Facebook announced it is testing how its M virtual assistant integrates with third-party apps, starting with online restaurant ordering service Delivery.com.
The test will enable Facebook Messenger users chatting with others about food or ordering from a restaurant, for example, to see an interface within that chat that allows them to order through Delivery.com. The intention is that the M assistant will learn about user preferences, and then start providing more relevant suggestions.
The test capability will be available to Facebook Messenger users in the roughly 40 cities where Delivery.com’s services are currently available. Facebook announced the testing along with several other Messenger platform updates at the F8 Developers Conference this week.
Facebook first announced the M program back in 2015 as sort of a hybrid of artificial intelligence and human helpers, but now it's going with a much more fully-formed AI virtual assistant. This test could be as much about helping that assistant learn as it is about testing a new feature with potential market viability.
There's a lot of Messenger-related technology news coming out of the F8 event this week. Aside from this announcement, Facebook also announced a group-oriented Chat Extensions feature that brings more capabilities into chats (Chatbot enabler mode-ai is already integrating with Chat Extensions.) Facebook is working with Delivery.com in a different way, directly embedding it as an option within the M assistant. The idea here is that M may pull up such an option within the context of a chat and encourage messaging users to make quick, easy impulse purchases.
Facebook seems pretty non-committal about what may follow the testing. It doesn't want to publicly appear to be investing too much in integration with third-party apps if it turns out the idea doesn't have wings. It's also being somewhat careful about bringing M into chats. It may not want the virtual assistant to nudge chatters with too many suggestions in the early going, lest it lead to some user annoyance with the feature.
But, assuming this is the first of many tests and many integrations, this is a concept that could really take off for retailers and related companies. Maybe a chat interface to initiate a food delivery makes sense today, but in the future, perhaps it's an interface to Nike.com during a Messenger group chat about Air Jordans. Ultimately, messaging platforms are becoming another channel through which to make a sale, and that makes Facebook a powerful potential partner.