What to Expect at F8 2014

The Facebook Developers Conference, F8, is taking place next week in San Francisco, and Brian Blau, research director at Gartner, provided his thoughts on what to expect at this year’s event, as well as the outlook on some of Facebook’s key focus areas.

Q: Facebook has set the expectation for a pure developer conference this year, versus announcing user updates. What do you anticipate at F8, following a three year hiatus?

A: The F8 event will be a centerpiece for Facebook as it expands its presence in the developer community. In the past the F8 conference has seen major product announcements, so it could happen again this year, but it’s likely Facebook will focus on how developers can take advantage of the entire Facebook developer ecosystem as it expands how its social graph can reach more and do more. I’m going to be looking for how businesses can better connect with Facebook users, an expansion of its advertising platform, entry into ecommerce or payments, or even hints of what could be expected from its recent acquisitions of Whatsapp and Oculus.

Q: Facebook has been testing a new mobile advertising service since late January. What is Facebook’s advertising future in the world of smartphones and tablets? How does it size up against Google?

A: I believe that Facebook will look to expand its advertising offering into other areas, such as offsite ads, offline ads, or even have a deeper penetration into media tie-ups or to move deeper into video ads. While Facebook does not have the extensive reach compared to Google, it is very competitive for ad spending as it has a unique platform with very engaged users. Also, Twitter just announced app advertising, something that Facebook has excelled at this past year, so we may see enhancements there as well.

Q: Privacy has long been a concern for Facebook users. Do you foresee a drop off in users on Facebook and Instagram as a result? What can Facebook do better in terms of communicating and implementing privacy settings?  

A: Facebook does not have the best reputation when it comes to privacy as users are still wary of what the company does with the streams of data from their online activity. There have been lingering questions about how people react to the many privacy settings changes we have seen from Facebook over the years. Some people have left Facebook and others have curtailed their activity, but we also know consumers are trying many different apps and services, so Facebook has many challenges ahead to keep users on site and engaged. Facebook’s recent announcement of Nearby Friends is an example of how the company can add new and engaging features but keep them private, in this case the new feature is an opt-in only.

Q: What’s next for Facebook in the near-term and long-term? Is it working?

A: We will see Facebook continue to launch new products and technologies, and as in the past we will see them stumble. It has had some failures with products and in general, Facebook seems to have a problem innovating, or that its innovations haven’t been paying off as it had hoped. But the foundations of Facebook’s advertising business are solid, and at some point we will probably see the company diversify even more, so it can better capitalize on its large user base and foundations in connecting people to each other and the brands they like.

Mr. Blau will provide additional analysis from the F8 event via Twitter at @brianblau.

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