Remember when Facebook-app developers were revolutionaries? It wasn’t that long ago—and yet in the fast-moving world of technology, it seems an entire generation ago.
And like an aging urbanite looking to rediscover his youth, Facebook has entered its hipster era—self-congratulating, self-parodying, and yet archly self-aware of all its internal contradictions.
Less Movement, More Monetization
“Hey everyone,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as he jaunted onto the stage without fanfare Wednesday in San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center, kicking off the 2015 edition of F8, Facebook’s no-longer-occasionally annual conference for developers. His entrance was so low-key the audience barely had time to hush itself and listen.
These days, Facebook is trying to set expectations low and exceed them. It’s a far cry from the warrior days of the very first F8 in 2007.
“Today, together, we start a movement,” said a younger, less humble, less media-trained-to-within-an-inch-of-his-gray-T-shirt Zuckerberg then. (His bravado disguised the fact that his engineers were still hacking together the code for Facebook Platform.)
At last year’s F8, Zuckerberg preached a new sermon of stable infrastructure—moving fast, maybe, but no more breaking things, at least where developers were concerned! The trouble with stable infrastructure as a rallying cry is that, well, it’s boring.
And with so many shiny objects to hold developers’ attention—so many platforms, so many APIs, so many SDKs—boring is deadly for a company like Facebook that depends on the kindness of others to fill its newsfeed, message threads, and other streams with headlines, photos, videos, and more.
So yes, Facebook had to remind people that it offers “better monetization” than competing ad networks. News flash: No one cares! Or at least no one wakes up in the morning, heart pounding and eyes blazing, looking to build an app on top of better monetization. It’s not a message that inspires anyone to create.
To Code, Perchance To Dream
Hence the offerings for dreamers:
- You will soon be able to include “spherical videos” in your Facebook feed, allowing friends to click around and explore the world as you see it in a full 360-degree view. (Consider it a precursor to full virtual-reality views courtesy of Oculus VR, another recent Facebook acquisition.)
- Parse, Facebook’s service that provides a back end on which developers can run their mobile apps, is extending its reach into the Internet of Things, making it simple to build software that connects to wearable devices and smart-home gadgets.
- Facebook Messenger—increasingly just called “Messenger,” including its own URL—is becoming a platform, where you can inject your own apps to converse in quirky new ways, particularly in the form of short, jokey videos.
In the Wednesday F8 keynote, Parse CEO Ilya Sukhar faux-cheekily called out one app, Stacheify, which runs on his service and plugs into Messenger. It lets you add facial hair to your friends’ photos. Sukhar laid a mustache on Zuckerberg’s normally clean-shaven visage.
Mark Zuckerberg with a mustache. Consider it a metaphor for what Facebook is trying to do to its own image.
Facebook’s youth, so recently lost amid its immensely rapid growth to a billion users, an IPO, and a move to a new, more corporate campus, still lies in recent memory. There’s no more brogrammery breaking of things; that got packed away with other childish preoccupations. So how does this new Facebook, vast, complicated, burdened with the scars of experience, relate to the new generation of coders rising up and looking to build something new?
Like the hipster toying with his own facial hair, Facebook is trying to find some way to tweak its self-image. Sure, put a mustache on it. Whatever it takes to hack—and to persuade developers to hack alongside it.
Photos by Owen Thomas for ReadWrite