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Will beta services perpetually flicker?

18 May

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.

alpha beta

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.

Photo courtesy of codinghorror.com

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.  



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7 Comments

Posted by on May 18, 2011 in Web 2.0 Applications

 

Tags: , , , ,

7 responses to “Will beta services perpetually flicker?

  1. MO Yeh

    May 19, 2011 at 2:23 am

    It’s a great article, I like it~!

     
  2. Scott Macfarlane

    May 19, 2011 at 7:48 am

    Great article, Flickr is one of those great services that always loves to add more features in for their users. Do you feel that keeping the service in beta for such a long time may have hindered them in any way financially?

     
  3. Rya

    May 19, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Xav, would like to comment something useful but I don’t know anything about alphas and betas…if you need comments on financial statements though, I’m here ^_^

     
  4. Chai

    May 19, 2011 at 12:29 pm

    good explanation of the web pattern

     
  5. Raphael Kaiser

    May 19, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Good work Xavier really interesting blog I could learn something

     
  6. Nimal a.k.a. TalkOut (நிமல்)

    May 19, 2011 at 2:33 pm

    The first service that comes to mind as “beta” is Gmail. It used to be in “beta” for years, even after it started offering the enterprise services. Now it is such people identify Gmail with a “beta” tag, they have added the “beta tag” as a feature in Labs. 🙂

    From my experience as a software engineer, I have always been in the “release early and release often” bandwagon. But it was not always easy to convince every client to this. It is more easier when we are dealing with the end users.

    Another important issue here is just putting a “beta” label on the software. I’ve seen this in some online services, but unless they continue to deliver something new, the users aren’t going to stay for long.

     
  7. lauradarvill

    May 20, 2011 at 5:18 am

    Never used flickr personally but i understand the whole release early and often approach, it seems to be the thing to do these days so that you stay ahead of your competitors.

     

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