It has been reported that Facebook has been testing how voice commands could be used in its Messenger platform to help users to send messages, initiate voice calls and set reminders.
Facebook is reported to have confirmed to tech news platform ‘TechCrunch’ that it is internally testing a prototype of voice control (which was discovered by a TechCrunch tipster) in the M assistant of Messenger.
Facebook’s new speech recognition feature goes by the name of ‘Aloha’. It is believed that Aloha will be used for Facebook and Messenger apps, as well as external hardware. The Aloha voice assistant could become part of Facebook’s planned Portal video chat screen device / smart speaker, which is currently in development.
Enabling voice control in the Messenger platform could bring considerable benefits to users, such as being able to use Messenger ‘hands-free’ in the car, improving accessibility, and generally making it easier for people to use the Messenger platform in the home and on the go.
How Will It Work?
Initial reports indicate that Aloha will be activated in Messenger by tapping an M assistant button which will appear at the top of a message thread screen. This will enable listening for voice commands.
Need To Differentiate
Apart from the obvious, high profile, negative publicly over the Cambridge Analytica data sharing and the recent massive hack, Facebook has experienced challenges in recent times as many of its younger users have moved to Snapchat. Facebook bought Instagram in a move that many saw as a way to attract the young users that moved from Facebook, but this strategy doesn’t appear to have been highly successful.
Adding a voice assistant to Messenger could, therefore, be a way for it to tackle part of this issue, and to differentiate its Messenger option from competitors such as SMS, Snapchat, Android Messages, iMessage and other texting platforms. Facebook is also known to be experimenting with other visual features such as Facebook Stories, augmented reality filters and more in order to help engage and retain users, and differentiate its services.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
Facebook has been relatively late to the market with a digital voice assistant, but it appears to have found a way to deploy it at a time when it may be most needed to help differentiate its services from competing services, and to generate some good publicity amid the bad.
One of the biggest challenges that Facebook has at the moment, apart from the fact that Snapchat, iMessage, WhatsApp and other services are already popular and users may be loyal, is one of trust by users. The Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal, and the recent hack which could have more reverberations as cyber-criminals sell and use the data they stole, may mean that users may not trust Facebook to handle their speech data as responsibly as they would like. There are, for example, stories of how other digital voice assistants have listened-in on their users e.g. back in May when an Amazon Echo (Alexa) recorded a woman’s conversation and shared it with one of her husband’s employees. It remains to be seen, therefore, whether users will now be willing to trust Facebook with what is still quite a sensitive area of personal data governance, particularly where business conversations are concerned.