Facebook unveiled an overhaul of its website and app on Tuesday, with a focus on encouraging users to communicate in groups rather than individual public posts, as the social network shifts towards a more “privacy-focused” future.
Speaking at the company’s F8 developers conference, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said the revamp was the most significant in the past five years. Hammering home the point, he made his presentation with the strapline “The future is private” emblazoned on a screen behind him.
In previous years, Mr Zuckerberg has used his F8 keynote speech to reveal surprise product launches. But this year, as the company continues to fend off a slew of legal and regulatory challenges, his presentation largely centred on how Facebook plans to shift its focus from the ubiquitous news feed and towards more privacy-focused products.
The company announced a raft of smaller updates to developers, largely related to its pivot to privacy. Here are the main takeaways from the first day of the conference.
Fresh look, more groups
Facebook launched the fifth iteration of its app — dubbed FB5. Changes include the removal of the iconic blue banner across the top of the site, and a lighter, whiter design.
More significantly, it also includes features designed to encourage more communication and content sharing among private groups, and to recommend relevant groups to users. The shift is an effort to make “communities as central as [Facebook] friends”, Mr Zuckerberg said, as users increasingly shy away from posting publicly.
The change adds extra pressure on Facebook to better moderate content, given fears that groups can be easily manipulated and used to amplify misinformation. Mr Zuckerberg said the company would remove groups that “exist primarily to violate policies”.
Win the messaging battle
Improving Facebook’s messaging products was another key theme. Earlier this year, the company announced plans to overhaul its messaging apps — WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and Instagram’s direct messenger — fusing them into one encrypted system and reducing how long user data is held.
This is a “massive undertaking” that will take years, Mr Zuckerberg conceded on Tuesday, without putting a timeline on the shift. If it is to be a success, Facebook needs as much traction among users as possible, but its Messenger app is already battling against Apple’s iMessage in the US to be the messaging service of choice.
Mr Zuckerberg highlighted Facebook’s desire to woo users away from rivals, revealing a faster, smaller Messenger app with new features such as appointment booking for the business version, and the ability for users to watch videos together on the normal version. Facebook also launched a Messenger desktop app.
Shopping and ‘superapps’
Mr Zuckerberg has already made clear that he is looking to introduce more e-commerce to the platform. Last week, he said users would be able to see products from businesses advertising on Facebook and Instagram, and then buy them directly through Messenger and WhatsApp.
Some experts say this is an attempt to emulate “super apps”, such as China’s WeChat, that allow users to send money, shop, and play games without having to leave their platforms. It also potentially opens up revenue streams beyond advertising.
Facebook said on Tuesday that it would soon allow people to pay directly for goods they buy on Marketplace — its answer to Amazon or eBay — rather than having to organise payment privately.
Mr Zuckerberg also said that users would be able to view product catalogues when chatting with businesses on WhatsApp, and that Instagram users would be able to buy products directly from so-called influencers online.
“We’re going to have a lot more news in coming years,” Mr Zuckerberg said of the payments and e-commerce push.