Ditching HTML5 cost Facebook the flexibility to tinker and quietly try out design or feature changes on subsets of users. But now it can experiment again. Thursday Facebook launched a beta club offering some Android users early access to new features. Thanks to silently downloaded software updates, Facebook can field test evolutions of its mobile experience so it doesn’t screw up for hundreds of millions of people.
Between hackathons, lock-ins, and constant code pushes, experimentation is core to Facebook’s product development. It designed the systemGatekeeper so it could simultaneously test tons of different versions of Facebook on tiny fractions of its userbase. New features are often tested in remote areas like rural New Zealand or on specific demographics like people with few friends to pull in feedback without alerting the public.
If initial tests go well, Facebook pushes changes to 1 percent of users and monitors for bugs, qualitative feedback, and usage fluctuations. When an update proves stable and popular, it’s rolled out to 10 percent and eventually 100 percent of users. This lets its miasma of services on the web evolve intelligently.