Facebook is reportedly testing a personal assistant service built into its Messenger app and referred to internally as "Moneypenny" — the name of the secretary from the James Bond franchise. According to a report from The Information, Moneypenny is not a virtual entity in the vein of Microsoft's Cortana or Apple's Siri, but a service that connects users to "real people" to help with "researching and ordering products and services, among other tasks."
This description suggests that Moneypenny is closer to a traditional concierge system than the recent breed of digital personal assistants. A number of companies have targeted this space recently including Magic, a US startup that puts users in touch with "trained operators" via text message, allowing them to order anything from takeaway to flights at any hour of the day. Other rivals include Operator (a project run by an Uber cofounder and a former Zynga executive) and GoButler (a clone of Magic with international reach).
Facebook is building Messenger into a platform to rival Asian apps like Line
It's not clear how developed Moneypenny is or when the product could be launched (it's currently being tested internally by the social network's employees, says The Information), but Facebook has already shown it's determined to build new services into Messenger. Since splitting the messaging service away from its main app last April, the company has been developing Messenger into a fully-fledged platform to rival Asian services like WeChat and LINE, apps that combine commerce and gaming with chatting.
In recent months, Facebook has added video calling and a payments service to Messenger, as well as launching a version for the app for web browsers. There are also rumors that games for the app are in the works. It's not too surprising then for Facebook to explore the digital assistant arena, and connecting users to real people is presumably less hassle than building a virtual assistant from scratch.