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This is interesting. Facebook has opened up a limited beta club, which will see some Android users given the ability test out features before they go live on the Play Store.
Using silently downloaded software updates, the social network will allow users to play around with the mobile experience without screwing it up for millions of people around the world.
The update is only available for people who have checked the settings box which allows them to install apps from outside of Google Play. If they’ve done so, Facebook will silently push apps to their devices over Wi-Fi. If the experience seems good, then they’ll be rolled out on the Play Store in the standard manner.
As TechCrunch’s Josh Constantine notes, this allows Facebook to more faithfully replicate the way new features are rolled out on the web, where it can push out a change to one percent of users and monitor for bugs, qualitative feedback, and usage fluctuations.
If the update proves popular, it can then roll the update out to 10% of users before expanding it to the full user base.
Now, back when the social network was bent on using HTML 5, it could do that with its mobile apps. Since going native however, it’s had to roll out app updates to everyone, meaning that if it gets something wrong, it faces the potential wrath of hundreds of millions of people (its Android app alone has 192-million users).
In a Facebook blog post Jonathan Dann wrote “We chose to use HTML5 because… it allowed us to iterate on experiences quickly by launching and testing new features without having to release new versions of our apps.”
While Mark Zuckerberg may have been right when he told the audience at TechCrunch Disrupt last year that Facebook had relied too much on the standard too early. In going fully native however, it lost the ability to experiment and tweak.
This new limited beta club definitely gives it back an element of that. There’s the added bonus that anyone who’s turned on the requisite features to get the updates sent to them is more likely to be receptive the updates and will scrutinise them more effectively.