Facebook’s M Assistant and the Race for an Offer You Can’t Refuse

Daniel Faggella

Daniel Faggella is Head of Research at Emerj. Called upon by the United Nations, World Bank, INTERPOL, and leading enterprises, Daniel is a globally sought-after expert on the competitive strategy implications of AI for business and government leaders.

Facebook's M Assistant and the Race for an Offer You Can't Refuse

Facebook’s entry into the personal assistant game with it’s “M” assistant is actually an interesting view to Facebook’s big bet on the future of consumer AI.

The way they’re aiming to serve users one-by-one might be what let’s them get a leg up on Google Now and other big personal assistant players – but it might also hinder scaling to an extent that lets the entrenched competitors own market share.

But as a social network, why would Facebook want to also serve the role of Apple’s Siri? As of today, few people go to Facebook to order to find directions to a restaurant or get a recommendation for cheap patio furniture – putting up a social media status on these topics is simply not the most efficient way to get the job done.

For Facebook, it’s reasonable to suppose that this isn’t about winning the social media game at all.

Why? Well… first off, that’s pretty much been done already.

Think about it this way:

  • Amazon (not AN eCommerce store, THE eCommerce store) would like to own all of your purchasing decisions, through the fastest drone delivery, the best global selection, and augmented reality “trials” of real products.
  • Apple (not A consumer tech company, THE consumer tech company) would like you to turn to Siri for help with any real-world issue, from finding files, to finding directions, to recommending places to go, and more.
  • Google (not A search engine, THE search engine) would like you to use Google Now instead of Siri, hoping that connecting to Google Maps, Google Docs, Google Cal, Google Wallet (and more) will encourage use of Google’s useful and integrated tools before thinking about turning elsewhere.
  • Facebook (not A social network, THE social network) is already a ubiquitous presence in the lives of many first world citizens, but they’d like to be the place you turn to to get your questions answered and flights booked, too.

All of these companies have borderline monopolies in their respective domains of focus, but they’re all aiming to duke it out over this relatively new frontier.

They’re all competing to be the genie in your pocket, the place where your eyeballs always are.

None of these companies make any money when you aren’t on their platforms –

What seems to be the ultimate “offer you can’t refuse” is when you can get everything done in one place, with less effort, more efficiently.

Facebook just happens to “do” social media… but it doesn’t much matter what they “do” if they can’t turn a profit (which for now, it clearly can), and Facebook can monetize its inventory of users however it darn well pleases.

If you’re already in Facebook to chat with friend and post vacation pictures, wouldn’t it be handy if you could buy airplane tickets (as one BuzzFeed reporter and early “M” user has done already), or get recommendations for a great restaurant, or send your spouse flowers… all without leaving Facebook?

Right now, that’s not what you use Facebook for, but Facebook is not incentivized to have you zip off to Siri or Google Now to get these things done.

Facebook wants to be the first to give you and offer you can’t refuse – just like the other big consumer tech players do.

Some company will own the attention, some company will own seamless, ubiquitous use… and Facebook isn’t about to give up a shot at that position.

Facebook’s bet is an interesting one, using personal assistants in a “concierge”-like service to help users get things done. This is what’s made Facebook’s strategy unique, and it might be the right move.

With access to as many as a billion user’s queries and requests (“M” has started out with a very small cohort), Facebook might be able to “flesh out” the intentions and common patterns of it’s users, individually or in aggregate, and train it’s artificial intelligence via constant “molding and shaping” from it’s human agents. Facebook intends to eventually roll out “M” to all users, and without a lot of “molding and shaping” of it’s AI, it’s clear that such a roll out is impossible.

No doubt this is a different play than the way Google Now and Siri are trying to solve the problem – and even if it were spawned by the fact that Facebook doesn’t have as robust a personal assistant AI background, it might be what helps them leap ahead.

No matter who pulls ahead in the personal assistant game in the coming one or two years, the battle for pocket-genies should be an interesting one.

Stay Ahead of the AI Curve

Discover the critical AI trends and applications that separate winners from losers in the future of business.

Sign up for the 'AI Advantage' newsletter: