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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

You've Heard the Rumors. Here are a Few Predictions That "Just Make Sense" For Facebook's F8

Facebook's developer conference, F8, is coming up this Thursday, having developers like myself drooling at what Facebook might be launching. Last year I was pretty close in my prediction (I had the code right - just not exactly what the code did - this was all the launch of Facebook's Social Plugins), having got some clues in their open source Javascript SDK that were launched in the code before they were released to developers. The thing is, this year I'm stumped. I can't see a single thing in Facebook's code (with the exception of some sort of "Questions" XFBML tag, but I don't think that's new - perhaps in testing?). None of their employees are giving any hints whatsoever of what's launching, and overall, there have been no obvious clues as to what might launch. The truth is, I don't even know if I'd blog about it this time even if I did find anything - there is something to the element of Surprise and letting others experience that at F8 as well. I'd like to respect that. I figured I'd put down my thoughts though, and rather than trying to predict anything, I'd share what makes sense to me, out of pure speculation, but with a little bit of backup as to why I think this way.

To start, let's talk about what the other tech blogs are sharing - it should be noted that even these are rumor, and should not be given any source of credibility until some sort of proof is shown of their pending launch.


  • The HTML5 App Market and Platform (Spartan). This was covered, and scooped thoroughly by Techcrunch's MG Siegler. I think he's pretty close to where they're going with this. I've said frequently that Facebook would do well if they had some sort of control of the client, and launching such a platform makes sense. I predict they'll likely release some sort of app marketplace, via a native app that controls the installation of Facebook-enabled HTML5 apps. They'll also probably provide native apps for photo sharing and other native-only features of phones so that HTML5 apps can easily tie in and integrate with those features, under Facebook's control. This is also why they'll launch an iPad app - it gives them more control.

    BTW, I predicted this 3 years ago.

  • Some sort of Music solution. This too has been covered. I haven't seen any hint of it by anyone, but it is well known that Facebook employees have loved the social experience of musical apps like Spotify. Not only that, but it would make a lot of sense for Facebook to control the music library of your phone or portable device. There's just something really social about music, and wanting to share your favorite music with your close friends and family. The more Facebook controls this, the better experience they can provide. I bet this launches as a mobile solution of some sort. It could potentially also launch as a browser plugin (which I'll explain below).

  • "Read, Watch, Listen." AllThingsD covered this well. Tonight was the first I heard about it. It fits with the music sharing idea I mentioned above. It also fits with the expanded, 5,000 character limit status update posts that are anticipated to launch tomorrow (see the comments in that link), according to Blake Ross, Facebook's Director of Product. It seems Facebook is getting ready to launch better ways to curate content - they definitely seem to be trying to get Robert Scoble's attention with this (he seems to know more than he's telling). Robert loves curation - he'll be all over this. I think it will also be really good for Facebook.

    One question I do have though is could Facebook also be partnering with, or starting their own movie and media streaming and sharing service with this? They seem to have been experimenting already some with Livestream at Facebook.com/live.

    The other option (which could be combined with the above) is Facebook could be ready to launch a true Google+ Hangouts competitor using their Skype relationship, allowing people to better share and collaborate and "watch" their favorite videos with groups of their closest friends and family. I get the feeling this Skype relationship is only the beginning.

  • New, revamped profiles. This will be interesting. Mashable reports that some anonymous sources are reporting that a new profile focused more on what media users are listening to or watching will be launched, the intent being to bring more attention to the profile of each user, and encourage others to spend more time on each user's profile. Kinda reminds me of Myspace - I hope not.

    There are a few things that do make sense here though. With the new emphasis on subscriptions, I anticipate they will likely turn on some sort of capability for individuals to create custom tabs like they do Facebook Pages. Facebook will also likely need to turn on analytics (they're "Insights" product) to give full reasoning to have people with dual personal Facebook Pages and Profiles have a reason to switch.

    Also, being able to go to my profile to see what music I'm listening to is also an interesting concept - not sure why they wouldn't use the news feed for that, though. Instead, perhaps they'll use some sort of concept more similar to Google+'s Hangouts or turntable.fm where you can actually listen together to the music, comment on what you're listening to, and give others the ability to control your own music flow. The same could apply to movies as well.
With those out of the way, let me share a few things that just make sense to me, with the recent launch of subscriptions, and the direction Facebook seems to be going. I should be careful to note that I haven't gotten any official confirmation from any Facebook employee on these. They are pure speculation on my part - they just make sense though. I predict some or all of these could be launched, and if they aren't launched at F8 we will see them at some point in Facebook's future:

  • A browser plugin platform, to complement the HTML5 Mobile platform. I've lauded the web with no login button for awhile now. The concept being you can go from site to site, and have each site automatically identify you based on information supplied by your browser. What if it was a Facebook extension or plugin in your browser that actually did this? What if Facebook provided a platform for this, so that other apps could easily tie in and augment the experience, based on permission from the user.

    It just occurred to me today that it's been a little eerie that there have been no hints of anything new in the code in Facebook's website or their SDK. True, Facebook could just have a stronger security model than they used to (likely), but it could also be that some of their employees are also using a browser extension to test sharing, and other features. With this, it would be much harder to detect what's happening, and you wouldn't see anything in the code of the website itself.

