Facebook is making its own version of Apple’s Siri and Microsoft’s Kortana, but rather than building a virtual digital assistant, Facebook’s “Moneypenny” is a real person.
Referred to internally by the name of the secretary from the James Bond franchise, Moneypenny is more of a concierge service that’s being added to its Messenger app. If successful, it’ll be able to connect Facebook’s 1.39 billion monthly active users with “real people” who can help with “researching and ordering products and services, among other tasks.”
In other words, Moneypenny is a way to ask real people for help with something.
The program is being tested internally at the moment, and according to a report from news site The Information, could change before its still unknown launch date. The report also notes that it’s unclear as to what features the service will begin with, and how Moneypenny will fulfill users’ requests.
It’s expected that when Moneypenny is ready to be used, it’ll work a lot like other, similar services, such as Magic, a U.S. startup that allows users to text “trained operators” to order anything from takeout to a bus tickets. It also takes out a service charge on top of the cost of the goods delivered. As of now, it’s unknown how much Facebook Messenger will charge users for Moneypenny, or how it’ll actually make handle the delivery (it seems pretty unlikely that Facebook will hire a fleet of drivers).
It’s also unclear as to when Moneypenny might be ready. However, Facebook has shown that it wants to build new services into Messenger. Since carving its messaging component out of its main app last April, the company has been building Messenger into a full-fledged platform. Most recently, Facebook has added video chatting capabilities and a payments service to the app.
All things considered, it’s really not too much of a stretch for Facebook to try to break in to the digital assistant arena, and building a concierge service that connects users with real humans would naturally be much easier than building an entire AI from scratch.