Facebook has abruptly decided to pull the plug on its Application Verification program, which let external developers pay to have their applications certified as exceeding certain requirements.

The company made the announcement on Wednesday evening, as it unveiled a roadmap of upcoming changes to its application development platform.

"We're retiring the formerly optional Application Verification brand, submission process, fees and badge; the program's higher standards will be required and applications will be subject to review at any time," wrote Facebook official Ethan Beard in a blog post.

David Stillwell, who had his My Personality application verified, expects that the program's closing will reduce his application's visibility.

Although Stillwell got no advance notice from Facebook, the decision didn't surprise him because he felt the company never got enthusiastically behind the program.

"Facebook didn't do a very good job of promoting the program anyway and users didn't know about it, so I can understand why they decided to remove it," Stillwell said.

Announced in November of last year, the program drew boos early on from critics who felt it would unfairly benefit developers able to afford the review fee, while affecting programmers without deep pockets.

Critics also said that the program put the financial burden on developers for a review process that Facebook should be doing as a matter of course for all external applications on its site.

At the time, Facebook defended the program, characterising it as an option for developers who wanted their applications to stand out as exceeding the basic guidelines and policies Facebook requires of all applications.

Facebook also argued that the program would promote trust among users who needed extra assurance about the safety of adopting applications built by external developers.

As criticism quieted down and the program started rolling, participating developers reported being generally satisfied with it, and said the benefits of earning the "verified" badge for their applications far outweighed the cost and hassle of submitting them for review.

Now, Facebook has done an about face with its decision to scrap the program, halting immediately its review process. The review fee, $375 for a year's certification or $175 for students and nonprofits, will be refunded in full for applications not yet certified, and on a prorated basis for those already approved.

The program's standards will now become part of the baseline expectation for all external applications built for Facebook, although Facebook will continue allowing developers to launch applications without prior approval. The company said it reserves the right to review any application at any time using the new, stricter guidelines.

Facebook declined to comment for this article, so it's not known how many applications the company expects to proactively review on a monthly or yearly basis, considering there are now more than 350,000 available on the site.

Some developers who have verified applications are already grumbling about Facebook's decision to end the program on the official discussion forum for Facebook developers. These developers are lamenting the impending loss of benefits, such as the increased directory visibility, and wondering whether Facebook can legally back out of its commitments to them.

In addition to announcing the end of this program, Facebook detailed a roadmap of other upcoming changes for developers over the next six months, including granting developers access to users' email addresses, which is intended to improve communications among them.

Along these lines, Facebook also wants to reduce the way applications communicate with users via notifications and requests, and move those messages to users' news feeds and inboxes. "We believe these steps, combined with providing users with a way to share their email address with applications they trust, will simplify the site and create new long term opportunities for developers," Beard wrote.

Stillwell isn't so sure. These changes in communications lower the viral value of hosting an application on Facebook, putting it almost on par with external websites that link up with Facebook and its users using the site's Connect platform, he said. "The list of advantages of building on the Facebook platform rather than on a standalone website grows thin," Stillwell said.