The future of Facebook Messenger is … financial chatbots? Really?

Facebook VP of Messaging Products David Marcus introduces Messenger Platform 2.0 at F8. Image credit: Facebook

Facebook’s David Marcus – he of PayPal fame, who moved to Facebook to make Messenger great – recently announced Messenger Platform 2.0. Apparently financial services companies are poised to take advantage of the platform in order to stay in front of their customers at all times. Dig a little and you will find that those financial services companies (attracted by financial chatbots) include Mastercard, Western Union and Moneygram.

Mastercard, and financial giants in general, love hedging their bets. They were one of the first to sign up to ISIS – not the terror insurgent group, obviously, but the conglomerate of telecoms companies and financial services players who tried to solve our wallet needs at a stroke. It ended up being called Softcard, and was much less fun, because Softcard doesn’t rhyme with crisis.

Remember Softcard? No, thought not.

It is true that millennials use Messenger for lots of things. It is equally true that millennials avoid Facebook, as it is clearly “for old people”. But the thing is that Millennials will use whatever they can find that (a) their peers use, (b) is free and (c) does not have annoying adverts all over it.

This does not bode well for the financial ambitions of Messenger, particularly as the solution to our payments problem (not that we were aware we had any). It is certainly on thin ice when it comes to promoting any type of artificial intelligence solution.

Given that Facebook is under enormous pressure to do something about how abusive and antisocial social networks have become, you would expect them to announce it was rolling out AI-enabled bots left, right and center to switch off abusive, bullying, racist or extremist posts at the source. In fact, there were one or two half-hearted blog-type announcements.

What Facebook actually announced was that they were going to employ 3,000, er, human beings to strengthen the team that is filtering the repulsive content. How big was the ‘team’ already? 4,500 strong. An army, in fact. So now 7,500 people will be manually filtering content to make sure it is palatable. Apart from adding another hole in the “AI is Great” campaign, that is a big cost center.

It may be that Facebook will get its AI act together at some point, and gradually be able to release its human army back into the wild.

But until it does, it is a bit rich to suggest that Messenger is showing us the way forward in financial chatbottery, or anything else for that matter.

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