You may have heard that Facebook is launching a new virtual assistant service called “M”. Jessi Hempel at Wired has a nice dive into the technology here. The service is geared to compete against the likes of Siri by Apple, and Cortana by Microsoft; but that’s not the interesting part. What I find interesting is that Facebook has a secret weapon in this game. It’s called context!

Basically, the amount of data that Facebook has collected on you, your friends, your interests, your buying patterns (thank you Amazon) and your general online behavior, gives them an amazing opportunity. David Marcus, VP of messaging products at Facebook, calls it “establishing intent”, but don’t let him fool you. Intent can already be established fairly well by interpreting the language used in your search requests. Online marketers have been doing it successfully for years. Facebook, on the other hand, is learning context. They are able to determine your current situation, and your historical decision making patterns, before they present solutions to your request.  Apple and Microsoft have similar data and relationships, but nowhere near the level of detail Facebook has compiled over the years. They have been constantly evaluating how users interact with real-time streams of information, and have undoubtedly been turning that information into advanced algorithms that will drive the relevancy engines of M.

If that wasn’t scary enough, they also know who influences you, personally and professionally (your friends, and the people, groups and businesses you follow), and they can integrate that data as well. All of this leads us towards a seemingly clairvoyant personal assistant reminiscent of Theodore Trombley’s operating system in “Her”. Fortunately I think we are all a long way from falling in love with our digital assistants, but regardless; Facebook’s M has the potential to be pretty fantastic… and scary.