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Facebook's Clever Way of Testing on Mobile

It's not as simple as flicking a switch.


Facebook’s shift to being a mobile-first company was fast. But that has made it a whole lot tougher to test to see what products people like.

Compared to the Web, where engineers can run myriad tests on small product changes all the time, testing with mobile apps is much more difficult. Every time the company wants to update an Android or iOS app, it has to get it pushed through the App Store or Google Play, and then hundreds of millions of people have to download the new app. And in Apple’s case, the changes have to be reviewed, which takes time.

On Thursday, Facebook gave a small peek into how it works around these new issues. “Airlock,” a mobile A/B testing framework, was Facebook’s answer.

The details on this are super nerdy, so I’m not going to list them. But here’s the gist: Facebook has essentially made a way to push out one update to hundreds of millions of people at a time, yet include anywhere from 10 to 15 different product tweaks inside each app among different subsets of its users. After sucking up that data, the company can take it and decide whether to push a product update to its entire mobile user base.

Native mobile testing is a tough nut to crack, so props to Facebook for figuring something like this out. And, credit where due, Twitter seems to be doing this sort of thing as well in its most recent releases.

Head over to Facebook’s blog post for the nitty gritty on the subject (if you can understand that sort of thing).

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