Every month or two, Facebook asks its engineers to take the day off from their regular duties to tackle any project they want.
These so-called hackathons aren't unusual among Silicon Valley tech companies -- Google is famous for them too. For Facebook, they often lead to important products, including its first video player, its developer platform, and its chat system.
After Facebook's engineers prototype their ideas, they present and vote on them among their colleagues. The highest voted ideas get presented to CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of the executive team.
As Facebook product chief Chris Cox puts it, "This is like our 'American Idol.'"
For Facebook's most recent hackathon, the most popular ideas were shown to Zuckerberg, Cox, and other top company execs during a livestream on Zuckerberg's personal Facebook page on Monday. Not all of these creations will become real products or features, but it sounds like Zuckerberg is already ready to greenlight some of them.
Here are the "hacks" that Facebook employees created:
- Hand controllers for the Oculus VR headset that get physically hot and cold: An employee from Facebook-owned Oculus demoed modified hand controllers for its headset that simulate the feeling of heat and cold in virtual reality using embedded thermal coolers. "This is quite warm," remarked Zuckerberg while warming his hands at a virtual fire.
- Location requests in Messenger for when a friend is missing: If you can't find a friend and become worried about their safety, Messenger could one day let you send a request to see their location. A timer would begin on the friend's phone that gives them a chance to approve or deny the request. If the timer expires on its own, their location would be sent to you automatically.
- GIFs are coming to Facebook comments: Soon you'll be able to comment with GIFs in comments on Facebook. ""I think this will be widely used," Zuckerberg said.
- Offline messaging: A Facebook engineer demoed offline messaging in the company's stripped down Messenger Lite app for emerging markets. Once implemented, the feature will allow people without internet access to message each other using the WiFi signals in their phones. Zuckerberg seemed to really like this idea during the demo and even said that "this is something that I've thought we should build for awhile."
- Shared photo and video galleries based on what people post in a person's comments. Facebook engineers demoed the use of machine learning to automatically create shared photo and video albums based on what people share in the comments of a post. So if you ask for photos people took at a wedding, what your friends share in your comments would be turned into a shared album for everyone to see.
- An update on Zuckerberg's personal smart home AI assistant: After the hackathon demos, Zuckerberg shared on update on the artificially intelligent assistant he's been building for his home all year. "It can do a bunch at this point," he said without getting into specifics. He plans to give a full demo before the end of the year. (No word on whether it will indeed be voiced by Robert Downey Jr. of 'Iron Man' fame.)