Mike Isaac

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Facebook Testing New Mobile Game Ads Inside Your Notifications Tab

Britt Selvitelle

File this one under “potentially annoying.”

Facebook is currently testing a new type of ad unit with a subset of its user base that inserts game suggestions directly into a user’s drop-down notifications tab. That’s right, the little area that lets you know when someone has commented, “Liked” or otherwise interacted with you on Facebook.

The new type of ad — which was incidentally first spotted by one of Twitter’s founding engineers, Britt Selvitelle — points a user to a particular mobile game they might enjoy playing. As I understand it, the suggestions are based on a user’s existing gaming habits; so, if you’re a big Candy Crush fan, this type of ad could point to a similar kind of game. If you aren’t a gamer, you won’t see the ads.

“We’re always testing new channels to promote games,” a Facebook spokesperson told AllThingsD. “This is part of a small mobile distribution test we’re running for game developers.”

The controversial part is the placement. Sticking an ad into the News Feed is one thing. But placing unexpected ads for products directly into the notifications tab — easily one of the highest areas of engagement inside the Facebook app — is something else entirely.

One could argue that it’s a helpful way to surface new relevant apps to gamers via Facebook. I’d argue that this is likely one of Facebook’s most aggressive ways of pushing suggested content in front of users, and is likely to upset folks who don’t want to see that sort of ad where they aren’t used to it.

Of course, if something like this were to go beyond mere testing, it could be a boon for small-time app developers. As TechCrunch reported earlier this year, Facebook is dabbling in ways to more widely distribute small-time developers’ apps across the social network, a way to better promote apps that wouldn’t otherwise be discovered inside the App Store or Google Play.

That’s especially important for the one-to-two-person game-making outfits who have to fight against the massive marketing budgets of publishers like King, Glu and others. Get Facebook to feature your little game in different, high-traffic areas across the platform, and potentially see your downloads rise significantly.

But that’s all for naught if users aren’t cool with the new, rather invasive notification-style ads. We’ll see if the company decides to roll out the test widely.

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The problem with the Billionaire Savior phase of the newspaper collapse has always been that billionaires don’t tend to like the kind of authority-questioning journalism that upsets the status quo.

— Ryan Chittum, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review about the promise of Pierre Omidyar’s new media venture with Glenn Greenwald