UPDATED: Facebook launches beta testing program for Android users

Facebook’s “Droidfooding” efforts will soon be shared by its users. The company announced at a whiteboard session Thursday that  it has launched a beta testing program for Facebook’s Android users. This way, users can engage with the native Android app before updates are released and give feedback about bugs and other issues.

Android is a much different animal for Facebook than iOS, which only has the iPhone and iPad. There’s a plethora of Android devices where users can access Facebook, which means several different experiences. This could be a way for Facebook to avoid what happened with Home, where people didn’t really understand how to use it. This led to an unfavorable rating in the Google Play store. By launching new features for beta testers, Facebook can not only release features to the public before the updates, but see how these people engage with these features.

Facebook has already announced what updates it has shared with the beta testing group:

What’s new in the beta version of Facebook for Android 3.4:

  • Share News Feed stories in a private message
  • Swipe left and right to open chat and bookmarks
  • Based on feedback, you can now store the app on your phone’s SD card (Android 2.3.7 and lower)
  • Stability improvements

New if you’re using Facebook Home:

  • Organize your apps with folders—just drag one app onto another to create a folder

Mike Shaver, Facebook’s Director of Engineering, explained why Facebook is participating in a beta program for Android:

It’s not just for the parts that are refined, so getting ourselves into that model and making sure that we’re confident that we can maintain the velocity where we’re operating on Android has been a little bit of work but … everyone’s been pretty excited about it. It is a really interesting opportunity for people to participate in the direction of the software. We’re pretty eager to see what we can get in terms of feedback there.

Wondering how to become an Android beta tester? Here are the steps:

  1. Join the Facebook for Android Beta Testers Google group
  2. Allow beta downloads by clicking Become a Tester in the Play Store
  3. Download Facebook from the Play Store to update your app
  4. Join the Facebook for Android Beta Testers group on Facebook to tell the company what you think

The main thing Facebook wants to find out is where the Android native app crashes or where there are bugs. Shaver discussed how while Facebook employees do this randomly, it’s not a great sample size of the entire Android ecosystem. He talked about how Facebook wants to learn more about the experience for users who have just purchased their first smartphone in a developing country all the way through power users who know the ins and outs of the Facebook app already.

Users can report bugs straight from the app, which will automatically take a screenshot when a user reports a problem. Facebook developers will also engage with beta testers on the private Facebook group, getting direct feedback on the app’s performance.

Shaver and Ragavan Srinivasan, a Facebook product manager, said that right now, the team is just focused on feedback for the native Facebook app, then may open up beta testing for other Android-based apps, such as Messenger, Pages Manager and Home.

Srinivasan elaborated in a blog post:

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.

Anyone can join the beta program. When you join, you will get a small batch of fixes and new features every month. We ask that you use your app as you normally would, but submit a report when you encounter a bug or other issue. Because the beta build will have features that are still in progress, the app may be less stable than you’re accustomed to. Feedback on stability, as well as any other performance issues you experience, is crucial and deeply appreciated.

Readers: Are you interested in becoming a beta tester?