Last week, Facebook chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg unveiled his vision for the future of privacy-focused social media. On Tuesday, he showcased his company’s first steps to make it real.
“We believe that there is a community for everyone,” said Zuckerberg onstage. “So we’ve been working on a major evolution to make communities as central as friends.”
The tech founder emphasized private messaging, ephemeral or fleeting stories and a focus on smaller, more intimate groups. Those are fundamental changes in the platform’s intentions and context, and they demand more than an update but an overhaul. Facebook complied with a reengineering of its main app.
As an app, Facebook tends to work like most legacy offerings — with incremental or major updates tacked onto an old framework. The result isn’t exactly efficient, and the experience tends to feel stitched-together rather than seamless. The facelift now focuses less on News Feed and more on services like messaging, the online marketplace and its video-on-demand site.
The changes didn’t stop there: The company also revealed an update to the Instagram camera called Create Mode. Instead of demanding a photo or video to kick off a Story, users can create a Story starting with a sticker or text. The photo-sharing platform is also launching Donation Stickers, so users can raise funds for charity right on the app.
Previously Instagram enabled shopping from retailers and in-app transactions. Now influencers can get in on the act. Starting next week, Shopping from Creators will allow influencers to tag products in feed posts and Stories, so their fans can shop the looks without leaving the app. The network will also de-emphasize the hunt for “Likes” with Private Like counts, which unmasks the number of likes on demand from the post creator.
A new version of Spark AR Studio — which helps developers create augmented reality effects — will be available for Mac and Windows, and the company is opening the Instagram platform to all creators and developers this summer.
Facebook also revealed that it’s working on improving the Messenger experience. Internally referred to as “LightSpeed,” the effort to streamline the app should shrink the file size and make it run faster. A desktop version is coming to Mac and Windows, and developers will also get a couple of new features: Appointment booking, so customers can book beauty salon haircuts or personal styling sessions right in the chat, as well as lead-generation templates in Ads Manager to drive consumer interaction with businesses through ads.
“We’re also very focused on adding new private interactions,” Zuckerberg said. He wasn’t necessarily talking about Facebook Dating, which will be expanding to more countries, including the U.S. He added that the company is “also focused on payments and private interactions with businesses.”
Indeed, Facebook Marketplace sellers will be able to receive payments and use in-app features to arrange for shipping. WhatsApp, another Facebook-owned messaging platform with more than 1.5 billion people, is getting a new feature called Product Catalog. The tool allows retailers to connect products to the platform, so users can explore them within the app or see the items while they are chatting with the business.
Oculus, Facebook’s virtual reality outfit, looks like an outlier to the main narrative. It’s fundamentally different than the company’s other social media and messaging apps. The company’s tie-in — that it’s another form of connection that can feel visceral, intimate and personal — feels a bit flimsy. But Facebook presses on regardless, banking that VR will hopefully, eventually, become more popular and amount to big business.
And so it laid the groundwork. In the coming months, Oculus will relaunch Oculus for Business, a suite of tools and support services for larger rollouts and enterprise-level support. In the meantime, Oculus Quest — the wire-free, near desktop VR-like experience — just opened for pre-orders immediately on Tuesday, with a ship date of May 21.
Ranging from new features, the promise of better performance, a reorganized way of accessing communications, more encryption for messaging and a new spate of business tools, the changes look deep and pervasive.
They also point to Facebook’s desire to break down the walls between its various networks and unite those disparate platforms. The result is that Messenger users will be able to reach out to friends on Instagram or loved ones on WhatsApp. And Portal, Facebook’s smart video chat terminal, will be rolling out internationally and getting WhatsApp video calls.
“We’ve shown time and again as a company that we have what it takes to evolve,” Zuckerberg added.