This week, Facebook hosted it's annual F8 conference where it announces and demonstrates its newest and most important (to the company) features. This year, the company talked a total of nothing about Facebook the social network and, instead, talked about Facebook the company. From the most obvious implementation of the Oculus hardware to at attempt to compete with Slack and Microsoft, Facebook was all over the place, and mostly to underwhelming response.
Facebook Spaces is the most predictable product out of Facebook following its purchase of Oculus: virtual Facebook. From within the virtual world you can use many of the traditional Facebook features, such as Messenger, photos and videos. In fact, while you can interact with 3 other Oculus users concurrently, you can also interact with people over traditional video via Messenger. You can explore 360 videos from the inside and you can, of course, take selfies, which is almost required at this point.
Spaces is not the first virtual social network. Applications like AltspaceVR, Bigscreen, Rec Room and vTime have been around for a little while, but the issue that those platforms have suffered is discoverability. A social network is not nearly as effective when there aren't a lot of people involved, no matter how good the platform might be. Spaces, on the other hand, has the power and scope of Facebook behind it, making it easy to find and already populated even before it launched.
It's interesting to note that, while other devices, such as Samsung Gear VR, are powered by Oculus, only the actual Rift hardware can take advantage of the new application. It is possible that, because Rift is a known piece of hardware from inside the company, it is currently limited while in Beta so that Facebook can test without the difficulty of hardware variation getting in the way.
While Spaces is Facebook's focus on virtual reality, Camera is their take on augmented reality. While the company is very excited about the new features, in reality, it is merely a mix of what Nintendo has on its 3DS portable console and what Snapchat has offered for ages. The upgraded capabilities include frames, like you see on Facebook profiles frequently, filters, integrated from Instagram, and virtual objects, a feature that Snapchat also made popular.
Facebook has had some success with stealing Snapchat features in the past. Instagram Stories, a direct copy of Snapchat Stories, has been such a popular feature that April Fools Day featured other products announcing the feature, obviously as a prank, but still. It is possible that Camera might make some inroads in some of these spaces, but it is difficult for a completely uninspired product to gain too much traction.
With Messenger 2.0, Facebook has taken the Messenger you know and might love and made it easier to not talk to other people. The new version of the platform is all about making it easy for you to find and talk to bots instead. Whether you are looking for support from a company that doesn't involve a person, or want to order food without the inconvenience of a specialized interface designed specifically to accomplish the goal, Messenger can now do that.
Obviously the tone here is meant to emphasize the oddity of a messaging platform not focusing on messaging. That has been obvious for a while, with Messenger adding games, payments and other odd features, but a presentation about messaging that focused more on variable messenger codes and the ability for me chat bot to hand off to another than how it will benefit the end user shows that the platform is no longer about talking to other members.
The space for online collaborative tools has grown this year, with Slack finally adding threaded conversation and Microsoft Teams stealing some of their thunder. Facebook's entry into this space has been less than popular. Workplace has suffered from a number of issues, including a lack of trust in the integrity and safety of the data, but mostly the fact that it is from Facebook. Facebook and office life have never had a great relationship, since Facebook is often a time sink for employees while on the clock. The idea of using a nearly identical version of the platform within the office has raised a lot of flags for companies.
Facebook wants to deal with these issues. To deal with the concerns of data safety, with the help of data providers Disco, Netskope, Smarsh and Skyhigh. These services protect against data loss, making it easier to trust Workspace. To make it feel more like a business product and less like a time waster, Facebook has worked to integrate business essential services, such as Microsoft Office and Salesforce. Adding those features to groups, chat and more, it makes it a more valuable proposition. Workplace still fails to live up to the usefulness of Microsoft Teams or Slack, both of whom already have a hold on the market.