Facebook held its annual developer conference in San Francisco this week. Analysts at Forrester collectively fielded a lot of questions from the media, but most of them focused on bots and the Messenger platform. Here are my top takeaways from the event:
- It’s still early days for developer tools: Facebook approached F8 with a humble, honest tone and message about the state of its applications, platforms and tools for developers. Facebook didn’t over promise. Every executive on the main stage to the breakouts in the “Hacker X” and “Hacker Y” pavilions offered an honest portrayal of where Facebook is today. Where is it? Facebook holds a very strong position in terms of total minutes of use and monthly active users across its various apps and platforms (e.g., Facebook, Whatsapp, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, Oculus, etc.), but they are just beginning to offer tools to developers. Developers of mobile apps want to borrow mobile moments on Facebook’s apps/platforms because they don’t own enough mobile moments themselves. Facebook is just in the earliest of stages of giving tools to these developers to help them borrow mobile moments effectively.
- Bots will not change our lives tomorrow – or next year, but we will fall in love with them – eventually. The media focused on bots and drove a frenzied mania unparalleled to any other in 2016 so far other than virtual reality. Facebook announced in a calm, measured way that it was launching a set of tools to allow developers to create bots to execute on simple tasks. Quote, “It’s early days for bots.” They even created a bot in just 5-10 minutes during one session. The interface could just be text or a more graphical interface with answer options for the user (e.g., yes or no, blue or black, sausage or mushroom). A lot of underlying technology from a vast array of sciences (e.g., artificial intelligence, machine learning, cognitive computing) will power bots. Most of it isn’t in place yet. Facebook talked about a 10-year plan. Yes, a 10-year plan. (see the photo below and what lies out at year #10) Facebook is on a journey as are its customers. You can’t just build it – consumers have to adopt it. Conversations will be a more convenient way for consumers to get stuff done. Today, that is getting a weather report or a ride to the airport. In 2017, it may be ordering a pizza. Bots will happen, but keep calm and keep improving your app experiences. For a more in-depth analysis, please see this Huffington Blog post from Michael Facemire and me.
- Tools for digital business professionals are nascent. Facebook owns a lot of mobile moments and data about its consumers. Facebook even showcased its new Audience tools. (Freaks me out as a consumer, but I love it as a business professional). The next obvious step is to give more tools to digital business professionals to allow them to engage their customers on Facebook’s platform – or what we call “borrow mobile moments” from Facebook. Forrester knows that most brands won’t own enough mobile moments and will need to borrow them from ecosystem partners – in fact, we recommend it. (See our App+ mobile strategy work) Facebook was very honest in its self-assessement – “we’re in beta now or a 1.0.” They are just starting to roll out a set of tools that Forrester refers to as “mobile engagement automation” tools. See this overview.
- Advertisers: Go away. Yes, Facebook depends on advertisers for revenue. However, it can see the mess that WeChat has become as it has allowed advertisers to flood consumers with ads masquerading as content. Don’t get me wrong – Tencent (WeChat) is brilliant. The clutter isn’t. Facebook is going to test advertising very cautiously on its Messenger platform. Brands may eventually find a warmer welcome, but Facebook feels it is too much to take on at this time. Facebook is very focused on information retrieval, alerts, customer support and commerce for now. For more information on WeChat as a platform, please see Xiaofeng Wang’s report. (My colleagues will be doing a deep dive on the opportunities for Marketers in an upcoming report.)
- Apple is not under attack and Facebook is not tippy-toeing around Apple. More than one person asked me if Facebook needed to be careful – watch its step around Apple given that it was making so much money on the platform. The answer is “no.” First, Apple and Facebook have completely different business models. One makes money from selling devices and software. The other makes money from advertising and monetizing audience. Both make money from app stores or their platforms. Second, Apple and Facebook both hold very strong positions in mobile, but for different reasons. Apple is strong due to its OS, Apple Pay (totally killer app), Music, iTunes, maps, email, Siri (virtual agent) and more. Facebook is strong in social media and instant messaging – two key places where consumers spend time today. All in, there are about 20 categories that matter in mobile. (See Forrester’s “Your Customers Won’t Download Your App” report or “Mobile Platforms, Partners and Power” report.) Is Facebook trying to put itself between brands and their customers? Yes, but so are the others. See this exerpt from our App+ report:
Platforms Put Brands’ Direct Relationships With Customers At Risk
Platforms like Apple, Facebook, and Google are expanding their ownership of mobile moments as measured by both audience minutes and data. They are doing so by expanding the number of smartphones globally with their operating system or through more native apps and services. The platforms are on a path to:
Disintermediate the mobile OS, or become it. The mobile OS on the vast majority of phones worldwide is either Android or Apple. The power of being the base layer of 30 billion mobile moments in the US alone each day or 400 billion globally is immense. Alibaba, Amazon, Tencent, and Xiaomi, among others, have built or are working on alternatives to give themselves the same power.
Dominate your customers’ mobile moments and own their data. Installed and native apps together know more about your customer than any single brand or even their spouse knows. Consumers use mobile phones to do everything from banking to boarding airplanes to buying groceries. They communicate with friends and colleagues on Facebook, Slack, SnapChat, and WeChat. They even watch full-length video programs. As a result, smartphones hold more data about your customers than you do or ever will.
Distance you from your customers with better services than you can offer. Companies with a holistic understanding of their customers are best able to serve them. Consumers expect immediacy, simplicity, and relevancy in mobile. Enterprises depend on context both to anticipate the needs of their customers and offer them the most relevant content or service in that moment. Platforms today have the most holistic view of your customer.
Other interesting nuggets and stories to follow:
– Facebook’s tools will allow brands to shift customers who have opted in through SMS over to its platforms to receive messages. This has the potential to be disruptive and accelerate the demise of the carrier’s SMS business. Wait and see.
– 200+ apps for VR are available. Cool! 2 million hours of video have been watched
– Artificial intelligence doesn’t just depend on natural language processing, but also computer vision, planning and reasoning. The technology they showed off on a computer analyzing a photo was killer.
– Messenger has 900M MAU’s who send 60B messages a day (are you kidding me?!?!?!?)
– Little was said about WhatsApp
– FB Messenger has paid out $9.5B to developers
– FB Messenger has rolled out its own version of 2D bar codes (ok, this acknowledges that WeChat got it right)
– Everyone who I met was super smart and humble – I wouldn’t under estimate FB on anything promised.