Article updated on June 2, 2021 at 10:38 AM PDT

Facebook outlines vision for business messaging, AR at F8 Refresh conference

The social network announced new tools for developers to improve business messaging and build more augmented reality effects.

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Facebook executives outlined the company's focus on improving business messaging, augmented reality and artificial intelligence on Wednesday at the social media giant's developer conference, which was held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic.

F8 is typically Facebook's biggest event of the year, but Wednesday's presentations were a less flashy and free version of the tech conference, which normally attracts thousands of people from around the world.

Facebook wants to blend the digital and physical worlds through augmented reality

As Facebook works on augmented reality glasses, the company wants to make it easier for developers to build augmented reality effects for group calls. 

"We envision a world that is overlaid with a landscape of virtual objects that helps us share, learn and play together, regardless of the distance between us," said Chris Barbour, director of partnerships for Spark AR, Facebook's augmented reality software.

Barbour said the company is still years away from achieving this goal but helping developers create more AR experiences is a part of that work. 

Facebook introduces Login Connect with Messenger


Facebook Login Connect with Messenger

Queenie Wong/CNET

Facebook is testing a way for people to opt into messaging with businesses, through a new feature called Login Connect with Messenger.

The tool is still being tested but will be widely available in the coming months, the company said.

Kelly Stonelake, who works on product marketing on Facebook and Instagram , said the tool could help businesses deepen their relationship with customers and ultimately drive sales. 

Facebook doubles down on business messaging


Facebook-owned WhatsApp can be used to chat with a business.

Queenie Wong/CNET

The coronavirus pandemic has fueled growth in online shopping, so it's no surprise that Facebook is ramping up its efforts in business messaging. 

Emile Litvak, Facebook's head of business messaging, said the company's vision is for the social network to be the primary way people and businesses communicate. Total conversations between people and businesses on Messenger and Instagram grew by more than 40% over the last year, he said. 

Facebook is giving developers more tools to build more messaging experiences on its photo service, Instagram, where people already go to shop and get customer support. Ankur Prasad, Facebook's director of business messaging, said opening up the Messenger API for Instagram will help improve the relationship between customers and businesses. Customers could easily get in touch with a live agent, for example, if their orders haven't arrived. 

Facebook-owned WhatsApp is also making it easier to chat with businesses, including prewritten "list" messages so users don't have to type out common responses, and reply buttons.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says F8 is going back to its roots


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg kicks off F8.

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg kicked off the social network's developer conference with some brief remarks, noting that the company is focusing more on developers at this year's virtual event.

"Some of the most important services in the world started when someone looked at an existing issue, and just found a better way to build. And I'm optimistic that some of the next generation of services are going to start right here with you," Zuckerberg told developers.

Zuckerberg said the event will include sessions about Spark AR, a tool from Facebook that allows users to create augmented reality effects, and business messaging tools.

Facebook's F8 conference kicks off soon

Facebook executives are expected to give another glimpse into the social media giant's future on Wednesday at the company's mostly annual developer conference, which is being livestreamed online.

You can watch the event for free on Facebook's page for developers. The keynote is scheduled to kick off at 9 a.m. PT. CNET will also be live blogging during the event so check back for updates.

The one-day virtual event is another chance for the social network to showcase how it's working with app developers even as it continues to try to repair its battered image. From misinformation to privacy mishaps, Facebook has grappled with its fair share of scandals in recent years. During the coronavirus pandemic, the social network has doubled down on video calling, online shopping and augmented reality as people spend more of their time online.

Like other tech companies, Facebook in 2020 canceled what typically is the company's biggest event of the year because of the coronavirus pandemic. The event's agenda includes sessions on creating messaging experiences for businesses, signaling that Facebook is doubling down on its e-commerce efforts as online shopping grows. There's also a session scheduled for augmented reality video calling, another focus of Facebook as it competes with videoconferencing app Zoom, Google and other video chat tools.