Facebook's big show this week was all about Facebook. That's a problem

Facebook’s F8 event this week was self-indulgent. There were lots of announcements that looked good at first blush but actually have a lot of important details still missing or to be determined.

On the one hand, Mark Zuckerberg’s day-one keynote laid out some cool new potential growth areas for the company, including an app store for Facebook Messenger that may help it keep users longer, and a new video advertising network that makes it way more competitive with Google.

That’s the kind of thing investors like to see — Facebook doubling down on proven revenue streams like advertising and app installs.

But the rest of the conference was like a selfie, a chance for Facebook to cast itself in a flattering light.

I found it telling that F8, unlike practically every other trade show out there, gave no space over to its partners or developers. No outside companies, including the 40 developers that Facebook worked like crazy to get their apps ready for Facebook Messenger ready, were given any space at the conference, figuratively or physically.

When we talked to developers about what they were doing, it was on the show floor.

When CTO Mike Schroepfer showed off the Oculus game “EVE: Valkyrie” on stage, he didn’t even mention the name of the game, much less the developer. (It was made by CCP Games.)

Every conference session, every inch of the show floor, every second of every keynote was given over to Facebook, Facebook, Facebook. It was slick, it made Facebook look like rock stars, and judging from the sheer amount of pitches in my inbox for in-person F8 meetings, it left those developers feeling a little left out from the spotlight.

And a lot of the announcements of Facebook’s own inventions were short on substance.

First, Facebook CTO Mike Schroepfer gave a list of company’s priorities over the next ten years, including virtual reality via the Oculus VR acquisition — even though the Oculus Rift headset still doesn’t have an official release date — and artificial intelligence, citing an academic paper that Facebook scientists wrote about learning systems. Even Facebook’s tremendous laser-firing Internet drones, are still in early trial.

Then, Oculus Chief Scientist Mike Abrash spent the majority of his presentation presenting us with some common optical illusions, proving that the brain is easily tricked by virtual reality. “All reality is virtual,” went the official line.

But neither Schroepfer nor Abrash told us anything especially new, and had nothing solid to show save for the odd low-profile technical software release.

Facebook can’t become a platform by itself. It needs partners to build great things on that platform. And that means it’s going to have to share the spotlight.

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