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April 12, 2016, 2:35 p.m.
Mobile & Apps

Here are the important announcements for publishers at Facebook’s F8 keynote

A big step forward for news bots, new sharing tools, and Facebook Live goes pro.

Facebook’s annual developer conference F8 is up there with Apple’s and Google’s keynotes for important news for publishers. Today’s keynote speech by CEO Mark Zuckerberg (video here) was evidence of a company in its imperial phase. (I mean, its product roadmap prominently featured drones, satellites, and lasers.) As more and more of the news world gets pulled into that little blue app on your phone, what goes on at F8 is increasingly important for those involved in the production of news. Here are some of the news-oriented highlights from today.

A bot platform for Facebook Messenger. As predicted, Zuckerberg announced a developer platform that lets companies (including news companies) create bots that interact with Messenger users. One of the two sample bots he showed off was from CNN — a news digest with a carousel of stories, each of which you can choose to interact with (“Read story,” “Get a summary,” and “Ask CNN” are the three options shown — it’s unclear what Ask CNN leads to). Zuckerberg also noted that the app will learn from your actions and personalize its content mix over time.

I saw a few people on Twitter saying it looks like Quartz’s iPhone app — which is true, but the core appeal of chat bots is that they happen inside the existing chat environment you’re already addicted to, not in a separate app for which you may or may not develop a habit. (Quartz didn’t invent chat bubbles.)

It’s the next step down the long road of distributed content, for better or worse. In case you’re doubting the scale of the opportunity (or this shift), Zuckerberg also announced that Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp now process 60 billion messages a day, three times more than SMS did at its peak.

Publishers, including Business Insider and The Wall Street Journal, started announcing their own bots shortly after the announcement.

Facebook bookmarking gets bigger. I confess I didn’t even realize Facebook bookmarking was a thing, but Zuckerberg said 250 million people use the “Save” button in Facebook every month. Today, it announced a “Save to Facebook” button for the web. Not a good day for Pocket or Instapaper. From The Verge:

If that sounds a lot like Pocket and Instapaper, well, it is — it’s just baked into one of the most popular apps in the world. There are key differences, though — unlike Pocket and Instapaper, Facebook doesn’t strip articles of their formatting and advertisements. Given the high percentage of traffic that many publishers derive from Facebook, the company may have more success in getting them to add a “Save to Facebook” button than Pocket, which offers a similar button of its own.

Kind of ironic for the 2016 king of distributed reading to be disrupting the 2010 kings of distributed reading.

A new sharing tool for text. App developers can now add a quote-sharing tool to their apps; Amazon’s using it in its next Kindle apps: “Now instead of copying and pasting text from Kindle into Facebook, you can simply highlight it and share it to Facebook. Facebook will paste the text into a new post in block quote format, and include a full preview of the original URL.” If you’re a publisher with a news app, it’ll be worth thinking about the lure of more Facebook traffic (vs. the UX clutter of Yet Another Sharing Option).

More options for streaming video to Facebook Live. Instead of just your phone, you’ll now be able to broadcast live video from other devices, like professional cameras — or drones:

It’s an API, so it’ll be up to camera manufacturers to update their software accordingly, which could take time. But the API should also allow access to much more than better camera quality — we’ll see all sorts of video editing, mixing, and overlay tools built. (Facebook’s Chris Cox mentioned that BuzzFeed was working on using the API to enable a live game show.)

AI to read news articles. It’s unclear what it means in the short term, but Zuckerberg did reference the idea of Facebook developing artificial intelligence to better read and understand the content of news stories — the better to recommend content you’ll value. (Facebook already uses plenty of signals about any given article to determine whether it deserves a spot in your News Feed, of course. But those are mostly about social signals, not content signals.)

Instant Articles for everyone. Oh, yeah — didn’t get a keynote mention, but as announced back in February, any publisher can now publish Instant Articles into Facebook. Sign up here.

POSTED     April 12, 2016, 2:35 p.m.
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