filming in 360 degrees, but doesn’t want to get into the camera business, said Chief Product Officer Chris Cox.

To encourage interest in virtual reality, Zuckerberg said every conference attendee would receive as a gift a Gear VR, a system that uses a Samsung phone as a screen.

‘Build Bridges’

Some of Facebook’s initiatives are more basic, such as connecting people to the Internet. Zuckerberg said as he has traveled the world, he’s grown concerned by nations that are turning inward, building walls and shutting off access. Facebook has built a tool, called Free Basics, to offer apps that don’t require much data to people who are accessing the Internet for the first time. It’s now given Web access to 25 million people, Zuckerberg said.

“Instead of building walls, we can build bridges," Zuckerberg said, in what was seen as a veiled reference to remarks made by Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Trump has said he wants to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.

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