Facebook wants to be your digital assistant. The social network today announced it is testing a Siri-like personal assistant called M.
The service is a blend of artificial intelligence — similar to that which powers Apple’s Siri, Google’s Google Now and Microsoft’s Cortana — and human input, and Facebook believes that combination will make M better than its rivals. Like Siri, M will be able to give recommendations about the best places to dine in a city or help people pick a gift for a friend, but M will also be able to complete tasks such as making a restaurant reservation or having the gift delivered.
Facebook’s VP of messaging products David Marcus announced the test in a Facebook post this morning:
Marcus’s post was short on details about how M will work, but Wired was given an advanced look. Wired reported that a test is being carried out for a few hundred users in the Bay Area and will eventually be rolled out for all Messenger users. For human input, the company has a team of M trainers sitting with Facebook engineers to help make sure user queries are answered appropriately.
The Wired article is a must-read for those interested in Facebook’s motives for entering this market.
Here’s a telling excerpt:
Facebook’s goal is to make Messenger the first stop for mobile discovery. Google has long had search locked up on the desktop: Right now, if I’m looking to treat my summer cold, and I’m in front of my laptop, I begin by googling “cold meds Upper West Side.” On mobile, however, I may pull up any number of apps -– Google, Google Maps, Twitter -– to find that out, or I may just ask Siri. Facebook starts at a disadvantage on mobile because it doesn’t have its own operating system, and therefore users must download an app, and then open it. Marcus hopes to make up for that by creating a virtual assistant so powerful, it’s the first stop for anyone looking to do or buy anything.
“We start capturing all of your intent for the things you want to do,” says Marcus. “Intent often leads to buying something, or to a transaction, and that’s an opportunity for us to [make money] over time.”
If M can provide a more efficient service than its competitors, Facebook can boost the number of people using it on mobile and eventually spur revenue from their transactions. That’s the kind of win-win Marcus was brought in to accomplish at Facebook, which in June 2014 hired him away from PayPal, where he had been CEO. In less than two years, Facebook has more than tripled Messenger’s users to 700 million.
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