It may not flirt with you, but this virtual secretary could prove useful in other ways
What is it?
Yet another virtual personal assistant, following in the wake of Microsoft’s Cortana, Apple’s Siri and Google Now. This one is being developed by Facebook, one of the few tech giants that has yet to launch such a tool. According to reports, it will be built into the Facebook Messenger app (iOS www.snipca.com/17299; Android www.snipca.com/17300).
What's Facebook Messenger?
It’s an instant-messaging sendee available as an app and through Facebook. Since April you’ve been able to use it on its own website (www.messenger.com) without having to sign into Facebook. The company has big plans for Messenger, developing it as a multitasking app that becomes part of your everyday life. To this end it has recently added games and video calling, and the ability to send and receive money. Shops can also use Messenger to send delivery updates to customers.
So how does Moneypenny work?
Differently to Cortana, Sir! and Google Now. Those are automated tools that respond to your spoken questions using artificial-intelligence software. In contrast, Moneypenny will connect you to a real person - probably experts in a particular field. So while you may ask Cortana factual questions like ‘what’s the capital of Burkina Faso?’, you’ll probably ask Moneypenny’s experts to carry out a service for you.
Well, you could ask them to track down an obscure book or record. Or maybe find a part for your car that no local garage can supply. Perhaps travel agents and mortgage brokers will offer their services through it, saving you the hassle of shopping around. Its potential reminds us of the famous advert from the Eighties, in which JR Hartley looked everywhere to find the book Fly Fishing, before locating it through the Yellow Pages (watch it again at www.snipca.com/17324). In the digital age, perhaps JR Hartley would use Moneypenny.
If this is how Moneypenny would work then it will rival so-called ‘digital concierge’ services such as Magic (https://getmagicnow.com), Operator (https://operator.com) and GoButler (www.gobutlernow.com). These offer 24-hour assistance, but only by text message.
So would I actually talk to a real person using Moneypenny?
We’re not sure. If it’s text only, it would feel like just another service. To make it stand out, Facebook may give you the option to speak to a person, just like Amazon does with its Mayday help service (www.snipca.com/17342).
Will it be free?
You’ve asked the most important question. But we don’t have an answer. If it does use real people, they will need to be paid. However, Facebook would be keen to offer it for free. So our guess is that Facebook would make money by taking a cut from anything you buy when you use the service.
Does it have anything to do with James Bond?
Afraid not. Moneypenny appears to be only the codename, and Facebook probably won’t have the legal right to use it. The company cleverly chose a working title that would generate amusing headlines and give magazines an excuse to use photos of old Bond films (and naturally we couldn’t resist!)
When will it launch?
Nobody knows. Facebook’s employees are testing it now. We hope they are using this opportunity to try their best ‘hello Mish Moneypenny’ Sean Connery accent. That’s what we would do, anyway.