Facebook’s F8 developer conference kicked off yesterday, and the company just finished its opening keynote. Its overwhelming theme, according to CEO Mark Zuckerberg, is that “the future is private.” After a year plagued by controversy over whether Facebook is invading its users’ privacy and encouraging social division, it’s pushing hard on helping people connect with close family and friends.
During the keynote, Facebook announced updates to Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and Facebook’s core service. We also got more news about the Oculus Quest and Rift S virtual reality headsets — and about a new dating feature that could spark some very intense interactions between you and your friends.
FACEBOOK IS BEING REDESIGNED AROUND GROUPS AND EVENTS
Facebook recently said that it would start downplaying the News Feed, and after the F8 keynote, we know more about what that means. In an update that Zuckerberg calls “FB5,” Facebook will highlight groups and events, creating a prominent groups tab and a personalized feed from the groups you’ve joined — rather than a generalized update feed from your friends. Group interaction options will show up while you’re browsing other parts of Facebook, too.
The redesign is also supposed to help people expand their social circles. It includes a feature called Meet New Friends, which connects strangers who have something (like a school or employer) in common. And it’s offering an easier way to find events near you as well. Android and iOS apps are getting an update right away; the desktop site will be revamped in the coming months.
INSTAGRAM HAS NEW CAMERA FEATURES AND LESS PROMINENT LIKES
Instagram has a reputation as one of the friendlier places on the web, but also one of the most competitively performative. So Facebook is offering more ways to interact with followers while downplaying statistics that might stress people out. It’s updating the camera interface and adding a new “Create Mode,” which makes it easier to share content beyond traditional photos and videos, like quizzes. Instagram is also expanding a feature that lets people buy products from inside the app, opening it to artists, athletes, and other creators in addition to companies.
Meanwhile, Instagram is testing a system that will almost entirely hide likes on a person’s feed, so you can “focus on the photos and videos you share, not how many likes they get.” The feature will get a trial run in Canada, and if it proves popular, we might see it roll out in other countries.
FACEBOOK MESSENGER WILL FOCUS ON “CLOSE FRIENDS”
Facebook is pushing the News Feed toward the margins in its main app, but it’s also reshaping Facebook Messenger as a way to keep up with your friends. You can set status messages or share photos with people you like and trust, potentially making it easier to arrange offline hangout sessions.
Messenger is actually getting a big refresh in general. On iOS, it’s being redesigned to take up less space on your phone; the new version will be under 30MB, about 20 percent of its current size. And if you’re using Messenger on desktop, you won’t have to keep it in a browser tab anymore — Facebook is launching desktop apps for Mac and PC later this year.
THE OCULUS RIFT S AND OCULUS QUEST ARRIVE NEXT MONTH
Unlike last year, we didn’t actually get a VR headset launch at F8. But preorders opened for the Oculus Quest and Oculus Rift S, two new headsets that replace external tracking cameras with a much more user-friendly inside-out system. The Quest and Rift S both cost $399, and they’re shipping on May 21st in 22 countries.
The Quest is a self-contained console that’s aimed at a mass market, and we were impressed by its convenience and performance, but less happy about its price and limited power. The Rift S is an incremental upgrade to the 2016 Oculus Rift, which adds inside-out tracking and a new design… but not a whole lot else.
FACEBOOK WILL HELP YOU HOOK UP WITH YOUR CRUSH
Facebook introduced a dating service at last year’s F8. Today, it announced that Facebook Dating is expanding to 14 more countries. And it introduced a feature called “Secret Crush,” which does exactly what you’d expect. You can create a secret list of Facebook friends you’re attracted to, whether or not they have a dating profile. If they’re also using Secret Crush, and they add you to their list, Facebook will notify the two of you that there’s a match.
Mark Zuckerberg admitted in his keynote speech that lots of people mistrust Facebook — and that Facebook has given them good reason to do so. But he emphasized all the ways that Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, and even Oculus headsets can help you connect with the people you love. We’ll probably see a lot more of that in the months to come, as Facebook weathers harsh public criticism and legal battles.