Zuckerberg demos new features that could be hitting Facebook in 2017

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg just offered up a behind-the-scenes look at some seriously cool tech that his company is developing for its various platforms.

The social network’s founder took to Facebook Live to play around with some of the prototypes and updates built by the firm’s engineers during this month’s Hackathon. The new tools include a location request feature for Messenger, GIFs for Facebook comments, and offline messaging, among others.

Zuckerberg was joined by chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer and chief product officer Chris Cox, along with a number of other execs, for the live-stream — which was jokingly described as Facebook’s version of American Idol.

The proceedings started with a modified version of Oculus Touch: the new controllers for Facebook’s Oculus Rift VR headset. The demo device that Zuckerberg played with in the video (for the “first time”) physically turns hot or cold depending on what you are interacting with in a game. “This is quite warm,” remarked Zuckerberg whilst clutching the controller. At the same time, onscreen, his virtual hands were hovering over a virtual fire.

Next up came a feature for Facebook Messenger that allows users to share their location with friends. The feature can be enabled individually for each of your Messenger contacts, allowing you to tell them where exactly you are during (for example) an emergency. Once a request is made, your mapped location will be sent automatically to your contact in the form of a reply — you can disable the auto-response within a set time limit. “That’s awesome,” exclaimed Zuckerberg. “This builds on the safety check work that we’ve done,” he added, referring to the existing Facebook feature that allows users to mark themselves as safe during a crisis.

The third Hackathon update that was showcased during the live-stream could end up being the first to actually be released. GIFs in comments could soon be added to Facebook across all platforms, according to the engineers who demoed the update. As you’d expect, the feature comes with an integrated GIF search engine (courtesy of Giphy and Riffsy), allowing you to pick from an updating database of animated clips. “I think this will be widely used,” said Zuckerberg.

After the GIF-a-thon came an exclusive update aimed at emerging markets. Overseas users of Facebook’s stripped-down Messenger Lite app may soon be able to message one another while offline. The tech basically uses Wi-Fi Direct support on a smartphone to allow users to chat with others nearby. It sounds like a handy function, but will likely be limited to select foreign markets where connectivity is low. Future updates could also allow for a message to be sent across several phones to reach its intended recipient. Zuckerberg’s take on the project: “That’s really cool.”

The final audition, as it were, was of an AI-assisted shared albums feature. The tool compiles photo and video galleries by pulling content tied to a specific event from the comments section of a post. For example, if you asked your friends to share images from a wedding, the feature would recognize that and automatically put them in their own album for everyone to view.

That’s a lot of cool stuff that could very well be rolled out on Facebook in 2017, and beyond. Before signing off from the stream, Zuckerberg also revealed that his AI butler will be demoed before the year’s end. Let’s keep our fingers crossed Robert Downey Jr. will come through on his offer to voice the digital assistant.