In a meeting with journalists today, Facebook announced it's offering a Beta Program for its app on Android, allowing users to test upcoming versions. The first beta will be available today. To join, you need to join a Google Group — which Google's beta program for Android requires — and then you'll be able to use the newest versions of Facebook's apps and provide feedback about bugs. Once you join the group, you can then opt-in to Facebook's Beta program to become a tester, at which point your app will be taken off the standard track and automatically updated to the Beta version.
Initially, the purpose of the Beta program is to provide Facebook with bug reports and crash reports for upcoming versions of the software, but someday the company may use it to test new features and perhaps see whether and how users take to them. For now, the beta program applies only to the main Facebook App, but the company wouldn't say whether or not it would someday apply to other software, like Facebook Home, but wouldn't rule the possibility out.
Facebook is using all the tools Google has given them
Mike Shaver, director of engineering at Facebook, said that the company is becoming increasingly enamored with Android. The platform, Shaver says, provides a combination of openness, diversity, and reach that allows Facebook to take over the entire phone with Facebook Home and integrate messaging with Chat Heads. However, he says that the fragmentation in the Android ecosystem presents significant challenges. Most problematic: Facebook would like to be able to test its products in the same way that it can on the web, rolling them out slowly to users.
Facebook had been using internal "droidfooding" and beta programs with outside partners to test its apps. The next step was to begin rolling out direct updates on its app, an end-around for the Google Play update system that would eventually allow it to test updates with a subset of its users, as it does on the web. However, Google put the kaibosh on that project. So instead, Facebook is using the new Beta features Google announced at I/O.
However, while joining a Google Beta requires signing up for a Google Group, users will provide feedback via a Facebook group. Facebook's Ragavan Srinivasan, product manager, says that "you just use the app normally," but there's a new menu option that allows you to submit bugs in-app. There's no limit to how many people can join the program. Shaver admits that having such an open, large Beta program wil sometimes "show our hand" with regard to future features, but again the program will initially focus on more basic bugs and QA.
A previous version of this story said that Facebook was using Google Plus, which is another method Google allows for beta testing on Android. We regret the error.