Facebook Messenger is about to get smarter. Much smarter.
The five-year-old messaging platform, which reports 1 billion monthly active users, announced on Thursday that it is rolling out its experimental virtual assistant “M” to all Messenger users in the United States this week through a new feature called M Suggestions. M Suggestions does exactly what its name suggests, using artificial intelligence to understand what is being said in any given Messenger chat to make recommendations that pop up during the course of a conversation.
Some folks who already feel like Facebook is watching them when they see ads in their News Feed for bridal gowns after getting engaged may be creeped out by the fact their messages are being analyzed. But Stan Chudnovsky, Facebook Messenger’s Head of Product, contends their goal with M Suggestions is to offer a better user experience. To wit, M Suggestions does not currently generate any revenues for Messenger.
“The history of the internet is all about removing friction,” Chudnovsky told Yahoo Finance. “In this case, instead of you having to think about doing something, like sending a sticker, paying a friend for something or sharing your location, and having to press three taps, M does it for you.”
Here are just some of the recommendations M will offer Messenger users moving forward:
Send a sticker
M will suggest virtual stickers you can potentially use based on the context of your conversation. Mention in a Messenger chat that you loved the recent “Beauty and the Beast” film, for instance, and M may recommend several “Beauty and the Beast”-related stickers to send your friend. Even off-hand remarks, like “See you soon!” may warrant a sticker suggestion.
Pay or ask for money
If a friend says something like, “You owe me $20 for pizza last night,” don’t be surprised if M gives you the option to send them money.
Catch a ride
Talking about going somewhere? M suggests you “Get A Ride” with the option to hail an Uber or Lyft car.
Start a poll
In group chats with more than two people, M might let you create a poll and vote if you and your friends are having a hard time coming to a consensus on something like, which concert to see or which restaurant to dine at.
As Facebook Vice President of Messaging Products David Marcus told Yahoo Finance back in September, M is a multi-year project with an ambitious long-term vision. In theory, Facebook wants M to one day help Facebook users accomplish day-to-day tasks like booking travel, ordering food and scheduling appointments. So consider Thursday’s announcement as really just the start for Messenger’s little virtual assistant in the wild.
And for those concerned their Messenger chats may suddenly become flooded by M Suggestions, Chudnovsky says the Messenger team programmed M to “err on the side of caution.” In other words, if M isn’t pretty sure your conversation warrants some kind of recommendation, it simply won’t do it. M also gets smarter, meaning its suggestions will get more and more relevant as time goes on.
For Facebook Messenger, introducing M is yet another way of boosting user engagement. The more engaging features Messenger offers, the more time you’re likely to spend inside the app, with less time spent in other messaging platforms. And the more multi-faceted the Messenger experience becomes, the more likely Facebook and non-Facebook users alike are to join Messenger’s ever-growing user base.
Either way, expect your Messenger chats to be more interactive than ever.
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