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In revamp, Facebook bets on small-scale connections, and romance
[SAN JOSÉ, United States] Got a crush on another Facebook user? The social network will help you connect, as part of a revamp unveiled Tuesday that aims to foster real-world relationships and make the platform a more intimate place for small groups of friends.
Changes coming to the mobile application and eventually the website are part of the vision of co-founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to have Facebook be a place for cozy online gatherings as well as more open public forums.
"As the world gets bigger and more connected, we need that sense of intimacy more than ever," Mr Zuckerberg said as he opened the F8 developer conference for the social networking giant.
"That's why I believe the future is private."
The new design is in line with Facebook's aim to shift its focus to small-scale communication in response to criticism over failing to curb misinformation and manipulation of the platform used by 2.3 billion people.
Changes announced Tuesday put groups at the centre of the experience and add dating, friend-making and events features intended to promote people getting together in real life, Facebook's new app head Fidji Simo told AFP.
The redesign is meant to make it easier for users to take part in communities, whether based on friendships, family ties or common interests, according to Ms Simo.
"It's definitely part of Mark's bigger vision," she said.
The new design, released as Facebook opened its annual developers conference, will give users more options for private and group connections.
DOGS AND POLITICS
While counter-intuitive, Facebook sees the change as potentially bringing people with opposing political viewpoints together rather than separating them in "filter bubbles".
"We are seeing that groups can bridge people across dividing lines," Ms Simo said.
"If you are a dog lover, you will find people who are dog lovers across all divides; political or otherwise," she added as an example.
Facebook is adding tools intended to make engaging with groups easier, including improved recommendations of online communities that might be of interest.
A "Meet New Friends" feature being gradually rolled out will let users opt in to getting acquainted with others interested in fresh connections in shared communities.
An "Events" tab will expedite making real world, local plans with online friends.
The changes are in line with Zuckerberg's vision outlined earlier this year to make Facebook more like "a digital equivalent of the living room" than a digital "town square".
This shift, according to Zuckerberg, will mean simple, intimate spaces online where "you have complete confidence that what you say is private".
Facebook also announced it is expanding its dating feature to 14 more countries including the Philippines, Singapore, Brazil and Chile.
A new feature called "Secret Crush" will let people signal which friends they are interested in romantically, but only letting the object of their fancy know it if that person makes similar interest known on a private crush list.
"We think there is a lot of potential in developing these relationships," Ms Simo said.
"It's all built with privacy in mind, and with the goal of building meaningfully long-term relationships and not just hookups."
The ability for people in small groups to be able to communicate securely and privately is seen as essential to making the social network more intimate.
There are tens of millions of active groups on Facebook, and more than 400 million people belong to groups at the social network.
LEANER, FASTER MESSENGER
Separately, Facebook unveiled a Messenger app overhaul that makes the mobile software leaner, faster and more of an energy miser.
"We rewrote practically all of the code from scratch," Facebook head of messaging product Stan Chudnovsky told AFP.
"We made Messenger the fastest private communication hub on the planet."
Features built into the new Messenger app build on the social network's broader vision of small-group-sharing in "virtual living rooms," according to Mr Chudnovsky.
New features included friends being able to text one another on smartphones while using them to take part in group video chats.
Some 1.3 billion people use Messenger monthly, according to Facebook.