F8 Refresh: Key announcements from Facebook’s developer conference

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Wednesday kicked off the company’s annual F8 developer conference with a promise that Facebook was going back to its roots and focusing squarely on the developer community for this year’s virtual event.  

“This year we are refocusing F8 on developers,” Zuckerberg said. “Some of the most important services in the world started when someone looked at an existing issue, and just found a better way to build. And I’m optimistic that some of the next generation of services are going to start right here with you.” 

Facebook said this year’s F8 announcements are focused on technologies that enable developers and businesses to build and grow on Facebook’s platforms. Here’s a roundup of the highlights.

Business Messaging

On the business messaging front, Facebook announced that the Messenger API for Instagram is now available to all developers. 

Ankur Prasad, Facebook’s director of product marketing for business messaging, said opening up the Messenger API for Instagram will enable key automation tools on Instagram for the first time, accessible only with the API. 

The services powered by the API will also help improve the relationship between customers and businesses, Prasad said. For example, developers can build tools that integrate Instagram messaging with order management systems to let live agents instantly look up a person’s order history. 

Facebook is also testing a way for people to opt into messaging with businesses with a new feature called Login Connect with Messenger. The tool lets users opt into messaging with businesses directly from the Facebook Login flow. Facebook said Login Connect is still in the testing phase but will be made widely available in the coming months.

Meanwhile, Facebook announced new updates to the WhatsApp Business API that are meant to make it easier for businesses to get started using the tool. Among the key updates, Facebook said it has reduced the API onboarding process from weeks to five minutes. Additionally, the company announced new WhatsApp messaging features that aim to give people a simpler way to make a selection when speaking with a business’s chatbot on WhatsApp. 

Facebook Business

Building on last year’s launch of the Facebook Business Suite — which functions as a platform where businesses can manage their activity on Facebook, Instagram, and Messenger using Facebook’s first-party tools — Facebook said it’s now adding third-party tools built by developers via a new Business Apps section. 

“We believe the tools you build are fundamental for the success of businesses, and we’re excited to help you integrate and scale your offerings by bringing them to the hands of millions of businesses on Facebook Business Suite,” Facebook said. 

First introduced in September, the Facebook Business Suite enables businesses to post to Facebook and Instagram at the same time, and manage and receive messages, notifications, and alerts in one place. The interface also provides access to engagement metrics with a Facebook and Instagram insights tab.

Augmented Reality

Facebook’s work on its futuristic augmented reality glasses is still ongoing, but the company has broad ambitions when it comes to AR experiences built on its SparkAR software. In the near term, Facebook said it wants to make it easier for developers to build augmented reality effects for group calls via its new Multipeer API.  

The API lets developers build AR effects that “deliver a coordinated experience across multiple call participants.” 

“We envision a world that is overlaid with a landscape of virtual objects that helps us share, learn and play together, regardless of the distance between us,” said Chris Barbour, director of Partnerships for Spark AR.

Facebook said that its SparkAR platform now has 600,000 creators in 190 countries, with 2 million AR filters and effects created to date.

AI and Machine Learning

In 2016, Facebook co-developed the deep learning framework PlyTorch. The company announced Wednesday that it’s now making PlyTorch the default framework for building all of its AI and machine learning models going forward. 

“PyTorch not only makes our research and engineering work more effective, collaborative, and efficient, it also allows us to share our work as open-source PyTorch libraries and learn from the advances made by the thousands of PyTorch developers all over the world,” the company said in a blog post. 

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