Before going deeper to Greek letters and what not, allow me to quickly share with you the reason why I decided to take up information technology as a field of study. It was primarily because of the fact that (well other than hopefully getting a decent job) I have loved the idea of staying apprised of latest developments in the I.T. world. But I used to feel though that some releases by software developers were just a part of cynical marketing tactics. Could this be true?
Probably not, but nonetheless it’s about time we get to the Greek part! My Concise Oxford English Dictionary, which has a ubiquitous presence in my room, defines “Alpha” and “Beta” as the first two characters of the Greek alphabet. So how these Greek terms landed in the world of software development was presumably because they refer to the first and second rounds of software testing.
And because of the need for most web applications to be constantly refined and constantly improved, hence the phrase “Perpetual Beta” coined by Tim O’Reilly to describe practices like continuous production and continuous integration. Apparently procedures like these provide organisations more agility in the lifecycle of their products and to give us a clearer picture of this Web 2.0 pattern O’Reilly suggested that:
“When devices and programs are connected to the internet, applications are no longer software artifacts, they are ongoing services. Therefore: Don’t package up new features into monolithic releases, but instead add them on a regular basis as part of the normal user experience. Engage your users as real-time testers, and instrument the service so that you know how people use the new features.”
In layman’s term, say if you are a big organisation and you badly want your customers to really engage to your business, product/service, or whatever project have you, you need to also allow them as human beings to feel part of it with dynamic and active roles, but if you only try to control them and manipulate them by treating them just like another ordinary consumer, sooner or later, they will leave, and all the time they spent with you, will be someone else’s advantage, maybe your competitor.
Flickr for example has been qualified as beta for several years. In its website, Flickr states that it “continues to evolve in myriad ways, all of which are designed to make it easier and better” and for them to organise what service will be the next released service their approach was through creating communities of users that evaluated and proposed new user requirements based on their behavior. And as I have noticed also from the rest, this ultimately has become more of a business practice rather than a software practice.
Remarkably with his “Perpetual Beta” not only has O’Reilly proven me wrong that the open source dictum of “release early and release often” is just a part of what I used to think as cynical marketing tactics, he also made me understand that today’s world of ubiquitous computing is fueled by ever-changing innovation and constant iteration.