Beta Culture

Lifehacker quotes a Gizmodo rant against the “beta culture”:

We have surrendered in the name of progress and marketing and product cycles and consumerism. Maybe those are good reasons, I don’t know, but looking at the past, it feels like we are being conned. Deceived because the manufacturers of electronic products have taken our desire to progress faster and even embrace the web beta culture as an excuse to rush things to market, to blatantly admit bugs and the rushed features sets and sell the patches as upgrades.

Of course, comments centered around the notion that beta releases are usually free, but, as “tamoriel” points out, if companies are releasing beta quality as final—that is where the problem lies.

That last clarification is easy to agree with, but the earlier premise doesn’t seem accurate. Sure, there are some offerings where beta quality is treated as final (*cough Vista*), but typically, the beta culture is actually better for us than the alternative.

Early adopters have always had to face bugs, it is a part of being in that group. Things just don’t always break like they should in a test environment. But when an organization can embrace this stage, and, in so doing, they create a relationship with their top users in which the users can benefit (free service, having voice, etc) and reciprocally can help form the product or service into a better design, you have a true positive user-provider exchange. It just needs to be done well (see a 2006 “Beta Culture” piece by Nicholas Carr for a deeper look into this qualification).

Instead of hiding the offering until launch, and then give consumers a guesswork-led design, the secret is to get your end-users to truly design with you. That’s why the “beta culture” works.

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One thought on “Beta Culture

  1. That is where you get into the poignancy of crowd sourcing and participation.
    Yes, you are right in pointing out that the relationship with the users is key. The arrogance of proprietary ownership (for profit) can usurp the desire to reinforce the participatory elements.

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