    Also interesting is the activity I'm seeing by Facebook's Director of Product, Blake Ross, recently. He seems to have had a major role in the launch of many of these recent products. For those that don't know, Blake Ross was one of the founders of the Mozilla Firefox project (yes, the browser).

    I should also be clear that anything I ever see from an employee friend I never reveal on this blog - to me a friend is a friend, and I would never abuse that relationship. I can certainly write about what I'm not seeing though! (and of note, I have not seen anything this year, oddly!)

  • Better, and more accessible search options. With Facebook's subscriptions recently launching, along with a better lists user experience and easier ability to target posts publicly, or to specific lists, it makes sense that more and more people on Facebook are going to begin posting updates publicly. This is what Facebook's been trying to make happen for quite awhile now. I think finally they did it.

    As a result, it makes sense that Facebook would release a better search user experience, to search these public updates. This is what currently makes Twitter powerful. And with the "Read, Watch, Listen" theme, it would make sense that Facebook wants you to be able to discover content easier. Will we be able to search public updates? Will there be trending terms and other stats (similar to their Lexicon that used to be available). I talked about this potential a few years ago.

  • The ability to "subscribe" to Lists. Several people, including Facebook's Blake Ross (again, see the comments in that link), have hinted that Facebook is getting ready to launch better ways for family and friends to only get the content they want to see from you. This is the problem I'm running into right now with the new subscriptions. I post a lot more with subscriptions, but half of my posts my family and friends can't even understand! The majority of my subscribers can though. So how do I set it so that my close family and friends don't see those public updates?

    A solution I think makes a lot of sense is the idea of creating Facebook lists that others can subscribe to. Right now, when someone subscribes to my public updates, I get a notification saying, "so and so has subscribed to your public updates". What if that notification was also programmed to say "so and so has subscribed to your technology updates"? The wording seems to make that possible.

    I think it would make a lot of sense if I could create lists targeted towards things I'm interested in. I could create a "technology" list. I could create a "facebook" list. Or, I could take one of my existing lists. Then I could have the option to make that list "subscribable". Doing so would then, instead of only allowing me to decide who gets updates targeted towards that list, allow anyone who wants to be on that list also receive updates I want to intend towards people on that list. It would be a lot like an email list where anyone can subscribe to get updates, a common feature of many mailing list providers.

  • The death of Notes. As I said above, Blake Ross also confirmed tonight that tomorrow, a new change will be launching allowing Facebook posts to have a maximum limit of 5,000 characters, and potentially even more after that. The current limit is 500 characters. This, in essence, removes the need for the Notes app on Facebook. I think it makes a lot of sense that this app will go away. There's just not much need any more for the app if I can do the same thing in my status updates.

  • The reintroduction of ActivityStreams, in a distributed consumption (and publishing) model. Chris Messina gave an excellent presentation on the vision for this model. Google+ just launched support (read-only right now) for ActivityStreams, in a limited format. It would make a lot of sense for Facebook to do the same. They're already rumored to be launching Twitter integration and the ability to post updates to Twitter. What if they also end up having a content consumption model, using ActivityStreams' standard to be able to import content that has a different source than the current site the content is being shared on. This, in essence, could allow for a distributed subscription model.

    Also of note, Chris Messina worked on the SpreadFirefox project at Mozilla with Blake Ross

  • The launch of OpenID Connect support. OpenID Connect just released their spec. Both Facebook and Google have been very public supporters in the development of this spec. Facebook has always been one of the first on board to the new OAuth specs for developers, with their launch of OAuth 2.0 support last year. It would make a whole lot of sense for Facebook to launch their first implementation of OpenID Connect during this conference.

  • Revamped Facebook Pages. It's already been rumored that profiles are getting a revamped look and feel. What about Facebook Pages? Up until now they've been pretty neglected. I think it makes a lot of sense that Facebook Pages would get a better interface. More moderation capabilities. Easier management. Better promotional opportunities to gain more likes. I think this is very likely this conference.

  • An actual Phone based on their Open Hardware initiative? Facebook has been very big on their open hardware support, with the launch of their new server hosting facility near Seattle. In fact, David Recordon, Facebook's Senior Open Programs manager, was quoted recently by Jolie O'Dell at Venturebeat saying that Open Hardware was the future over open source software.

    What if one of their focuses currently is on an open hardware phone? There's nothing like that out there right now. Google's focus with Android has been on open source, not Open Hardware.  Facebook could really take the mobile game to the next level with this approach.
Of course, all these predictions are just speculation, but you have to admit they all make a lot of sense. Whether we see them at F8, or in the months following, I bet we see a lot of these come to fruition. The innovation in this space is just mind boggling (and I'm sure overwhelming for many users!). While I'm sure competitors such as Google+ are a motivating factor, Facebook truly seems to be thinking outside the box in their efforts going forward. As long as they keep doing so, we'll continue to see this playing field move forward at a pace we've never seen before. Let's just hope the users can keep up!

In the meantime, let me know in the comments if you're coming to F8 - I'd love to meet you! Of course, as always, you can subscribe to me any time on Facebook to get more updates like this.

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