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Facebook’s F8 looked a little different this year

June 3, 2021, 1:00 PM UTC

Facebook’s annual developer conference F8 went fully virtual this year as pandemic precautions remain in place. Live fanfare wasn’t the only thing missing from this year’s event. Instead of big product rollouts, there were mostly incremental changes boosting e-commerce.

Even Mark Zuckerberg didn’t hang around long. The chief executive’s appearance was limited to a 2-minute and 44-second pre-recorded video providing a quick overview of the day. He used the opportunity to promote the company’s open platform, which he continues to pitch in not-so-subtle contrast to Apple. “We’ve always believed that when developers have access to the right tools, that they can build things that create value for everyone,” Zuckerberg said.

Most of Wednesday’s conversation focused on new sales-oriented tools aimed at helping businesses communicate with their customers. For example, WhatsApp now lets users see products from businesses directly on the app and add items they like to a cart for purchase. Instagram now allows consumers and companies to choose from a selection of automated responses to make communications faster and easier.

E-commerce announcements aside, Facebook also announced some new augmented reality, or AR, features. The company said it wants to let people play AR multiplayer games on Facebook’s services. It is also helping developers bring AR features to multi-person video calls. Picture you and your sister, for example, putting on a virtual party hats and throwing computer-generated confetti to celebrate grandma’s 80th birthday on Facebook Messenger.

There was a hardware update, too. Facebook said its AR glasses—which it has been working on for years—may be able to one day teleport a person as a hologram to a friend’s sofa to watch a show together. The glasses could enable someone to leave a virtual note for a friend at a restaurant. Facebook’s ambition is to create “an all-day wearable”—a tall order that Zuckerberg himself has called “one of the hardest technical challenges of the decade.”

(The boss is not wrong. Just ask Google, whose AR glasses flopped after its debut in 2013.)

Facebook is paying close attention to all the ways it might monopolize people’s attention in the years ahead. “Our vision is a seamlessly connected digital and physical world where AR experiences light up in front of you—on your phone today, on your AR glasses years from now,” said Chris Barbour, director of partnerships for Spark AR, Facebook’s augmented reality tool.

This year’s F8 definitely had a different feel, virtual or not. Maybe one day we’ll all be tuning in with our AR glasses.

Danielle Abril
@DanielleDigest
danielle.abril@fortune.com

***
Ever since 1955 Fortune has published the Fortune 500—a list of the country’s biggest companies, ranked by revenue. And each year, that list reflects the biggest trends in business. This year, one trend stands above all others: technology is pushing business to new heights.

The technology sector pulled in more profits than any other, and its market cap continues to grow. Scott DeCarlo, Fortune’s list editor, breaks out some of the most telling stats.

Also on today’s show, Marc Benioff of Salesforce whose company illustrates the growth trajectory of many Fortune 500 tech companies. Plus, Ernie Garcia, the CEO of Carvana, whose digital platform for buying and selling cars was a big pandemic winner, landed on the 500 list for the first time. Listen to the podcast here.

NEWSWORTHY

Death of a sales-site. Former President Donald Trump has killed his blog after just 29 days. The site, which was marketed as a “beacon of freedom” in “a time of silence and lies,” failed to garner the eyeballs and reactions that Trump regularly attracted on Facebook and Twitter, which have both banned him. Following reports of scrimpy views and interactions on the blog, Trump responded saying the blog was a “very basic site” not a social media platform, which he claimed is still in the works. He also suggested that it was “getting more traffic” than in the 2020 election year when, ahem, the blog didn’t exist. Twenty-nine days may seem short, but it’s longer than the White House tenures of U.S. National Security advisor Michael Flynn, spokesman Anthony Scaramucci, and Chief of Staff Reince Priebus—all of whom served Trump less than 25 days.

YouTube’s music bona fides. YouTube on Wednesday said its sights were set on accomplishing a big goal: Become the leading revenue generator for the music industry. The service, part of Alphabet, has already paid more than $4 billion in royalties to the music industry in the last 12 months, according to YouTube exec Lyor Cohen. That’s still less than Spotify, which paid more than $5 billion to the industry in 2020. Meanwhile, Cohen says YouTube has added more paid members in the first quarter “than any other quarter since launch.” In case you missed it, Aaron explored YouTube in depth in his latest feature. (I helped a little.)

Operating in Harmony. Huawei has debuted its own operating system called HarmonyOS, an option that will be available on select Huawei phones as an alternative to Google’s Android operating system. The Chinese telecommunications company is still recovering from sanctions the Trump administration placed on it in 2019, which prevent it from using Android software. Huawei said HarmonyOS will also be compatible with on other devices, like smartwatches—the company’s first-ever—and a tablet.

The urban-rural divide. President Joe Biden has big plans for broadband. Specifically, he’s planning to devote $100 billion to expand speedy Internet access to all homes across the U.S., including remote areas. But some critics worry that the new strategy will place too much focus on the 4.6 million households without access in rural areas rather than 13.6 million homes in urban regions. Some say the only fix to the problem is a permanent subsidy to make service affordable for low-income families, The New York Times reports. Others say tech companies should pony up.

FOOD FOR THOUGHT

Lawmakers and social media companies still don’t know how to address content moderation problems. Social networks are often rife with hate speech, violent content, and misinformation. So they’ve kicked up their investments in artificial intelligence that can automatically detect and remove harmful content, and they’ve expanded their crews of human reviewers to handle what the systems may miss. Even with these efforts, problems persist. Harmful content goes unchecked and sometimes posts that aren’t harmful at all get automatically flagged and even removed.

Evelyn Douek, an affiliate at Harvard research center Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society, explores this topic in a recent op-ed for Wired. She says more content moderation doesn’t always mean “better” content moderation; more often comes at a cost. She compares complaints about content moderation to those about bad food served in small portions. But, she points out, “there’s only so much you can do with rotten ingredients and a terrible kitchen.”

"At the very least, the last year should prove that solving the problems in our online information ecosystem will require much bigger imaginations than 'just delete the bad stuff.' Even if we could agree on what the 'bad stuff' is—and we never will—deleting it is putting a bandaid on a deep wound."

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

U.S. loads, and aims tariff pistol at U.K., India and others over taxes on Big Tech by David Meyer

Should CIOs report to CFOs? By Sheryl Estrada

Amazon throws its weight behind marijuana legalization By Chris Morris

YouTube’s creator economy is bigger and more profitable than ever By Aaron Pressman and Danielle Abril

SoFi flies in SPAC-tacular Nasdaq debut By Rey Mashayekhi

A running list of companies whose market cap is topped by Dogecoin’s By Chris Morris

(Some of these stories require a subscription to access. Thank you for supporting our journalism.)

BEFORE YOU GO

I’ve been keeping one eye on AMC since hearing CEO Adam Aron speak at a virtual event for Fortune. As an aside during the conversation about customer experiences, Aron discussed how Redditors rallied around the stock when the company was struggling to make ends meet. The new investors now own more than 80% of the company’s stock.

“People who were our avid customers got mad,” he said last week. “They thought a company that they patronized and loved for all of their lives was going to disappear.”

In response to the Reddit rally, AMC on Wednesday announced AMC Investor Connect, a program that will give investors some perks and possibly entice them back to theaters. The first offer? A free large bucket of popcorn. In movie-cost terms, that might as well be a small bucket of gold. OK, that may be a little dramatic. But movie popcorn doesn’t come cheap!

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