Coming from a software background, to me, the definitions of the development stages of pre-release software are significant and not to be trifled with. To me, alpha tests mean really beware – bleeding edge software – we guarantee it’s going to break on you. Beta software means – still buggy watch out – we’re going to let our users find our bugs for us.
Here at the old Enquiring Mimes factory we tend to look at plenty of software that is described as beta, and we frequently recommend software and sites that are still theoretically in beta – but always with the caveat reminding you to be careful of possible glitches.
What we’re finding more often is that software and web sites never leave the beta stage and the publishers even in many cases may start charging for use during beta. This leads us to believe maybe a new definition of beta has arrived.
As I’ve mentioned before one of the most puzzling still-in-beta sites is Google’s Gmail which was launched in 2004 and has been used extensively by (me included) zillions of users who seldom encounter any semblance of a bug (spam yes, bug no).
This mystery is explained, at least a bit, in an article on NetworkWorld’s Buzzblog where a Google spokesman explains why a recent study by Pingdom finds that 45% of Google’s products still wear the beta tag. They tell it like this
“We have very high internal metrics our consumer products have to meet before coming out of beta. Our teams continue to work to improve these products and provide users with an even better experience. We believe beta has a different meaning when applied to applications on the Web, where people expect continual improvements in a product. On the Web, you don’t have to wait for the next version to be on the shelf or an update to become available. Improvements are rolled out as they’re developed. Rather than the packaged, stagnant software of decades past, we’re moving to a world of regular updates and constant feature refinement where applications live in the cloud.”
If you break it down, ths seems to mean that the new definition of beta means more changes/features are coming.
Microsoft adds new features to Outlook every couple of years in a new release. Google can add new features and adapt to changing market conditions — daily or monthly by adding or changing Gmail. If that’s true maybe beta is a good thing.