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Is Facebook cornering the VR market?

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Imagine that, over the past year, Facebook had managed to acquire the battle royale game Fortnite, the kid-focused game creation engine Roblox, and the best-selling game of 2020, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.

For many reasons, such a spree of acquisitions would never happen. One of the biggest is that antitrust scrutiny has made it increasingly difficult for Facebook to acquire anything that resembles a social network. It was more than a year ago that the company bought the moribund GIF search engine Giphy, which had few prospects for success as a standalone company; the United Kingdom’s competition watchdog has so far blocked the deal from closing, warning the acquisition would somehow harm Facebook’s competitors.

And yet if you look at the virtual reality landscape, Facebook has made a series of acquisitions that are roughly analogous to the fictional shopping spree I describe above, if on a much smaller scale:

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The company’s other VR studio acquisitions include Sanzaru Games and Ready at Dawn.

Alex Heath, a reporter at The Verge who has closely covered the rise of AR and VR technologies, observed on Twitter recently that Facebook’s acquisitions in the space resembled its most famous bets on nascent technology from years ago: the purchases of Instagram and WhatsApp, which helped the company cement its position as the dominant player in social networks.

“Facebook is going to probably have a near-monopoly in VR software before it even matters,” Heath tweeted. “Facebook will have literally reinvented itself for a new paradigm shift in computing by the time regulation gets around to addressing it in its current state.”

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Beat Saber

Beat Saber.
Image: Beat Games

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Whether or not you think Congress should intervene to regulate tech acquisitions, it’s undeniable that the process moves slowly. Facebook bought Instagram in 2012 and WhatsApp in 2014; a congressional antitrust inquiry didn’t begin until five years later; and a bill that would require heightened scrutiny of tech platform acquisitions was not introduced into Congress until… Friday. (OK, fine, the insurrectionist Sen. Josh Hawley introduced a bill to ban all platform acquisitions, period, in April, but his bills are better thought of as Fox News op-eds than as serious efforts to regulate the industry.)

I think the Federal Trade Commission should be more skeptical of tech giants acquiring their direct competitors, but I’m not sure a bill that defaults to banning acquisitions is the best approach. Acquisitions are part of the lifeblood of Silicon Valley, and the money that they return to investors gets re-invested in the next generation of entrepreneurs and technologies. You can encourage competition in lots of ways without banning M&A. And in any case, it’s hard to imagine a bill like this one garnering much support from Republicans, Hawley’s bill notwithstanding.

At the same time, let’s say you believe Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp set back the consumer internet for a few years — until TikTok emerged, anyway. Wouldn’t you want to apply as much scrutiny to Facebook’s current shopping spree as you’re applying to moves it made as long as nine years ago?

The answer to that question likely depends on how large you think the market for virtual reality headsets and its attendant software ecosystem will someday become. Currently the market is small — Facebook’s Oculus platform had sold fewer than 10 million units as of January. The PlayStation 4, by contrast, has sold over 115 million units during its lifetime; Apple sold almost 80 million iPhones in the last quarter of 2020 alone.

If you think VR will grow to roughly the size of a major console gaming platform, maybe you’re not concerned how many studios Facebook is buying. Console manufacturers buy game studios all the time — Microsoft’s acquisition of ZeniMax Media, owner of Bethesda Software and its many popular franchises, was last year’s mega-deal in the space — and no one seems to have too many concerns that any one console is developing a monopoly.

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If, on the other hand, you think Oculus could grow to a size more closely resembling a major desktop computer manufacturer, like Dell, perhaps you would eye its acquisitions with more scrutiny. To lay my cards on the table: I think it eventually will.

Facebook still hasn’t released sales figures for the Quest 2 headset, and I’m told Playstation VR has sold more units overall. But we know that Quest 2 drove a 156 percent year-over-year increase in Facebook’s non-advertising revenue in the last quarter of 2020. Even on a relatively small revenue base, that might make VR Facebook’s fastest-growing business.

Everywhere you look, you find signs of Facebook’s growing confidence in its VR platform. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has given frequent interviews on the subject over the past 12 months, among other things positioning AR and VR as an enterprise software platform as well as a place to play games. The company has hired more than 10,000 people to work in its Facebook Reality Labs hardware division.

In short, there’s more evidence that VR will be huge amid Facebook’s run of acquisitions today than there was evidence that Instagram was going to be huge when Facebook bought it in 2012, before the app had even 50 million users.

None of that is to say that I think VR will overtake smartphones as the world’s biggest computing platform. And it’s also clear that Facebook has real competition as it tries to build out the mixed-reality future. Snap is also building impressive hardware and software in that space, focused on its Spectacles glasses and growing developer ecosystem around them. Apple, which is working on a headset of its own, has made at least four acquisitions of mixed-reality companies in recent years itself.

