Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg spent Tuesday morning essentially explaining to an audience of app makers why it's been so hard to work with his social network lately. Even as the relationship has become more fraught, there are still two bright spots: virtual reality and messaging.
A crisis that unfolded in recent weeks over Facebook's sharing of personal user data with third parties led the company to shut down several of its tools for app makers, causing some of their businesses to break. One such function allows developers to make their apps more easily, by letting them automatically ingest certain data - for example, login information. Now, at its F8 conference starting May 1 in San Jose, California, Facebook will work to persuade those developers to keep building for its platform.
First, Facebook is offering some relief. The company had stopped reviewing and approving new apps using Facebook's developer tools while it figured out where to restrict its data sharing. On Tuesday, it will start that process back up again.
While Facebook's main social media app has more than 2 billion users, there are two fledgeling parts of the company that still rely deeply on app makers' interest in building. Messenger, its global chat app, and Oculus, its virtual-reality headset division, both offer new opportunities for developers to make their mark.
Facebook Messenger has more than 200,000 developers building for it, according to David Marcus, head of the division. He wants them to keep building software-based chat bots for companies to communicate with their users, and said the number of individual bots on Messenger has tripled, to 300,000.
The company said that those programmers will now be able to build in-app video demonstrations of their products, sometimes by overlaying them directly on a user's live video of themselves. For example, makeup retailer Sephora could let people try different shades of eyeshadow and lipstick on their actual faces, while in conversation with the brand via Messenger, and send the options to their friends as they show up in the chat. Or Nike could launch a new shoe, with a 360-degree view of the sneaker.
"In the vast majority of cases where you want to build a rich experience like this, you have to build an app," Marcus said. Now Facebook is making it possible to build those tools within Messenger.
Messenger is also enabling translation services in chat, which will let users have conversations with people and brands in other countries. It will employ the same translation tools that Facebook uses in the news feed.
The Messenger app wasn't spared from the privacy checkups Facebook did across its whole business, Marcus said. Those audits resulted in some changes. Some developers who provide technical support for multiple businesses had to sign new contracts, saying that they can't use data from one business in their services with another.
"The identity you have with one brand should only be available to the brand, and not cross-referenced," Marcus said. "We just want to make sure."
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