Burned By Failure, Facebook Changes Its Philosophy On Testing

Facebook is letting anyone sign up for beta testing of future Android releases, even though they told us a few weeks ago that testing Facebook Home with a mere 60 users–and all Facebook employees at that–was sufficient to release a product for a billion people. Has the company changed its tune about secret testing?

Burned By Failure, Facebook Changes Its Philosophy On Testing

When I read about Facebook’s new beta release program, my first thought was: ‘Whoa–I totally forgot about Facebook Home.’ When it came out in April, Home was supposed to be . . . something big: The future of Facebook, or what’s wrong with Facebook, depending on which pundit you listened to. But three months in and with minimal traction, the reception of Home may be what’s driving Facebook’s new open beta initiative.


You see, a few days after the release of Facebook Home, Co.Labs reported that Home had been developed on a close leash and in secret, getting tested almost exclusively by Facebook employees before entering the wide world. When asked whether this was an adequately diverse test group, Marco De Sa, the UX researcher on Home told us:

We try to talk to Facebook employees who were not involved in design, were not engineers, we try to get a broad sample of people with different levels of expertise, recent employees, older employees. So, we try to recruit considering all of those differences. Yes, we’re designing for a billion people.

De Sa also noted that, “usually this type of approach is used with fewer people” and that he had cast such a narrow net owing to the need for secrecy: “Because of the importance of this project.” This struck us as a particularly Apple-like approach: That company is famous for its top-secret prototypes and dramatic product unveilings.

But Facebook is a web company–one with the motto to “move fast and break things.” That’s somehow out of step with a top-secret development process. In fact, in regards to testing, Facebook seems naturally more aligned with the Google method of validation: That is, beta test on a large and long-term scale.

Now it seems like Facebook has wended back towards its natural persona, opening the floodgates, at least for Android users. There’s a Google Group where anyone who is opted in to Android beta apps can sign up to become a Facebook tester, and they’ll be able to report bugs and use a special Facebook Group to discuss problems.

To be fair, this isn’t the first time Facebook has initiated an open beta program, and Home is probably not the only thing behind this new one. But given how trendy it is for typical users to act as beta testers it’s probably smart for Facebook to expand their testing pool to, you know, any of the billion non-affiliates they have at their disposal.

[Image: Flickr user Ben Hyrman]

About the author

Lily Hay Newman is interested in technology and eating lunch so she has hung around at Co.Labs, Gizmodo, IEEE Spectrum, Popular Mechanics, Discover and MetroNY. She writes about web apps and materials science more than sandwiches, but you never know when the tide will turn.