the meaning of software beta

Posted by joy

Because I’ve started reading and reviewing Web 2.0 sites, I’m starting to receive requests from marketing type people to review some of them. Which is great. I get such a kick out of the process.

Recently, I received a request to review a site and after checking out the site on two different computers, asking others to take a look at the site and soliciting their reactions, I have nothing nice to say about the site. It was that bad. After thinking about it, I’m not going to name the site. However, it did make me start to think about the concept of software beta testing and Web 2.0 in particular.

A software beta is generally described as a feature complete and a time during the software development cycle where bugs and minor feature tweaks are addressed. Many products, including software releases and Web services go through this step including the much maligned Windows Vista and the still in beta Gmail.

My problem with software beta releases is when a programmer or a company releases the beta, and the beta has major issues with common software configurations. As an example, the site I looked at did not handle well (pages rendered slow and horribly, there was debug code which flashed on each page, accessing data took too long, page elements were misaligned, etc.) on the latest stable Firefox on Windows XP. We’re talking about a site which is only going to attract a technically savvy contingent in the first place. In this day and age, that’s just inexcusable.

To add fuel to the fire here, it was for a Web site that a)is actively soliciting people to use it and b)has at least 5 or 6 competitors (including the huge portals like Google and Yahoo) in the space that already has nicely finished products.

Now, can I ask about the logic behind a Web 2.0 services site going to beta that isn’t all that usable with competitors already in the space? Because in this scenario, all that is going to happen once you get that coveted visitor to play around with your site for a bit, is for him to get frustrated because something isn’t working well, and then leave. Just because you call it a beta, that word isn’t necessarily going to save your ass from the guy who clicks off of your site and says “forget it”. All you’re doing is reinforcing Darwin’s law in the software world - and your product won’t survive.

And I shall submit here for consideration for you Web 2.0 folks out there, if you are going to release software or a Web service, it better not just be “super cool” with “value added features” but it had better work for folks using common configurations. Especially if you are running up against already established competitors. Think about it this way, there have been glitches for Gmail but have you ever lost data in Gmail during the beta phase?

Repeat after me, the word beta does not allow you to release half finished crap to the world.

[tags]software, beta, Web 2.0[/tags]

2 Responses to “the meaning of software beta”

  1. me Says:

    have you ever lost data in Gmail during the beta phase
    Maybe there were some major vulnerabilities, that may have done harm, and could have booted up Skynet. We don’t know.
    A beta is just a beta and comes (or should come) with disclaimers.

  2. joy Says:

    Oh, I certainly understand the concept of beta and have released projects in beta status.

    My point though, is that too many people are releasing products that are no where near beta status - and thusly are running a high risk of alienating future users and sullying their brand name (because that’s what we’re talking about) in the process.

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