Since 2015, Facebook has been experimenting with a Messenger digital assistant service dubbed M, providing personal assistant services to a limited number of test groups; some of them being Facebook employees.
Facebook’s decision to insert themselves into the digital assistant landscape was unsurprising. AI giants like Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri and Google Assistant have dominated the sphere and ignited serious conversation about the future of digital assistant technology. It only seemed natural that the world’s largest social network would want to lend their voice to this ongoing and important conversation.
Unfortunately for Facebook, M couldn’t seem to find its footing and it will be disconnected on January 19th. Facebook’s M lacked the technology and finesse that it’s competitors had perfected. It required far too much human assistance to complete basic tasks; tasks that Alexa or Siri could complete easily with voice activation.
Facebook launched the digital assistant to tap into the expectations of users and learn more about how they would utilize and respond to a digital assistant. They mentioned that they would be using user feedback and insights collected from the project to create new and improved AI assistant features in the future.
M’s retirement may be better for Facebook in the long run. It gives the company a chance to reflect on what went wrong and create a stronger, smarter, and more sophisticated digital assistant within the next few years. According to a report in Bloomberg from last August, Facebook is developing a new smart speaker with a laptop sized touch screen and voice activated AI capabilities. Similar to the Amazon Echo, powered by Alexa, this new device will feature Facebook’s own digital assistant but with a cutting edge visual design and an advanced camera.
Last July, the company also acquired Ozlo, an AI startup specializing in text based conversations. This partnership could play a role in the development of the smart speaker and help Facebook develop stronger conversational AI capabilities. If all goes well, Facebook could earn their way back in the digital assistant game for good.
Even though the chances of Facebook developing a stronger digital assistant in the future are high, the failure of M will set them back in terms of generating ad revenue in 2018.
Content marketers have been hopping on the AI train for a while now, creating engaging voice powered audio content with systems like Amazon Alexa. Without their own version of Alexa or Siri, Facebook will be at a major disadvantage headed into the new year. While Amazon, Google, and Apple reap the benefits of voice based content marketing, Facebook will miss out on the migration.
If Facebook wants to cement themselves as a major player in the digital assistant world, they’ll need to develop a worthy competitor and put it in the homes of consumers as soon as possible.