5 clever things Facebook revealed at F8

1 May 2019

Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram. Image: Facebook

Despite all the clamour over privacy, it’s worth remembering that, at its core, Facebook is an innovative company.

Developer shindigs are a pivotal rite of passage for Silicon Valley’s finest and Facebook is no slouch when it comes to breaking new ground.

In his keynote yesterday (30 April), CEO Mark Zuckerberg made it clear that Facebook is pivoting towards being a privacy-first network. He unveiled a fresh design, ditching the blue bar at the top, de-emphasising its news feed and giving greater prominence to the Instagram-style Stories feature.

But what are the other innovations that hint at the near future of Facebook and its family of platforms including WhatsApp and Instagram?

1. Someone has a Secret Crush

This is either going to be brilliant or it going to be incredibly awkward. Facebook Dating will soon have a new feature called Secret Crush that will let users “explore potential romantic relationships within their own extended circle of friends”.

Users basically choose up to nine people from their friends list that they are interested in. If one of those people is also using Facebook Dating, a notification will be sent informing them that a friend has added them to their Secret Crush list.

“If your crush has opted into Facebook Dating, they will get a notification saying that someone has a crush on them. If your crush adds you to their Secret Crush list, it’s a match! If your crush isn’t on Dating, doesn’t create a Secret Crush list or doesn’t put you on their list, no one will know that you’ve entered a friend’s name.”

Facebook Dating is currently available in Colombia, Thailand, Canada and Argentina, and Facebook yesterday announced that it is expanding it to 14 new countries: the Philippines, Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Laos, Brazil, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay, Guyana and Suriname.

While it seems both private and at the same time inspired by Tinder, Secret Crush also has the potential to open up a Pandora’s box of complex relationship shizzle that nobody needs. In a country such as Ireland, where every parish knows everyone’s business, it will be interesting to see if Secret Crush will add spice or prove not very nice.

2. New camera features will turn Instagram into an instant commerce engine

Facebook has plans to turn Instagram into a more robust commerce model and is doing so with new a new camera and dedicated shopping tags to make it more appealing for influencers, creators and online businesses.

Until now, only companies were able to take advantage of shopping tags to sell products using the in-app checkout process. But now public figures, creators, publishers and artists will be able to access the future to tag articles of clothing or other goods to enable followers to buy items immediately from within the app.

Instagram won’t be taking a cut from the revenue but will require creators to use Checkout beta, which involves a selling fee.

Another key Instagram reveal was the new Create Mode, which will make it easy to build a post from scratch without needing to upload an existing photo or video.

The company is also rolling out a new camera user interface worldwide that will see all modifications, including text and Boomerang, reached via a new palette wheel that flows through the shutter button.

Another amazing camera-based feature that was revealed was a new donation sticker in Instagram Stories.

“Through a donation sticker in Stories, you can create a fundraiser and mobilise your community around a cause you care about – with 100pc of the money raised on Instagram going to the non-profit you’re supporting. This will be available in the US now and we’re working to bring it to more countries,” Facebook said.

3. Dedicated Messenger app for Windows and MacOS

As part of the massive redesign that Facebook is undergoing, the company revealed a newly built Messenger created under Project LightSpeed, which is less than 30MB in size – two-thirds smaller than the existing app – and can launch in less than two seconds.

Facebook also revealed that it is launching a Messenger desktop app for Windows and MacOS that will have full functionality including group chat and video calls.

The app, which is currently being tested, will launch later in 2019.

4. Cross-chat traffic from Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp

Woman in red leather jacket on stage at Facebook F8 conference.

Asha Sharma, director of consumer product for Facebook Messenger. Image: Facebook

Another big reveal was that soon users will be able to send messages across Facebook’s three different messaging platforms: Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp.

As part of the new privacy drive, all messages will be end-to-end encrypted.

Taking a leaf out of how mobile phones and SMS work, Facebook believes messaging should transcend devices and platforms.

There was no indication of when this new feature will become available but it is obvious that it will be a major strategic play for Facebook. It also could signal the death knell for traditional SMS as we know it.

5. ‘Close Friends’ tab for Messenger and new anti-bullying features on Instagram

Facebook revealed it is rebuilding its Friends tab into a new ‘Close Friends’ tab that will host previews of friends’ Stories and photos as well as the ability to overlay an emoji on their profile pic to show friends what they’re doing or how they are feeling.

The new feature will also tie in with plans to offer location-sharing maps for close friends.

Facebook also said that not only does it want to stop bullying, it wants to lead the fight against it. In doing so it revealed it is testing a number of new features that Instagram hopes will make the app less toxic. These include a new nudge feature that warns users if they are about to say something hurtful.

Another feature being tested, called Manage Interactions, will enable users to set limits on how certain people interact with them without having to block them completely.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years