Less than 48 hours after Google released their new, AI-assisted, messaging app, Facebook has also launched a new AI feature for Messenger. And while that function, in itself, is relatively minor, it shows that Facebook also has the capacity to provide similar functionality to Google's Allo - which may be the intention either way.
Today, TechCrunch has reported that a new "chat assist" function in Messenger will use machine learning to read your messages in order to search for keywords that would suggest you should send another user money.
"Phrases like "IOU", or possibly "You owe me $10" or "Send me $18 for dinner" will trigger Messenger to insert a payment button like "Pay $18" below the message."
Once that payment prompt comes up, users are able to easily click on the option to send funds direct from Messenger using their previously connected debit card - which also serves as a great reminder that you can make payments within the app.
As noted, it's a handy but relatively minor addition and use of Facebook's AI within the Messenger process, but given one of Allo's biggest highlight is its ability to scan your message text and offer one-tap smart replies based on the detected context, this new Messenger functionality may just serve as a casual reminder that Facebook can do the same, and that they're working on similar tools, so there's no need to switch across to Allo.
Not that a mass-migration seems likely - Google's coming to messaging late in the game, with both Messenger and WhatsApp already up to a billion active users per month, it'll be an uphill battle for Allo to convince a significant enough amount of those users to switch across to their new app, no matter how amazing their AI and search features are. But Facebook has also been working on AI for some time, and likely has the capacity to match them on this front either way. If Allo does gain traction, expect to see Messenger come out with a range of new AI tools to nullify that threat.
In addition to the new payment option, Facebook's also adding a polls feature to Messenger to help resolve queries within group chats.
Again, it's a small addition, though anyone who's ever gone through the process of trying to organize a place to meet within a group knows the pain that follows, so the option will no doubt be welcomed. And again, it does have some relation to Allo.
Allo's other key differentiating factor is the ability to conduct a Google search within a chat stream, with the search results visible to all participants. Using this, if you were, say, looking for a place to meet, you could type in "@google" and conduct a search for "sushi restaurants nearby" and it would show you a listing of recommendations to consider.
Which is great, but could become painful - generally, finding a restaurant or meet up point isn't the hard part, it's getting to a consensus amongst group members that gets tedious. Messenger's acknowledged this with polls, which seem much more user-friendly and conducive to a chat situation than having the additional research included within the chat stream.
For obvious reasons, polls are only usable in group conversations, i.e. more than two participants. To access polls, you tap on the 'Polls' icon that appears at the bottom of the composer window, or tap the 'More' icon and select Poll. From there, you enter the question and your answer choices and away you go.
The new options are being made available from today to all iOS and Android users in the US, with a wider rollout to follow if the new options prove successful