Today Facebook announced and is now taking signups for its new Facebook For Android Beta Program that uses Google Play’s new beta system to push pre-release versions of its apps to users so they can help it catch bugs and offer feedback.
Product Manager Ragavan Srinivasan explained Facebook is doing this ”to give people early access to versions of Facebook we’re planning on shipping, and get feedback from real-world users to improve our products before shipping to all our users.”
- Sign up to to become a member of the Facebook For Android Beta Testers Group on Google Groups or Google+
- Opt in to Google’s beta testing system policies
- Download the beta app, use it normally, and access the bug-reporting option in the slide out navigation menu to send feedback directly to Facebook
- Join the Facebook Group for beta testers to pass feedback back and forth (optional but strongly recommended)
You might think it’s curious that Facebook would build on Google’s social networks to run its beta program, but those are Google’s rules. The companies actually work together quite frequently, such as on Facebook’s new Google Glass app.
Facebook’s also been quietly providing beta versions of its apps to partners in the mobile space, including Qualcomm, HTC, Ericsson, Sony, Huawei and MediaTek. Director Of Engineering Mike Shaver said that Facebook gets extra testers, but these companies get to ensure that Facebook, a core part of the mobile experience, runs properly on their platform. “It’s a mutually beneficial relationship” said Shaver.
The program will give eager beaver Facebook addicts a crack at the latest features before everyone else, though they may have to endure some bugginess. Facebook previously used a less-regulated Android beta system that bypassed the Google Play store, but Google shut it down and replaced it with this new program that launched at I/O last month.
At the most basic level, Facebook wants to catch edge case bugs. Shaver explains how testers at Facebook headquarters might not catch problems that arise when someone in Southeast Asia tries to use Facebook on an old phone and a crummy carrier. This will broaden its tester ranks to include people all over the world with all sorts of behavior patterns and social networks.
Beyond bugs, the program could also let Facebook twiddle backend knobs and front-end designs with a smaller audience to ensure changes have the expected and desired effect. Shaver admitted this might tip Facebook’s hand as to what’s coming next for everyone, but said it was worth it to make sure that what he calls “the most widely used and widely installed application on Android” isn’t broken.
In the blog post, Facebook explains, “This will give us the opportunity to eliminate our blindspots and identify a snapshot of the diversity of use cases to test our apps so when we push to our whole user base, everyone has a better experience. Whether someone is using Gingerbread or Jelly Bean, more complete testing coverage gives us the opportunity to make sure more people can access a stable, high performance Facebook.”
Move fast and break things has just become too risky when it’s pushing to millions of Android users with every official update.