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It may also be that Epic Games makes Fortnite the Fortnite of VR, and Roblox makes its platform the Roblox of VR, and Facebook’s efforts in that space wither.

Facebook told me its reasons for acquiring so many game studios are straightforward: it wants to accelerate the growth of a still-nascent industry by ensuring top-flight gaming experiences are widely available. It’s a very small player in the gaming industry, the company said, but hopes its acquisitions will be good for both developers and users.

“That’s all true — but it doesn’t doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be an issue in six or eight years,” Heath told me over the phone Wednesday. From Heath’s perspective, the more consequential aspect of Facebook’s acquisitions is that it will tie up a significant amount of VR talent at one company for at least four years while their options from the acquisition vest.

“There are not that many companies doing this,” Heath said of the VR industry, “And the people that are good either already work at Facebook or they’re buying them.”

None of this will much matter if the VR industry fails to live up to its most recent round of hype. And failing to live up to the hype is perhaps the signature feature of the VR industry for its entire lifespan so far.

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But if VR becomes a part of our daily workflow as well our daily entertainment, and Facebook becomes the market leader in that space, we may be in for another global conversation about how a tech giant successfully used its market power to take over an adjacent industry. If that’s to be the case, it strikes me that the time to have that conversation is now — while the foundation is still being laid, one minor-seeming acquisition at a time.

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Now people can share directly to Instagram Reels from some of their favorite apps

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More people are creating, sharing and watching Reels than ever before. We’ve seen the creator community dive deeply into video content – and use it to connect with their communities. We’re running a limited alpha test that lets creators share video content directly from select integrated apps to Instagram Reels. Now, creators won’t be interrupted in their workflow, making it easier for them share share and express themselves on Reels.

“With the shift to video happening across almost all online platforms, our innovative tools and services empower creativity and fuel the creator economy and we are proud to be able to offer a powerful editing tool like Videoleap that allows seamless content creation, while partnering with companies like Meta to make sharing content that much easier.”- Zeev Farbman, CEO and co-founder of Lightricks.

Starting this month, creators can share short videos directly to Instagram Reels from some of their favorite apps, including Videoleap, Reface, Smule, VivaVideo, SNOW, B612, VITA and Zoomerang, with more coming soon. These apps and others also allow direct sharing to Facebook , which is available for any business with a registered Facebook App to use.

We hope to expand this test to more partners in 2023. If you’re interested in being a part of that beta program, please fill out this form and we will keep track of your submission. We do not currently have information to share about general availability of this integration.

Learn more here about sharing Stories and Reels to Facebook and Instagram and start building today.

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FAQs

Q. What is the difference between the Instagram Content Publishing API and Instagram Sharing to Reels?

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A: Sharing to Reels is different from the Instagram Content Publishing API, which allows Instagram Business accounts to schedule and publish posts to Instagram from third-party platforms. Sharing to Reels is specifically for mobile apps to display a ‘Share to Reels’ widget. The target audience for the Share to Reels widget is consumers, whereas the Content Publishing API is targeted towards businesses, including third-party publishing platforms such as Hootsuite and Sprout Social that consolidate sharing to social media platforms within their third-party app.

Q: Why is Instagram partnering with other apps?

A: Creators already use a variety of apps to create and edit videos before uploading them to Instagram Reels – now we’re making that experience faster and easier. We are currently doing a small test of an integration with mobile apps that creators know and love, with more coming soon.

Q: How can I share my video from another app to Reels on Instagram?

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A: How it works (Make sure to update the mobile app you’re using to see the new Share to Reels option):

  • Create and edit your video in one of our partner apps
  • Once your video is ready, tap share and then tap the Instagram Reels icon
  • You will enter the Instagram Camera, where you can customize your reel with audio, effects, Voiceover and stickers. Record any additional clips or swipe up to add an additional clip from your camera roll.
  • Tap ‘Next’ to add a caption, hashtag, location, tag others or use the paid partnerships label.
  • Tap ‘Share’. Your reel will be visible where you share reels today, depending on your privacy settings.
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Q: How were partners selected?

A. We are currently working with a small group of developers that focus on video creation and editing as early partners. We’ll continue to expand to apps with other types of creation experiences.

Q: When will other developers be able to access Sharing to Reels on Instagram?

A: We do not currently have a date for general availability, but are planning to expand further in 2023.

Q: Can you share to Facebook Reels from other apps?

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A: Yes, Facebook offers the ability for developers to integrate with Sharing to Reels. For more information on third-party sharing opportunities, check out our entire suite of sharing offerings .

