There is a reason that Facebook delayed its developers' conference until the fall this year, after having hosted it in the spring or early summer previously. Simply, Facebook has been busy. It will have been nearly a year-and-a-half since Facebook last held a major event (Skype calls do not really count) and that is a long time for the platform to decide and then implement and announce where it is going next. We will learn exactly what the path is at f8 on Thursday.
So, what are we looking for? Facebook's recent release strategy provides a good road map. Since the release of Google Plus, almost all of Facebook's new features have been to counter Google's push into its territory. Those are just reactionary moves, blips in the road. Content is going to be heavily featured at f8 and the true ground shaking updates will be announced this week.
The Billion Dollar Boxing Match
There has been a trend recently where the major tech companies, while innovating at breakneck speed, are also taking their time with their major updates. Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft are in a billion dollar boxing match. As any big puncher will tell you, there are only so many opportunities during a bout where you can attempt to land a stunning blow. The rest of the time is duck, dive, dodge, duck. Land a few jabs and wait your turn.
These jabs are what keep the tech media busy during the year. In Facebook's case, they have spent the summer catching up with some of the features in Google Plus (jab, jab, jab) and are now ready to deliver the Web a left hook to the jaw.
Facebook has been readying content partnerships all year to get ready for the announcements coming Thursday. The theme of f8 is "Read, Watch, Listen." Facebook is readying itself to become the hub for content sharing across the Web. TechCrunch reported that there will be buttons specifically for read, watch and listen on the platform and perhaps as buttons across the entire Web Let's take a look at what to expect.
The "Read" portion of Facebook's announcement is perhaps the most mysterious. Yet, it has the most precedent in what Facebook has rolled out in previous years and may be tied closely with the platform's social graph. We imagine that "Read" buttons will somehow be tied to content partnerships with major news purveyors like Yahoo and AOL or e-books from Amazon.
Part of Facebook's rollout of the concept of the social graph was the "Like" button and sharing across the Web. It would not be a surprise if Facebook is copying services like ReadItLater (or just partnering with it, perhaps). The idea would be to make it easy to share what you are reading and have articles and books shared through a "Read" button that gets sent to a vertical section within Facebook itself.
Think of it this way: is it a coincidence that Netflix CEO Reed Hastings is on the Facebook board of directors? Or that Hulu and Facebook started a major content sharing platform earlier this year?
Facebook is already one of the top destinations for video on the Web. Most of that is shared content from the likes of YouTube, Vimeo and local news. This is going to be rolled out even further and it will likely to two-pronged - content sharing from outside of Facebook and consumption from within.
Facebook's relationship with Hulu and Netflix could be a sign of things to come. With Hulu, Facebook users can share links to what they are watching and Hulu generates clips (that can be commented on) from the shows that get embedded into Facebook. For instance, if you are watching the Two and a Half Men season premier on Hulu the next day and think that Ashton Kutcher's line at the 10:30 mark of the show is (stupid, hilarious, intriguing), you tag that spot and share it with Facebook. We could see similar sharing capabilities with Netflix.
There is also the notion that you will be able to rent shows and movies within Facebook itself, a la iTunes. Think of a content store tied to your social graph. That has big implications if Facebook could pull it off with its partners.
While we do not know the specific details of the "Listen" products, we have clues. The primary indicators are MOG, Rdio and Spotify, all of which have been tied to Facebook over the summer. "Facebook Music" will likely be a conglomeration with MOG, Rdio and Spotify that will allow users to use Facebook as an iTunes-like streaming platform. In this way it becomes a conduit of content without having to go into the messy business of actually licensing music through the major music labels.
What does this all point to? Well, a major profile redesign could possibly be in the works to feature all of this new content. Mashable is reporting that Facebook will announce a redesign at f8 and the idea is to become "stickier." There are scant details on what the design will look like, but imagine that content will be featured prominently on your Facebook landing page, embedded into the news feed and contained within different silos (for Read, Watch and Listen). Facebook could be the functional consumption hub of media on the Web along with the primary sharing tool and message board.
What do you want to see come out of f8? What are your thoughts of Facebook as the center of your media universe? Let us know in the comments.