Facebook testing voice-to-text in Messenger

At some point in the future,  you may be able to speak text in Facebook Messenger and watch the app transcribe your words. That’s according to Facebook’s vice president of messaging products, David Marcus, who shared the news at a conference in Germany. The Wall Street Journal, reporting the news, noted that Facebook has already been testing such a feature.

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This development isn’t shocking. Although it had 500 million monthly active users as of November — Marcus shared the same usage figure at the event — [company]Facebook[/company] Messenger still competes against other heavily populated chat platforms like [company]Apple[/company]’s iMessage, [company]Google[/company] Hangouts, [company]BlackBerry[/company] Messenger, WeChat and [company]Kik[/company], to name a few.

Several of these services already offer a voice-to-text option or can record a voice message and play it back for the recipient. And frankly, you can already speak your messages to Facebook if your device keyboard supports voice-to-text transcription; I use Messenger that way today on my Android phone, for example.

Facebook’s plan to add a similar feature smells more like a “keeping up with the Joneses” effort because the company has to continue evolving its Messenger client to keep its large captive audience. And I use the word “captive” on purpose: Facebook essentially forced its user base to adopt a standalone Messenger client starting last April.

Obviously, some of those 500 million monthly active users are using Messenger because of the network effect: Many of their friends and family members prefer to use Messenger as well. But if other messaging platforms have more powerful or useful features, Facebook could lose some of those users to the competition. It doesn’t want that, particularly as it tries to figure out how to monetize Messenger now that it’s a standalone app.