Facebook's "M," the shortest name for an intelligent assistant ever, will slowly increase its presence inside chats on Messenger, the company's proprietary messaging platform. But that presence isn't just for presence's sake — it's invading conversations because it can actually help users with small tasks.
M's bevy of helpful and context-aware tasks is now rolling to U.S. users on both iOS and Android, with a global expansion in the coming months, the company announced Thursday, April 6.
What Facebook M Can Do
Facebook began testing M's features this past December and after nearly four months, it appears that it's finally ready. Like most smart virtual assistants, M analyzes a conversation by looking for keywords, creating a situational context based on those keywords, and then determining which of M's capabilities will fit into what's needed — if there is one.
The spectrum of M's capabilities run from sending stickers on user's behalf, to initiating payments via Messenger, to catching a ride with Uber or Lyft, to starting a poll for every participant of a conversation to chime in. M's capabilities aren't limited to these examples, but you get the idea. M can also look for keywords that may suggest a user is planning something with a friend, whereby it sneaks in and offers to coordinate such plans.
M's suggestions will pop up from time to time inside the chat window on Messenger, accompanied with the signature M logo to let users know when to tap and take advantage of its many suggestions.
How Facebook M Works
M, however, isn't being officially released everywhere — at least not yet. Though Facebook is pushing it out to all U.S. users now, it's still an experiment continuously being refined. It began in 2015 as a personal digital assistant users could chat with, much like chatbots. The software behind M is linked with actual humans who look at conversations, annotate data to beef up M via machine learning methods, and intervene if the task involved is too complicated for M to process.
All the beta tests seem to have pivoted M in the right direction, at least gleaning from the fact that Facebook is now confident enough to announce its forthcoming global rollout. Its analyzation of conversations for the past 18 months might have helped it get smarter, and the release of such a feature that's baked into Messenger will tie into Facebook's grander narrative of growing its chatbots. These bots aim to make conversations richer, more dynamic, and more immediate.
Taking the New York Times chatbot as an example, news and facts may easily be solicited in just a few sentences, and that's thanks to an almost invisible gap between the user and the computer, since the interface plays out exactly like talking to a real human. Though still imperfect and riddled with kinks, bots present a subtle, refined, and innovative way to leverage human-based interactions, from which it could understand them, then deliver needed results.
Can You Turn Off Facebook M?
M is a little different than chatbots, although it is a natural evolution of the concept. It's more invasive, of course, as it'll pop up during conversations. But while that's true, it'll also seamlessly weave into context and situations, then present help when possible. Of course, Facebook says that M can be disabled altogether, if users find it a nuisance instead of a feature, which is good to hear.
Are you a beta tester for Facebook M? What experiences can you share about it? Feel free to sound off in the comments section below!