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What to know about Presto SQL query engine and PrestoCon

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The open source Presto SQL query engine is used by a diverse set of companies to navigate increasingly large data workflows. These companies are using Presto in support of e-commerce, cloud, security and other areas. Not only do many companies use Presto, but individuals from those companies are also active contributors to the Presto open source community.

In support of that community, Presto holds meetups around the world and has an annual conference, PrestoCon, where experts and contributors gather to exchange knowledge. This year’s PrestoCon, hosted by the Linux Foundation, takes place December 7-8 in Mountain View, CA. This blog post will explore some foundational elements of Presto and what to expect at this year’s PrestoCon.

What is Presto?

Presto is a distributed SQL query engine for data platform teams. Presto users can perform interactive queries on data where it lives using ANSI SQL across federated and diverse sources. Query engines allow data scientists and analysts to focus on building dashboards and utilizing BI tools so that data engineers can focus on storage and management, all while communicating through a unified connection layer.

In short, the scientist does not have to consider how or where data is stored, and the engineer does not have to optimize for every use case for the data sources they manage. You can learn more about Presto in a recent ELI5 video below.

Caption: Watch the video by clicking on the image above.

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Presto was developed to solve the problem of petabyte-scale, multi-source data queries taking hours or days to return. These resources and time constraints make real-time analysis impossible. Presto can return results from those same queries in less than a second in most cases, allowing for interactive data exploration.

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Not only is it highly scalable, but it’s also extensible, allowing you to build your own connector for any data source Presto does not already support. At a low level, Presto also supports a wide range of file types for query processing. Presto was open sourced by Meta and later donated to the Linux Foundation in September of 2019.

Here are some Presto resources for those who are new to the community:

What is PrestoCon?

PrestoCon is held annually in the Bay Area and hosted by the Linux Foundation. This year, the event takes place December 7-8 at the Computer History Museum. You can register here. Each year at PrestoCon, you can hear about the latest major evolutions of the platform, how different organizations use Presto and what plans the Technical Steering Committee has for Presto in the coming year.

Presto’s scalability is especially apparent as every year we hear from small startups, as well as industry leaders like Meta and Uber, who are using the Presto platform for different use cases, whether those are small or large. If you’re looking to contribute to open source, PrestoCon is a great opportunity for networking as well as hearing the vision that the Technical Steering Committee has for the project in the coming year.

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Explore what’s happening at PrestoCon 2022:

Where is Presto used?

Since its release in November of 2013, Presto has been used as an integral part of big data pipelines within Meta and other massive-scale companies, including Uber and Twitter.

The most common use case is connecting business intelligence tools to vast data sets within an organization. This enables crucial questions to be answered faster and data-driven decision-making can be more efficient.

How does Presto work?

First, a coordinator takes your statement and parses it into a query. The internal planner generates an optimized plan as a series of stages, which are further separated into tasks. Tasks are then assigned to workers to process in parallel.

Workers then use the relevant connector to pull data from the source.

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The output of each task is returned by the workers, until the stage is complete. The stage’s output is returned by the final worker towards the next stage, where another series of tasks must be executed.

The results of stages are combined, eventually returning the final result of the original statement to the coordinator, which then returns to the client.

How do I get involved?

To start using Presto, go to prestodb.io and click Get Started.

We would love for you to join the Presto Slack channel if you have any questions or need help. Visit the community page on the Presto website to see all the ways you can get involved and find other users and developers interested in Presto.

If you would like to contribute, go to the GitHub repository and read over the Contributors’ Guide.

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Where can I learn more?

To learn more about Presto, check out its website for installation guides, user guides, conference talks and samples.

Make sure you check out previous Presto talks, and attend the annual PrestoCon event if you are able to do so.

To learn more about Meta Open Source, visit our open source site, subscribe to our YouTube channel, or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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How to Interpret Webhook Components in the WhatsApp Business Platform

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The ways customers want to connect are changing. The WhatsApp Business Platform gives businesses an integrated way to communicate with customers right where they are. In order to integrate properly when using the Cloud API, hosted by Meta, you’ll need to leverage webhooks so applications have a way to respond to events. Webhooks allow your application to monitor three primary events on WhatsApp so you can react with different functionality depending on your goals.

This article looks at these three components, goes through the information they carry, and provides some use-case scenarios to give you an idea of the possibilities.

Interpreting Different Webhook Components

To send and receive messages on WhatsApp, it’s critical to keep track of statuses and errors to help ensure you’re communicating effectively with your customers, which you can do with webhooks.

With webhooks, the WhatsApp Business Platform monitors events and sends notifications when one occurs. These events are one of three components: messages, statuses, and errors.

Let’s explore each of these and examine examples of how you can use them.

