While the bot revolution hasn't gained momentum just yet, Facebook's still betting it'll come. And when it does start to shift, they'll be at the forefront, with their range of bot options and tools available within Messenger.
Adding to this, Facebook has announced that M, their digital personal assistant tool built into Messenger, will now have a few more tricks up its sleeve to help guide people through their daily interactions.
As a quick recap, after months of testing their advanced M personal assistant tool with a small group of users, Facebook refined the process down to a range of key suggestions and released it to all US users back in April.
Using machine learning, an 'M'' logo will appear in your Messenger chats whenever the system "recognizes intent in a conversation". Click on it, and it'll guide you through the process of making a calendar note, sending a money request, sharing your location, etc.
It's much more limited in scope than what they had originally envisioned, but M suggestions actually play a big role in promoting bots and raising awareness of their utility. Through M, Facebook can give direct examples to users of what Messenger bots can do - which is why adding new functionalities to the available M options is important.
Expanding upon the listed functions above, Facebook's now also giving M the ability to:
- Suggest users save content - M will proactively suggest that people save content in their Messenger conversations, which they can easily read, watch or share later. In addition to URLs, M might suggest saving other content such as videos, FB posts, events, and pages.
- Remind users of birthdays - If the person you're talking with in a 1:1 thread on Messenger has a birthday, M will surface a suggestion to send them a personal note, a birthday sticker or birthday card with an art frame around their photo or video.
- Link to voice or video calls - If people are chatting 1:1 or in a group and express intent to make a call, M will suggest a Voice or Video Call in Messenger. So, for example, if someone said "want to call me?" M would surface this suggestion.
These are all relatively minor, regular conversation flow tools, and they're not necessarily utilizing M's machine learning capacity to maximum effect. But as noted, the key benefit here, for Facebook at least, is that M suggestions give them a way to make users more aware of bots and bot functions. As such, starting with small, unobtrusive reminders and options may serve as the best way to lead users into the bot world. Maybe today you appreciate the birthday reminder, tomorrow you book a cab, but soon, as more functions are added, you're buying groceries, conducting customer service engagements, booking flights - all through Messenger tools.
This is why these tools are, by design, not ground-breaking, but their delivery is important to note. You may not care about bots now - there are more than 100,000 active bots on Messenger right now and I'm tipping you can't name ten of them. You may not use them, or have any use for them - but in future, it's likely that you will.
Research shows that more people are already utilizing voice assistants - more than 20% of Google search queries are already being conducted by voice search, primarily by Millennial users. But voice search only works in private situations, where you can avoid the embarrassment of speaking into your device and the input can't be tainted by periphery distractions. In this sense, it's the behavioral shift that's important - as we become more attuned to searching simply by asking, users will come to want that functionality in all applications. It'll become a more effective option, a learned, habitual behavior.
So how can you utilize virtual assistants everywhere outside your private space?
This is where the shift will come. Maybe Facebook's bots haven't become prevalent as yet, but flooding you with too many bot options could be overwhelming, and could harm the current user experience.
Maybe, by adding in subtle suggestions, Facebook can educate and inform their audience of bot benefits, which will then lead those users into utilizing the fast-expanding pool of other, available bot tools.
M suggestions are available to all US Messenger users now.