Facebook is evolving Messenger beyond a sticker-sending service. According to a report in the Information, the social network is testing a personal concierge service within the app called Moneypenny, an (oddly sexist) homage to James Bond’s secretary.
The description sounds like it’s similar to Google Now, Apple’s Siri or Microsoft’s Cortana, but it’s being developed into something more useful than a feature that tells the weather or traffic conditions.
Sources told the Information that it “allows users to ask real people for help researching and ordering products and services” and is powered by actual humans. Moneypenny is currently being tested internally and Facebook declined comment to Digiday.
Moneypenny is similar to on-demand companies Magic or GoButler, which are both text-based services manned by humans 24/7 to help people buy or have things delivered at their convenience. They generate revenue through affiliate fees or partnerships.
Facebook likely sees Moneypenny as another way to make money, especially on mobile where it’s flourishing. Roughly 600 million people use Messenger every month, a lucrative resource if Facebook finds this trial successful.
Under former PayPal CEO Davis Marcus purview, Messenger has been maturing into a shopping tool rather than being solely used for texts and stickers: In recent months, the social network added video calling and a payments service to Messenger, and has created a version for the app for web browsers. Games are rumored to be next.
In March, Facebook opened the app to brands, like Everlane, so users can shop within the app.
Human-assisted virtual assistants are probably easier to build from scratch — and more accurate in the long run. But Jan Dawson, a chief analyst at Jackdaw Research told Digiday that adding humans is an expensive proposition.
“As soon as people are involved, it becomes much more expensive and much less scalable, and that dramatically changes Facebook’s business model, which is currently based almost entirely on scaling servers rather than hiring people to deal with growth,” he said.
There’s an upside too: “Real-world personal shopper services have always been limited to the wealthy, but perhaps making this virtual might democratize it,” Dawson added.