How can Facebook Messenger’s AI/human hybrid assistant M lend you a hand? Early data from Facebook’s testing shows people want help booking reservations, finding local businesses that could solve their problems, and buying stuff.
Facebook characterizes M activity saying, “So far, most people are using M to pass off less than thrilling chores, get out of a bind, or just extend their bandwidth when life gets truly busy.”
Though the personal assistant feature is only open to a very small test group of users, this info reveals what people want from M and competitors like Magic and Operator. But it also shows how makers of these assistants might have to educate users on the breadth of what their services can do.
After an early report from The Information, Facebook provided official details on its M project in August. Built into Messenger, M lets users text in almost any request, from assistance with online chores to booking real-world services or making purchases on their behalf. Requests are currently fielded by a combination of Facebook workers and artificial intelligence.
The hope is that over time, the humans will teach the AI to do more and more complicated tasks on their own. If M succeeds and can be affordably rolled out, it could make people’s lives easier while strengthening their loyalty to Facebook Messenger amid intense competition between chat apps. Though if it’s too costly to scale, Facebook could burn a lot of money on the project.
M could potentially earn revenue itself by taking a margin on top of purchases or services booked for people. But the big opportunity is for Facebook to lock users further into its ecosystem where it makes ample money on News Feed ads. One day, Facebook could even sell ads that convince you to initiate an M request that involves an advertiser’s business.
Right now, Facebook tells me the No. 1 type of request is for restaurant suggestions and reservations. People might know their desired food type, distance, price range, or some quality they’re looking for in a restaurant, and M helps find them the one that fits and gets them a table.
Local search requests are the second most popular. Here, M assists people with finding local businesses, places, or services that solve their needs. Users might ask where they can buy, book an appointment for, or see something nearby, and M directs them.
The third top request type is for purchasing assistance. Rather than have to go to a store in person or deal with online payment flows, M could make purchases on someone’s behalf using the payment info they have on file with Facebook. This way a desire can turn into a delivered product with minimal effort on the user’s part.
Other top request types include ordering flowers, getting food, arranging travel, finding upcoming weather reports, and being reminded of approaching appointments.
Some examples of M usage that Facebook saw include:
- Negotiating with cable companies to cancel service or obtain refunds or discounts without the user having to call the company.
- Handling toll violations for a rental car by getting M to work with the car company so they waive late fees and pay for the ticket.
- Getting a car towed and booking a last-minute hotel room after a user loses their keys.
- Receiving travel assistance and retrieving a lost item thanks to M communicating with locals who only speak a certain language.
- Planning a wedding by arranging vendors for makeup, flowers, programs and manicures.
- Booking a vacation by setting up flights, creating itineraries and planning activities.
- Assisting new parents with research on child care providers and completing random tasks.
Every app handles texting and an ever-increasing list of other communication types like photos, audio clip sharing and video chat. But thanks to Facebook’s vast research and development resources, it may have found a way to make Messenger essential. And it starts with the letter M.