06 Nov Facebook Launches People Powered Virtual Assistant Moneypenny To Take On AI Rivals

Facebook developers have unveiled plans for a new virtual assistant (VA) service, extending the reach of the social network by allowing users to purchase goods and services through it. According to an exclusive report in The Information, the company is developing its existing Facebook Messenger Chat App, which currently allows users to ask for assistance in researching and ordering products and services.

Business Insider UK magazine reported this summer that Facebook’s 1.44 bn active users spend more than 20 minutes a day on the social network, which accounts for a massive 20 per cent of all time spent online, according to research by analysts Needham. In their research notes, Needham analysts write: “If time is money, then the Facebook.com site represents the most valuable internet property on the web today.”

With so many individuals and companies currently using Facebook, its not too far of a stretch of the imagination to consider that users might soon want to use the service for researching and purchasing items and services such as tickets, clothes or flights. The details of the service aren’t clear yet and Facebook hasn’t released further information but they may perhaps include buying an item that a friend has previously ‘Liked’ as a birthday present.

According to The Information, Facebook sources say the new virtual PA and concierge service has been codenamed ‘Moneypenny,’ after the private secretary of ‘M’, head of British Secret Service MI6 in the James Bond films. Moneypenny will allow Facebook users to not only research goods and services, it will also enable them to buy or book them online. As yet, there are no release dates for Moneypenny and the project is said to be still in the testing stage.

Virtual Assistants are becoming more and more commonplace as technology develops. The development of Facebook’s Moneypenny service, when it comes, will see the social network go head to head with Apple’s Siri (launched 2011) a computer programme that works as an intelligent personal assistant. Siri, like her Microsoft equivalent Cortana (launched 2014) and fellow VA Google Now (2012), adapts to the users’ natural language. In time and, with more knowledge of their user’s requests, each of these VA services will be able to deliver more individualized results to questions, make better recommendations and perform actions such as setting reminders on behalf of the user.

It’s claimed the Moneypenny service will have one massive difference from Cortana, Siri and Google Now. All of the existing services use artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver the answers to user requests. Instead, it’s suggested that Moneypenny,will connect users to information, goods or services they require via a dedicated team of real life human beings.

Using AI means Siri, Cortana and Google Now can sometimes struggle to make sense of the context of their user’s requests. Cortana, especially, is designed to ‘ask not assume’ so requires users to input a lot more personal detail to gain more knowledge about the user. Cortana will sometimes ask a series of questions in order to figure out the best answer to your request.

Moneypenny will also compete with existing human powered virtual assistants such as US startup Magic. Magic helps users place orders for ‘Anything you want. As long as it’s not illegal’ in the US. All the user has to do is just send a text. Although the text is free, Magic charges a ‘tip’ for its fixing service and lets the user know the cost of this in advance.

Operator is a shopping concierge service, which, like Moneypenny, is also currently in development. Started by Uber co-founder Garret Camp and CEO Robin Chan, Operator’s aim is to combine clicks and mortar and “unlock the 90 per cent of commerce that’s not on the internet.” GoButler is a Berlin-based free to use service operating in the UK, Canada, Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Like Magic, users also connect with human ‘Butlers,’ who await requests to book a movie or order your favourite pizza.

While these services are no doubt useful and, especially with AI powered services, set to improve once they adapt to their individual users’ needs, there are other more locally-based options which may prove a better time saving option for small and medium sized businesses.

MessageBase offers virtual PA services for everyone from freelancers and sole traders to large firms with offices all over the world. Unlike some of the newcomers to the VA scene, we’ve been providing these services to companies and organizations of all verticals for more than 20 years.

Like Facebook’s Moneypenny, our friendly VAs are 100 per cent human. If you find yourself constantly swamped with admin tasks, our VAs could provide just the support you need. You decide the timeframe – it can be as little as an extra 10 minutes a day, 1 hour a week, a full-time staff replacement or 24 hour support.

With prices starting at just £1 per day, our packages represent excellent value for money. We will work with you to get to know your business and become your trusted advisor on how to get the best from our services. Our aim is to get your requirements right first time and complete all your repetitive admin tasks as if we were sitting beside you, freeing up more time for you to focus on growing your business.

MessageBase’s advantage over AI-based services is that we have the experience and knowhow to ask the right questions, getting to know your individual business needs from day one. Our trusted team of PAs are experienced, friendly, human beings who are used to handling a myriad of admin tasks from diary management, to sales appointment bookings, courtesy calls, sending out quotes, travel bookings or paperwork. They will quickly get to know how you like your customer enquiries to be answered, who your key customers are and your busiest times.

With MessageBase’s Virtual Assistant package, you can be confident that important, time consuming admin tasks will be completed on time and to your standards. They will all be in safe, experienced hands and without the additional burden of employment costs including NI contributions, PAYE, pension, sickness and holidays. Better still, MessageBase can promise that there will be none of those frustrating ‘lost in translation’ moments that can occur between human and computer.

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