Mobile Commerce

Will Facebook's M Assistant Kill Yelp?

While humans don't have to worry too much yet about being overtaken by robots, perhaps the same cannot be said specifically about the folks behind Yelp.

They might have cause to be concerned about one human/AI hybrid assistant technology in particular, if early reports on Facebook Messenger's M are any indication.

Facebook has told TechCrunch that the number one type of request on M — which, following its debut in August, is still in the testing phase, available only to a select group of users — is for restaurant suggestions and reservations, while the second most popular use is local business requests. Should this trend hold — if and when (depending largely on the success of the testing phase) the feature is made available to the public — services such as Yelp that traffic primarily in those two capabilities could face some powerfully backed competition.

Operated on Facebook's end by a combination of human workers and artificial intelligence — with the working idea being that the former can continually build out the breadth and capacity of the latter — M is not limited to the tasks that align with Yelp's offerings. Built into Facebook Messenger, M allows users to text a wide variety of requests, including (in addition to the aforementioned) purchasing assistance, travel arrangements, weather reports and appointment reminders, to name a a few.

Not only is that depth of offering something that Yelp and its ilk don't presently provide, it also, as TechCrunch points out, differentiates M from SMS and any of the chat applications, all due in large part to Facebook's wealth of resources.

Time — as well as money, given the cost that would be required for Facebook to roll out the service wide — will tell if M will emerge as a true threat to Yelp.

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