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Facebook Built a 'Personal Assistant' Inside Messenger

Facebook wants to help you shop (among other things).


What can Facebook do for you today?

That’s the premise behind “M,” a new “personal digital assistant” that lives within Facebook’s standalone messaging app, Messenger. Unlike Apple’s Siri or Google Now, you’ll primarily interact with M through text (although you can send M a voice recording). The assistant is powered by artificial intelligence, the advanced technology Facebook is developing to help its products think and act more like humans.

The assistant is only rolling out to a small group of users but, in theory, you may soon be able to use Messenger to do things like book a restaurant reservation or arrange travel. Perhaps the most immediately relevant feature is shopping, which M will enable, according to a post by Facebook’s head of messaging products David Marcus. (You can read his full post below.)

You could previously buy things through Messenger, but only from a few select retail partners. The assistant means you can now shop with virtually any retailer, according to a company spokesperson. Ask M to find you an item, and then you can pay for that item and arrange to have it delivered through the app. For now, Messenger isn’t taking a cut of any sales it delivers, but you can imagine that may change down the road.

This is all new territory for Messenger, but it’s not surprising territory. Messenger has plans to become its own business, and connecting users with businesses is a big part of that plan. Developing technology to simplify those interactions is a necessity, and like other AI technologies, should continue to improve over time.

One important thing to note: M won’t have access to your personal profile info, or the profiles of your friends on Facebook, according to a spokesperson. So while Facebook may already know your address or email, M will still ask you for it if it’s ever needed to complete a transaction.

It’s also possible (I’d guess likely) that Facebook will eventually share that info with M. Facebook has always distinguished itself by offering users a personalized experience, and it knows too much about all of us to ignore that data when it comes to shopping suggestions. Otherwise, what’s the point of asking Facebook for gift recommendations if you aren’t getting something personalized for you in return?

M is launching with just a couple hundred people in the Bay Area, so don’t be surprised if this update doesn’t make it your way anytime soon.

Marcus will be onstage at Code/Mobile in October, and we’ll have a chance to ask him more then. Sign up now!

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