Facebook just moved even closer to the center of your digital ecosystem with the roll-out of a smarter, more connected version of its proprietary AI assistant, M.
Speaking at this week’s Facebook F8 conference, the company’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, and head of Messenger, David Marcus, announced plans to turn Messenger into a sort of “social living room” — one where you can chat, make dinner reservations, hail a cab, order food, and share music directly from Spotify. What that means, in essence, is that Facebook wants M to act as the digital butler in your social living room.
Messenger is no longer just a chat platform; it’s a personal assistant and, pretty soon, it could be one of the most lucrative advertising spaces we’ve ever seen. How M performs in the long run compared to competitors such as Siri, Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Cortana remains to be seen, but the most obvious advantage M has over all of them is that it exists within your conversations and will proactively make suggestions when it recognizes a point where it might be of assistance.
This is key to Facebook’s plan to embed Messenger at the very center of our daily digital lives. With Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant, users have to ask about a specific task, while potentially breaking stride with whatever they were doing. With M, users never need to leave the Messenger interface, since M makes timely recommendations based on what it thinks you might need there and then.
Imagine you’re watching the Stanley Cup and chatting about it with friends on Messenger. You’re all at your respective houses and you’re discussing getting together to watch it. Somebody mentions pizza, and M chimes in with suggestions for pizza delivery — Facebook recently partnered with Delivery.com as a test. You order the pizza through Messenger, and M then offers up a meeting time for everyone to accept. Finally, you ask M to arrange a Lyft for you, and you’re on your way.
Everything’s arranged and executed from within Messenger, just the way Facebook planned it.
Fun side note: The M Branding: In the James Bond movies, Moneypenny, also known as M, is Bond’s faithful companion and personal assistant. This isn’t the official word from Facebook on their AI’s branding, but it’s a interesting thought. Could Facebook also be hinting at a future strategy to turn M into a money-making machine? Possibly. The double entendre is there.
For years marketers have spoken about the need for brands to join the conversation with their customers. With Chat Extensions — that’s what Facebook calls them — the functionality for brands to literally get in on the conversation might not be too far away. For brands, M could be the holy grail that turns them from occasional annoyances into friends, or at least contextual helping hands.
Instead of spending millions of media dollars on advertising and marketing campaigns that they hope will reach part of their target audience, with M, brands might be able to bid for the rights to specific trigger words and phrases. Should Domino’s have preferential rights when you’re chatting with a buddy about pizza, M might show pizza delivery options — with Domino’s as the primary choice. Ask M about airport travel times and you’ll get them, brought to you by Delta. Ask about the weather, M delivers on behalf of Ray Ban.
In the end, Facebook’s strategy is clear: Use an active user base of 1.2 billion to dethrone Google and Amazon, becoming both the OS and search engine for your entire digital life and a powerful center of commerce, delivered by a butler who chats to you just like a friend.
Etienne Mérineau is cofounder and Head of Conversation Design at Heyday.ai, a smart messaging app for business.