Facebook updates 2019: Groups, Stories, Dating, Gaming and more developments from the social network
Reporting live from 1 Hacker Way
Facebook (FB) today opened its doors to some 50-odd editors and journalists from around the world for its first-ever International Press Day (IPD). The tech giant unveiled its latest app developments, showed off its impressive campus, and held Q&A sessions with the press.
Sounds like a spin-off or re-do of F8 — Facebook's annual developer conference about the future of technology — but it's not quite the same. F8, for one, is 100 times larger, attracting over 5,000 attendees from across the globe. Two, it's an event targeted at developers, creators, entrepreneurs and innovators. Tech people and those who speak code, basically. At F8, there are networking opportunities, deep-dive sessions and product demos that showcase the latest in Facebook's family of apps that build products and grow businesses.
Facebook's IPD, on the other hand, focuses more on the latest features and developments that affect the everyday user. Reporting live from Facebook's HQ in Menlo Park, we bring you the highlights from IPD as it happens from 11 to 12 June.
Groups are going to be a central part of the Facebook experience. Earlier in March this year, CEO Mark Zuckerberg published a letter outlining "a privacy-focused vision" for Facebook, as he pledged to shift the social network from a public "town square" to one that allows for private communications. A redesign soon followed, putting more emphasis on groups with a new tab on the menu bar.
In case you're wondering what's the difference between a Facebook Page and a Facebook Group: Pages are official profiles for celebs, brands or businesses, whereas Groups are community spaces for people who share common interests and opinions. There are currently over 400 million people who belong to a group they find meaningful, and this number is going to swell as the company launches new tools to help people discover new groups and stay up-to-date with groups they are already part of.
What this means for you: They say you're only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with, and Groups is a quick way for you to find and join a community of like-minded folks. Want to know more women in tech, or looking for parent advice? Start here.
Believe it or not, gaming powers the largest and most engaged communities on Facebook, with more than 700 million people playing games, watching gaming videos, or engaging in gaming groups each month. That's why Facebook has created a dedicated gaming tab on the home menu (select "See more" in the menu if you don't see it) for people to access games-related features easily. The tech giant is also looking to grow programmes for gaming creators to livestream games on Facebook, build a community around their content and earn a living at the same time.
What this means for you: If you're a game developer or an avid gamer, you'll find opportunities to connect with other gamers and even pocket some profit creating games.
Ephemeral stories, according to Facebook, is one of the fastest growing areas of online communication, as people are increasingly cautious about having content that sticks around. To date, more than 500 million people use stories across Facebook and Instagram (IG) every single day. The difference between FB Stories and IG Stories? You can share events in stories, as well as post group and birthday stories.
What this means for you: If you use Facebook more than Instagram, the events and group sharing function is pretty nifty.
We wrote about Facebook's new dating arm when it launched last month. What's new: you can share date plans and live locations with a friend or family member on via FB Messenger.
What this means for you: Got Tinder fatigue? Facebook Dating holds promise. It uses an algorithm to match you with potential dates based on factors like common interests and better yet, mutual friends — so it's more targeted, and may be slightly safer (because, stranger danger?). The Secret Crush feature is also a game-changer: you get to hand-pick specific friends you want to date while remaining anonymous unless it's a match.
If you don't already know, you can now do group calls with just a couple of taps (before, users had to start a one-on-one call and add participants). Want to make a call to people in an existing group chat? Tap the phone icon at the top-right corner of the screen. Alternatively, go to the Calls tab, click on the phone icon at the top-right, and select "New Group Call". WhatsApp currently supports calling up to four people at a time. WhatsApp will also be rolling out a mobile payment feature in other countries later this year (the service is already available in India), though there's no news whether it'll reach Singapore.
Pro-tip: You can now create gifs on your mobile. Open the conversation you want to send the gif in, tap the "+" icon, go to your media library, select the video, then tap the video to go to editing screen. You should see a switch that can be used to convert the video to a gif. Tap on it and hit send!
What this means for you: WhatsApp is the most commonly used chat app in Singapore, so any add-on features like group calling are nice, though not entirely life-changing. As for mobile payments, our local banks already do a wonderful job in that area. Plus, transferring funds over WhatsApp, while convenient, also doesn't feel very secure.
With Facebook zeroing in on privacy and private communications this year, the social network's original chat app will undergo a suite of changes and updates for it to work harder, better, faster, stronger. (Yes we just quoted Daft Punk's song but there's a lot going for Messenger this year.) Currently in the works is Project LightSpeed, a complete rebuild of the app on an entirely new code base, which promises to launch Messenger well under 2 seconds and occupies less than 30MB of space. There'll also be a dedicated space for content posted by selected Close Friends and Family; a feature that will allow people to watch videos together in real time on Messenger; a desktop app which boasts the same features as the mobile app; as well as end-to-end encryption to keep prying eyes away from your conversations.
What this means for you: Sounds like it's now more fun to chat on Messenger than WhatsApp. There'll be occasions for that, we believe, though most times we simply just want to get the message across and WhatsApp does that just fine.
In November last year, Facebook launched Portal, a line of video-calling smart displays that promises to elevate long-distance interactions between friends and families. Each of these home devices (Portal and Portal+) is fitted with Smart Camera and Smart Sound. The former follows you around and pulls back automatically when more people come into the frame, while the latter enhances the voice of whoever is talking and minimises background noise. You can completely disable the camera and microphone with a single tap, and for added security, Smart Camera uses AI technology that runs locally on Portal, not on FB servers. Other nifty features include Story Time, for telling stories with music, animation and AR effects, and Listen Together, for sing-alongs and virtual dance parties.
On the VR front, Facebook has released Oculus Quest, its first all-in-one, untethered VR headset that doesn't need a PC. Why it's next level: the Quest is fully self-contained, wireless, easy to setup, and well-priced (USD399). There are also 50 launch games to keep you playing.
What this means for you: Staying in touch with friends and family overseas had never looked so good. And the Oculus Quest? It might just save VR from dying a slow death with its accessibility. We'll be reviewing a set so watch this space.
Watch out (ahem), YouTube. Facebook Watch may be the next destination for videos. Since its global release barely a year ago, there are now more than 720 million monthly users and 140 million people spending at least a minute on the platform every day. Daily visitors are also spending more than 26 minutes on average while they're there.
It's much more than just a library of great videos — in Watch, people can follow video creators they care about, start conversations about videos with friends, and join communities of fans who share their interests. Currently FB is testing new features like Watch Party, Premieres and Live videos to encourage interactions amongst users, plus investing in a range of content through global partnerships and Originals (yes, like Netflix and Amazon).
What this means for you: It's looking very similar to YouTube for now, with not much reason to move over unless you're a creator (the audience base is huge). We are, however, curious about the upcoming features like Watch Party. Imagine if it was available for GoT!