Facebook's controversial program to charge developers in order to review their applications made its debut on Wednesday.
Announced about six months ago, the Facebook Application Verification Program has been criticized by some who fear it will unfairly benefit developers who have the money to pay the annual review fee.
Facebook has responded to the criticism by saying the program is optional, and that its goal is to help developers who want to stress their applications are trustworthy and to help Facebook members who need extra reassurance before installing an application.
The program is launching with an initial batch of 120 verified applications. Benefits for these applications include a badge highlighting their special status, priority ranking in the application directory and the right to send out more notifications to end users. Developers also get credits and discounts for advertising on the site.
Facebook charges US$375 to review each application. If an application earns the verification badge, the certification is good for 12 months, after which developers must pay another $375 for their application to be reviewed again.
To earn the badge, applications must provide what Facebook considers a "trustworthy" user experience. "Users of Verified Apps can feel confident that these applications strive to be transparent about how they work and respect social expectations between friends," Facebook said in its official announcement Wednesday.
Critics have argued that Facebook should guarantee at its own cost that all the applications on its site offer this level of trustworthiness, instead of putting the onus and financial burden on the developers.
Sandra Liu Huang, a Facebook platform program manager, said in a phone interview that all Facebook applications have to comply with strict guidelines and policies. The verification program gives developers an option to get their applications certified as going beyond the baseline requirements, she said.
"All applications on our platform need to provide an experience that is trustworthy as defined in our policies," she said.
"Given the large number of applications on the platform, the verification gives developers a chance to really demonstrate that commitment [to best practices], not only currently but in the future," she added. "If they want to signal that more proactively to users, they now have an opportunity to do that so they can stand out a bit over the broad applications landscape."
Since the program's announcement six months ago, thousands of developers have expressed interest in it, she said. Most of the applications submitted were reviewed in time for today's launch, although some remain in the queue.
"Over the course of the next year we expect to see much more interest in verification, now that users and developers can see what it actually is," Liu Huang said.
Facebook on Wednesday also revamped its applications directory, which houses the 52,000 applications that have been built for the social-networking site since it opened up its platform to external developers.
The directory now gives higher placement and visibility to applications that have the most users engagement, and has new categories to make it easier for members to browser and discover them.
The company also gave application profile pages a makeover.