Facebook Widens Test of App Request Notifications, Some Users Complain

Facebook appears to have rolled out its short-term test of app requests in the notifications channel to many or possibly all users. The change was designed to help developers by improving app discovery and user retention. After reviewing early feedback from gamers and testing the system ourselves, we believe many users will think the requests are redundant since they already appear elsewhere, and overrun their notifications channel, obscuring social notifications about Likes, wall posts, and photo tags.

The test was initiated on Thursday as a way to “drive discovery and engagement to applications”, according to Facebook. Notifications channel access was revoked from developers in February, and app requests began appearing in both Requests and the navigation bookmarks in November. Users had acclimated to looking for their requests in these channels, but developers wanted a more prominent way to lead users to their apps.

Early feedback on the test from a small but vocal minority of the user base has criticized the mismatch in volume of different types of requests in the same channel. Notifications were previously a quieter channel for users to learn when friends publicly interacted with their content, but some users with many friends who play games receive dozens of app requests a day. These quickly push the traditional social notifications out of the five slots in the notifications drop-down, forcing users to click through to their full page notifications screen. Low-urgency app request notifications may be viewed as spam when mixed with high-relevance social notifications.

Other users cite how receiving a notification used to be exciting because it meant someone Liked their photo, commented on their post, tagged them in a status update, or engaged with them in some other meaningful way. Being distracted only to find someone selfishly wanted their help in a game dilutes this joy and can make checking notifications a chore. A separate app notification icon in the top navigation bar could be a better solution.

While its common for Facebook users to react to any interface change, and few who prefer changes are moved enough to comment, the complaints seem unanimously negative and somewhat logical. Facebook’s internal tests of interface changes aren’t always a good measure, as employees or designated testers may subscribe to different etiquette norms and be less likely to abuse features than the average user.

For instance, some users might see the change as an opportunity to bombard friends with high visibility requests for their own gain. Facebook’s testers may have been more cautious about sending requests, leading the company to think app request notifications would be helpful, not spammy.

Facebook says its seeking to “capture the network effects of the update”. Despite the early backlash from a few users, the test may be successfully improving app discovery and engagement to the benefit of developers. However, if app request notifications realign the Facebook experience too squarely around games, users may find it more difficult to stay touch with the most sustainable driver of engagement — their friends.