Google doesn’t know who your friends are, who you chat with, or what news you care about. Just like how Facebook doesn’t know what’s in your email, what directions you map, what you web search for, or what’s going on in your Android phone. That’s why the two have huge but very different opportunities when it comes to building a personal assistant.
To Be Useful, Or Interesting
Google has a big head start, as it launched Now back in 2012. Now has tons of functionality, mostly surrounding objective data. It can pull relevant info like flight times and changes from your email, display breaking world news updates, or give you a heads up about traffic between your home and office. Its latest trick, Google Now On Tap, can surface information related to what’s going on in your other apps.
Google Now does what Google’s good at: Crunching big data sets from its ubiquitous utilities to efficiently provide actionable information. Google’s domination in search, email, and maps unlocks this potential. Now is frequently helpful, though not always what you’d consider “interesting”.
Facebook did recently start testing M, a concierge feature that lets you use Messenger to send requests and chores to a hybrid system of human brains and artificial intelligence. But today Facebook launched what could be considered the closest thing it has to a traditional personal digital assistant inside the Notifications tab…it just didn’t name it.
But to me, this is Facebook Here. It’s a personal assistant who knows about everything around you — the people, places, and things you care about.
I spotted early tests of the feature last year when it was a “Highlights” section in the Friend Requests tab. Starting slowly today on iOS and Android in the US, below your traditional notifications Facebook Here will show cards for:
- Friends’ birthdays
- Friends’ life events
- Your upcoming events
- Today’s top sporting events
- Today’s top TV shows
- Trending Topics
And if you let Facebook track your location history, you’ll also get:
- Popular events nearby
- Local weather
- News shared locally
- Nearby Places your friends may have visited or reviewed
- Movies playing in nearby theaters
You can customize these new sets of cards to add or hide what you want, and control which can send you notifications.
Facebook Here does what Facebook’s good at: Indexing your social graph, biographical data, and previous behavior to show you content you’ll find relevant. Facebook’s domination in social networking, feed-reading, and mobile messaging unlocks this potential. Facebook Here could be frequently interesting, though not always what you’d consider “helpful”.
Eventually, Facebook Here and Google Now are sure to converge and compete. There’s already some overlap like bringing you sports updates or suggestions of nearby attractions. But the two depend on mutually exclusive data sets. That’s why I suspect we’ll see them largely assisting people in parallel for the time being.
But Facebook has one card up its sleeve that makes the name “Here” so apt. Facebook’s contextual assistant is built into the place people already spend so much of their time, whether they’re on iOS or Android: Facebook, and more specifically, Facebook’s notifications tab.
Here is literally right “here” on hundreds of millions of people’s homescreens across operating systems. And it’s not buried as just another option in the Facebook app’s “More” navigation drawer, where products like “Nearby Places” or the “Saved” read-it-later feature have been banished and forgotten. Here is in the notifications tab users already obsessively check for more structured alerts about being tagged in photos or having their status Liked.
Its placement means Facebook Here could instantly receive massive amounts of sustained attention.
That’s not to say Google Now’s more hidden, pops-up-when-you-need-it style is worse. It’s certainly more practical while much of Here could be dubbed merely entertaining. There’s no speculation. Now already makes people’s lives easier. Though it also has the ability to interrupt you, in some ways Now is less needy and more respectful of your time. That efficiency is classic Google.
But the potential for Here to soak up your attention is classic Facebook. And if Facebook can sear Here into our behavior patterns, it could also one day monetize that attention with sponsored cards of branded information. Imagine a business paying to be the top suggestion for a nearby restaurant.
Apple and Google built humble assistants that hide until you need them. Facebook has built a loud-and-proud second feed of content created by AI right next to its primary News Feed of content created by humans. And it’s right Here, in front of your Face.