Facebook Shows Application Requests in the Notification Channel in Potentially Significant Test

Facebook is conducting a short term test showing application requests in the notifications channel. It will analyze the effects of the change before concluding whether to further roll out application request notifications.

By showing these requests in a persistently visible, frequently checked channel alongside notifications about system actions such as a user being mentioned in a post or tagged in a photo, Facebook may be able to assist developers with app discovery and user retention.

Applications could previously send messages directly to users as notifications, but lost access to the notifications channel in February. Facebook made major changes to the Platform in September, removing stories about in-game content from the feeds of non-gamers, leaving only app discovery stories about friends starting to use an app. Facebook also moved app invites and requests from the Requests panel to the Application and Game Dashboards. Many developers complained that these changes significantly hurt discovery and retention, leading Facebook to bring app invites and requests back to the Requests panel.

Facebook has sought to improve relations with developers of all sizes through improved outreach, documentation, and reliability as part of “Operation Developer Love.” But its access to communication and viral channels which are the biggest concern for most developers. Removing these channels makes it especially difficult for smaller developers to compete with larger ones which can pay for massive advertising campaigns and cross-promote to kickstart new apps.

The introduction of application requests and invites to the notifications channel could be some of the change developers have been waiting for. Facebook improved the visibility of this channel earlier this year by showing alerts of notifications on browser tabs opened to Facebook. The red counters on the notifications icon are difficult to ignore, so these notifications could lead users to more frequently visit the dashboards where they can respond to requests and invites.

Facebook must try to assist developers without detracting from the user experience. Some might be frustrated about notifications which distract them from their browsing but don’t link to more intimate social activity such as a friend Liking their status update or writing on their wall. CEO Mark Zuckerberg said “one of the biggest drivers of negative experiences has been games”, and these notifications could remind users of the days when their home page and news feed were flooded by app spam. However, these notifications can only be generated by explicit actions of a user’s friends, which could set the right balance between annoyance and obscurity for applications.