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On AI & AR, Facebook goes for the kill

Facebook concluded its 10th annual F8 developers’ conference last Wednesday. The 2-day event took place in San Jose, California with a record number of over four thousand attendees. Here are a few things to keep an eye on.

The multiplier effect
Although a “developer conference”, there was huge media presence as well as a lot of non-developers in attendance. A good majority of guests were there to get a glance into the future of technology, as a whole. Facebook is not just a technology market leader, but a “multiplier” when it comes to some significant aspects of technology interfacing with people. The most important parts of this event, that would likely affect more people in the emerging markets, were very subtle and subdued, yet with potential for great disruption.

The “multiplier” analogy came from Ime Archibong, Facebook’s Head of Strategic Product Partnerships, at the first-day keynote address. He used it to describe the effect of communities and people’s participation in those communities. It would adequately also explain what Facebook has become to Africans, not just in relationships, but now in business and commerce.


Free basics
Jennifer Fong confirmed Nigeria’s vibrant interest in the Free Basics or Internet.org platform. As leader of the African team, she explained her team already received over four hundred applications from various Nigerian entities and are already live and working. Free Basics provide zero rated data access to applications and content, and Nigeria seems to be leading the continent with adoption. Facebook has partnered with some local telcos for this initiative.

Workplace
Facebook workplace is also another very significant product that is tipped for broad acceptance in Africa, as it transforms collaboration in the workplace without a steep learning curve. I found it counterintuitive, but one of the biggest consumer Internet companies has built one of the most fascinating and groundbreaking enterprise collaboration platforms. One is sure to see and hear more about Facebook Workplace in Nigeria soon. A few companies already use it internally.

Bots and artificial intelligence
Facebook did not only just go all-in on Augmented Reality and Video; they want to dominate. Another very vital area of potential domination was in “Bots” or Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications. There were so many uses cases spread across the platform, and it seems that AI pioneers in Nigeria, like the Fintech company Kudi.AI, are on to something quite huge. Bots may change the way we interact with businesses and people online forever. Facebook has created a transcendent user interface in messaging.

FBStart for entrepreneurs
One of the most significant contributions to the tech community from Facebook has been their FBStart program to support startups. Kunbi Adeyemo, a Nigerian who leads the FBStart initiative, confirms that there has been quite a lot of interest from Nigerian startups and it is growing. A concise description from their FBStart page explains what it is all about – “FbStart provides year-round technical support from Facebook, an exclusive community of global startups, free credits to tools and services from dozens of premier partners, training on Facebook Developer Tools, and more.” Nigerian techies love “free”. Free is good!

Facebook commerce
Perhaps the most ground-breaking move by Facebook at F8 that will affect Africans is “Facebook Commerce”. Facebook is now taking mobile and electronic commerce very seriously. They have moved from just providing content pages for online retailers and now have a feature called, “Dynamic Adverts”. Dynamic adverts target specific people with specific adverts from an online retailer’s catalogue based on preferences, location and a lot more. Facebook has an edge in this because of the data they have amassed.

FB Commerce may finally be the part of their large platform that transforms commerce in a place like Nigeria. I know people already using regular Facebook advertising in retail, and they have achieved phenomenal success. Adding Dynamic Advertising and serving the catalogue to people anywhere, is going to accelerate African participation in online commerce.

Overall, it was a great event. Facebook invited several Nigerian startups and one of them, BabyMigo, had even won the Intenet.Org challenge recently. Facebook has a lot more to do with the progress of Nigerian tech than a lot of people realise. This is perhaps so because Facebook has a lot more Nigerians, or people of Nigerian origin, in strategic positions. Facebook is not just a powerful ally to the Nigerian tech community, it has become one of the most powerful catalysts for growth.


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