Facebook’s F8 conference: What you can expect, and how to watch the key moments live

Mark Zuckerberg will kick off Facebook's F8 developer conference later today, at 10:00 PDT, which is 18:00 GMT. Partners large and small will be in attendance, and the off-again-on-again event will be returning to the San Francisco Design Centre's Concourse Exhibition Centre for the first time since September 2011.

F8 was first held in 2007 and hosted by Facebook again in 2008. There was no conference in 2009, but the event returned to San Francisco in 2010 and 2011, before Facebook opted not to put on F8 in 2012 or 2013.

Facebook's big meet-and-greet with developers and partners has historically been headlined by the introduction of fairly momentous user interface changes to the site itself. At the 2011 event, Zuckerberg introduced Timeline, Facebook's expanded, chronological, and more digestible expansion of the old Facebook Wall. At earlier conferences, the use of the "Like" button was expanded considerably, redesigns of user profiles were launched, and more. Changes to the social graph framework and other, deeper platform-level stuff has also been a big part of past F8s, but probably of less interest to end users.

This year's F8 won't be nearly so heavy on user-facing announcements, according to Facebook's Ilya Sukhar, the head of Facebook-owned mobile app development platform Parse. Facebook will "be going back to its roots" and focusing mainly on developer needs at F8 rather than users, said Sukhar, when we had a chance to chat with him ahead of F8.

So what can we expect at today's conference, if not a grand new UI vision for the social network that its billion-plus users would surely moan about before gradually forgetting what they were complaining about in the first place?

For starters, we'll likely hear a lot about Parse, which Facebook acquired a year ago. Parse has been the launching pad for more than 260,000 mobile apps, Sukhar said, with an impressive 250 per cent increase in the number of apps built on the platform in the past year.

Conventional wisdom has long held that Facebook's sluggishness to move legitimately into mobile could prove to be the social network's Achilles heel. That was perhaps the main criticism of Facebook around the time of its historic May 2012 Initial Public Offering, but the company has steadily moved to play catch up in the mobile arena, helped along by acquisitions like Parse and other investments.

"More than 140,000 new developers signed up for Parse this year," Sukhar said, adding that among those developing mobile apps on the platform are big media and tech players like Showtime, Fox News & Sports, eBay, and Samsung, as well as rising names like Quip, StubHub, and Zoosk.

A mobile ad network?

In fact, the main thrust of this year's F8 may be mobile, mobile, and more mobile. Rumour has it there will be a heavy focus on mobile at F8, beyond just crowing over the past year's achievements.

About a week ago, Re/code reported that Facebook will be unveiling plans for a full-blown mobile ad network at F8.

The word is that Facebook wants to leverage its massive user database for better ad targeting, expanding its reach, and making even more money. Between October and December of last year, Facebook mobile ads generated $1.24 billion (£740 million), which is believed to account for more than half of the company's overall ad revenue. With an ad network to shop around outside of the confines of Facebook itself, the company could potentially haul in far more revenue.

Facebook certainly has the building blocks in place to unleash such a beast. In February 2013, the company acquired Microsoft's Atlas Advertiser Suite, with the intention of "making sure the right messages get in front of the right people at the right time," as it said at the time.

And as Re/code pointed out, in January the company announced an experimental advertising process, which it described as "like a mobile ad network."

Facebook declined to comment on the rumour when asked about it.

Acquisition fever

One thing we probably won't hear about at F8, sadly, is talk about Facebook's recent acquisition frenzy.

In February, Facebook announced its intention to acquire WhatsApp for a staggering $19 billion (£11.3 billion). The deal for the messaging app which skirts around users' monthly text allotments may be facing some roadblocks, however, in the form of Federal Trade Commission scrutiny into what the merger could mean to privacy obligations made by WhatsApp to their users.

In another recent, highly publicised deal, last month Facebook agreed to pay $2 billion (£1.2 billion) in cash and company stock to buy virtual reality gaming startup Oculus VR. That acquisition is already cruising along a smoother path than the WhatsApp deal – the FTC green-lighted it about a week ago.

Both of those proposed acquisitions have had the tech industry buzzing. However, since neither deal has closed, Facebook reps have been instructed to avoid discussing them at F8, according to Sukhar and company PR reps.

F8 will doubtless have some very interesting revelations, though – and if you want to watch the highlights (including the big keynote) live online, then point your browser here (and check out the schedule of events here, too).