Google is building a new mobile-messaging service based on the company's artificial intelligence expertise and chatbot technology to better compete with rivals in the space, according to a Wall Street Journal report.
While messaging services are among some of the most popular mobile apps, Google's messaging services Hangouts and Messenger have trailed behind Facebook's WhatsApp and Messenger, the WSJ report notes. Facebook bought WhatsApp for $19 billion last year.
Chinese company Tencent Holdings Ltd.'s WeChat is another popular chat app that tops Google's products in the messaging app market. This may be because WeChat adds other capabilities to the mix besides chat. It lets users shop, pay bills, and book appointments, something that Facebook is moving to do with its M personal assistant on Messenger.
According to the Wall Street Journal report, which cites "people familiar with the matter," Google's new service will likely to integrate chatbots, software programs that answer questions inside a messaging app -- similar to Facebook's M service. The report did not detail when Google might launch the service, or what it would be called.
With the reported Google app, users would be able to text friends or a chatbot, which would then search the Web (and other unnamed sources) for information to answer a question.
This effort would fit in with recent developments at Google. Sources told the WSJ that Nick Fox has been leading a team working on the new service for at least a year. Fox was appointed vice president of communications products earlier this year.
The WSJ also reported that Fox had offered to buy 200 Labs Inc., a small startup that builds chatbots, in October, but the firm declined the offer. 200 Labs is reportedly working on technology that will choose the best chatbot to respond to a messaged request.
It would also make sense for Google to open this kind of service up to developers in hopes of encouraging a third-party ecosystem. Such specialized chatbots could give the new service a depth of expertise that would be a potent reason for users to adopt it.
This kind of an approach differs from what Google has done in the past with Hangouts and Messenger. Those services depended on the networking of users. People would join them because they already knew people that used it. However, that approach hasn't worked for Google in the past, notably with Google+.
Google is exploring an increasingly crowded space. Besides Facebook, other companies like Slack Technologies Inc., which focuses on workplace communication, offers chatbots to automate tasks such as translating text. Luka.ai offers a smartphone-based restaurant recommendations using AI that is based on previous queries and responses.
But Google may be going for a way to replace or augment its core Internet search business here. If people can use Google's backend for information, while getting an ease of use with chatbots, and messaging to others at the same time, Google may have found a combination that will be essential to users of all kinds.
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