F8 2017: Facebook M, Now a Catalyst for Conversation


F8 2017: Facebook M, Now a Catalyst for Conversation

Chris Quintero

As part of their ongoing quest to infuse artificial intelligence in the Messenger platform, Facebook has announced their newest enhancements to their digital assistant, M, at F8 this week. These upgrades highlight their desire for M to become the catalyst for social interaction, as opposed to a digital personal assistant.

This is a notably different approach than their competitors, Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, Windows’ Cortana, Samsung’s Bixby, and Google’s Assistant, by specifically developing text based tools that automate the Messenger experience — not a voice platform.

As a chat-based platform, text is a form of input that Messenger users are already comfortable with, and Facebook hopes that M will be an always-on experience that helps you do more with less effort.

How it works:

2017 is a year focused on the simplicity of discovery. Since the M announcement at last year’s F8 conference, Messenger has developed an extensive library of helpful chat bots, but the discovery process is cluttered and convoluted.  This year’s updates will focus on simplifying that process by making individual bots and businesses more discoverable, adding increased utility directly into conversation, as well as streamlining conversations with friends.

These features began to roll out last week with the introduction of Suggested Responses, which uses contextual information to determine the most useful answer. While this sounds similar to the Smart Replies from Google Assistant in Allo and Gmail, Facebook believes their responses are more advanced because they move beyond simply the context of the words in the conversation, to the overall context of the surrounding situation.

Currently M takes into account more detailed information, such as where you are, who you are talking with, how you normally communicate with that person, and finally the subject of the conversation at hand.

Through M’s analysis of the conversation, it is able to evaluate the current need state of the consumer. Thus, when it identifies a discussion that fits its capabilities, the logo appears and offers suggestions that provide utility.

M can currently do the following:

– Suggest stickers for the conversation

– Suggest the option of sending or requesting money

– Suggest you share your location

– Help coordinate a get together with scheduling options

– Start a poll in a group chat

– Call rides with Uber or Lyft

At the moment, M appears to be closer to a Slack Bot than Siri or Alexa.  Facebook will be adding more features over time, and says M will learn more about you the more you use it.

What does this mean for brands?

Currently, Facebook is testing third party integrations with one company in a closed beta: Delivery.com to test food deliveries. Facebook is being explicitly clear that this is just a test and there will not be a branded opportunity for some time.

While they are not committing to third party integrations as the only direction for M, this does align with the current industry trend, taking a page from Amazon and Google, to create Skill/Action like abilities that M will learn and are built in directly. Ultimately, third-party integrations with the platform provides a more seamless experience versus actively searching out a tool that takes you to other tools, allowing M to become the automated assistant to human conversation.

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