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Messages

The messages component is the largest of the three event types and contains two core objects:

  • Contacts — which contain information about the message’s sender.

  • Messages — which provide information about a message’s type and contents.

These two event types allow your application to manage and respond to people that interact with your application. The contacts object contains two pieces of information: name and WhatsApp Id. The contact’s name allows your application to use their name without further lookups. In contrast, the contact’s WhatsApp ID lets you keep track of these contacts or use the contacts/ endpoint to add additional functionality.

For instance, you can verify the customer and start the opt-in process within the customer-initiated conversation, which allows you to message them outside the initial 24-hour response window. It’s important to note that only the text, contacts, and location message types provide contact information.

The message object is where the bulk of the information is stored, including the message contents, type of message, and other relevant information. Depending on the message type, the actual payload of the message component can vary widely. It’s crucial to determine the message type to understand the potential payload. Message types include:

  • Text: a standard text-only message

  • Contact: contains a user’s full contact details

  • Location: address, latitude, and longitude

  • Unknown: unsupported messages from users, which usually contain errors.

  • Ephemeral: disappearing messages

  • Media message types: contain information for the specified media file. These types include:

    • Document

    • Image

    • Audio

    • Video

    • Voice

These different data types can have very different uses, from reviewing images and screenshots from concerned customers to collecting information about where to ship goods and send services. To use these different data types most effectively, you can create applications to handle different forms of communication, with functionalities such as:

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  • Ask your customers to provide a shipping or mailing address. You can use the location-based message feature to capture your users’ location to determine where to send their goods and services.

  • Show customers products and communicate product details through a message. You can use the referred_product field within messages to offer your users specific product details. Using this field develops a more personal, conversational shopping experience and customer interactions.

  • Build support functionality that allows customers to take and send images and videos of product concerns, and submit those for a support case. Once the user has submitted a support ticket, the app can track the case — including steps taken towards resolution and conversations between support teams and the customer through WhatsApp — using a unique case identifier.

These are just some potential features you can build using the interactivity provided by webhooks and the message object. These features extend your current communication channels and provide additional options for customers.

Statuses

Where the messages component provides your application with insight into events that originate directly from your customers, the statuses component keeps track of the results of messages you send and the conversation history. There are six status components:

  • Sent: the application sent your message and is in transit.
  • Delivered: the user’s device successfully received the message.
  • Read: the user has read your message.
  • Deleted: a user deleted a message that you sent.
  • Warning: a message sent by your application contains an item that isn’t available or doesn’t exist.
  • Failed: a message sent by your application failed to arrive.

Status components also contain information on the recipient ID, the conversation, and the pricing related to the current conversation. Conversations on WhatsApp are a grouping of messages within a 24-hour window that are either user-initiated or business-initiated. Keeping track of these conversations is vital, as a new conversation occurs when you send additional responses after the 24-hour period ends.

Some functionality you may want to add to your application based on status events includes:

  • Ensuring your application has sent generated messages, they arrived, and the recipient potentially read them by using a combination of these status types and timestamps within the status object. This information allows your application to follow up with customers if they didn’t engage.
  • Keep analytical information about your application’s messages, especially regarding business-initiated conversations. For example, if your application uses a WhatsApp customer contact list to send offer messages, the status component helps you understand how many were sent, delivered, read, responded to, or failed to measure your campaign’s success.

Errors

Finally, the errors component allows your application to receive any out-of-band errors within WhatsApp that affect your platform. These errors don’t stop your application from compiling or working but are typically caused when your application is misusing specific functionality. The following are some typical errors.

Error Code 368, Temporarily Blocked for Policy Violations

If your application violates WhatsApp Business Messaging or Commerce policy, your account may be temporarily banned. You can monitor this and pause your application while troubleshooting.

Error 506, Duplicate Post

If your workflows unintentionally generate duplicate messages, you can monitor this to find the source.

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Error 131043, Message Expired

Sometimes, messages are not sent during their time to live (TTL) duration. Use this code to know which messages to schedule for resending if needed.

Error handling is a broad, complex subject, and there are many other use cases for which you should be implementing error handling. The errors component helps extend your error handling on the WhatsApp Business Platform for greater consistency.

Conclusion

This article took a high-level look at messages, statuses, and errors returned by webhooks and explored ways you can use these three components to expand your application’s functionality.

Messages provide information on customer interactions, statuses give insight into messages your app sends, and error notices enable you to increase your application’s resilience. Webhooks are critical to ensuring your app interacts with customers seamlessly.

The WhatsApp Business Platform’s webhooks provide your applications with real-time data, enabling you to build better experiences as you interact with customers. Ready to know more? Dive deeper into everything the WhatsApp Business Platform has to offer.

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