After a few twists and turns and then ultimately cancelling its F8 developer conference last year over Covid-19 concerns, Facebook today announced a return of the event in a virtual-only format it is calling F8 Refresh. The company today said that it will be holding it as a one-day event on June 2. You can sign up for F8 Refresh here.
It's a mark of the times to be right-sizing everything to the place we are in right now. So although F8 has grown in size and scope over the years -- it typically attracts around 5,000 people and many more to its in-person event -- it looks like the social network is taking 2021 to be a little more modest in its approach.
Mark is maybe the operative word here: there will be no Mark Zuckerberg keynote this year, Facebook has confirmed to me, although it's undecided if he will be making any appearance. Instead of words from its founder and CEO, Facebook will have Konstantinos Papamiltiadis, VP of Platform Partnerships, delivering the opening presentation at the event, which will as usual provide some updates on new launches for the platform.
It's another sign of the times that making plans so far in advance, and in person, just won't cut it right now: there have been too many unexpected developments around the spread, then wane, then resurgence of the pandemic, and even one year later, in multiple parts of the world authorities are still trying to get activity under control to keep the virus in check.
In the past, Facebook has given much more lead time to people for F8, to let developers, partners and other attendees to clear their calendars and organize travel from further afield. Its 2020 two-day event, which had originally been scheduled for May 2020, was announced in November 2019 for example. Of course, in the months following, as Covid-19 took its grip, F8 2020 became one of a wave of events to be cancelled, with Facebook first looking to replace it with a series of local events, but then cancelling everything altogether.
"F8 has always brought together an incredible community of people who are building, innovating, and looking for what’s next. And over the last year, our community of developers enabled growth for businesses of all sizes to adapt to a changed world and accelerate their digital transformation," noted Papamiltiadis in a blog post. "In recognition of this, we want to bring F8 back to its roots: a place to celebrate, inspire and help developers grow."
The big question will be what topics Facebook will see fit to tackle in June. Some of the bigger themes hanging over it right now are how it plans to continue growing in developing markets, whether/what it will launch in response to newly rising apps like Clubhouse, how it might diversify its business model beyond advertising, whether we will ever see a launch of Novi and Diem, and how Facebook continues to tackle misuse on its platform.
For a company so huge and influential, there is indeed a lot to potentially cover. But at least for now the focus seems to be more modest as well. Rather than big launches and major announcements, it looks like Facebook will keep the F8 focus more on its ecosystem and the developers in it. Among the areas that Papamiltiadis highlighted will be addressed, he mentioned product tools for building in Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp
and Oculus; technical deep-dive sessions; demos, and panels.
Updated to reflect that Oculus has its own event, and to note that Zuckerberg may make an appearance. Still undecided.