CHAT APPS CONNECTED to artificial intelligence-powered services are getting a whole lot of time and investment from big companies like Google, Facebook, Snapchat and Apple. Closer to home, Domain Group have been thinking along similar lines. Marina Mitchell spoke to Lyndon Maher, Director of Product Management at Domain Group, to find out more.
THE NUMBER of chat and personal assistant-type apps available today is on the rise. Google offers Google Now (a voicepowered search: ‘OK Google’) that is much like Apple’s Siri. Having turned down an offer from Facebook, Snapchat as a standalone app has more than 5 billion users and an ad platform that is growing daily.
Facebook in 2014 then separated it’s Messenger functionality from within Facebook to be a standalone app, also buying cloud messenger Whatsapp for $22Bn. Now Facebook are testing an app called M, a personal digital assistant that they say ‘can complete tasks on your behalf’; for example, ordering and delivering gifts to loved ones, booking restaurants, making travel arrangements and more.
Maher explains that Domain have also been looking into an artificial intelligence, personal assistant-type functionality. “There’s a real emergence of personal assistants to help you do things more quickly. One of the first things they [Facebook] are doing is investing substantial amounts of money into thinking beyond messaging.
“Messaging is about audience; what people are doing and how they are engaging with others, and they are looking at how they can add value to that. A key area in that value is around building into this virtual system platform, so instead of messaging your friend, you’ll message ‘M’ and it will help you do things.”
How might this technology apply to property searches? “It’s interesting to us because we think about how people want to find property, how we can make it easier for them to do that and how we can break down all the friction that surrounds it. It might not be that they want to go into the Domain app and start searching, but we can take property into the context and the area where they are today.
“That’s why last year we launched Google Voice Actions, which uses the ‘OK Google’ platform. You say for example, “OK Google, find homes near me on Domain,” and it will open up the app and the search results. It’s immediately cut down that friction.”
But Maher also says it is important to think about these platforms not just in terms of messaging but what they can enable by improving communication. There is a definite trend to ‘micro’ social networking platforms, which are on the rise; particularly things like Facebook Groups (also now an app) and third-party apps like Hibe that can be used on top of Facebook to create niche communities of people with common interests.
“These are different ways of communicating with a more niche community. For example, being part of a group for the building you live in, sharing information about a cleaner; or ‘North Shore Mums’, sharing information about parenting. So for us, it’s about understanding these really highly contextual, niche communities as well and how they can be used by us.”
In the context of real estate agents, says Maher, the app is another way of creating personal relationships. Part of an agent’s DNA in any case, Domain wants to look at where online audiences are going and how they are engaging with each other, even though it might not be applicable right now. “Agents need to understand these platforms and what the younger demographic is doing; for example, joining groups like North Shore Mums and being part of those conversations where you can add value to them.”
For Domain, says Maher, it’s also about understanding more about how this technology will evolve and change behaviour, both in the office and dealing with the customer. “Prior to the Voice Actions (personal assistant) service going out, we worked closely with Google. We wanted to get out there and start learning from it. For us, it’s about understanding new communication trends, then experimenting with those trends and platforms to see how we can apply them to real estate agents engaging with vendors or buyers.”