Web 2.0 Applications



Pattern 6: Perpetual Beta

“There’s no final version. Nothing is static, everything is changing. With every new iteration, small changes make you realize the creature is alive.” This is written by Alex Chitu, a blogger that writes about Google. His words are apposite to this weeks theme, Perpetual Beta. Perpetual Beta is about software or a system that stays in the beta development stage for a longer or indefinite period of time, its unfinished sofware. A lot of devices and software is connected to the internet, and that gives them an opportunity to change at a rapid speed. Unlike packaged software, like Microsoft Office, that can only change when a new package come out, a perpetual beta software can change several times a day if they want to. Instead of having to pay to get new services, the users become co-developers. Tim O’Reilly states:

“Users must be treated as co-developers, in a reflection of open source development practices (even if the software in question is unlikely to be released under an open source license.) The open source dictum, ‘release early and release often‘, in fact has morphed into an even more radical position, ‘the perpetual beta’, in which the product is developed in the open, with new features slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. It’s no accident that services such as Gmail, Google Maps, Flickr, del.icio.us, and the like may be expected to bear a ‘Beta’ logo for years at a time.”

Google took off the beta label on many of their leading services, like Gmail, Google Docs and Google Talk, last year. It took them five years to remove it from Gmail. Why did it take them so long to take it of, and what is the advantages? According to Juliet Lapidos from Slate the beta label gives the users a signal about that they are still working on the service, adding new features and fixing bugs. I believe this probably makes the users more patient with the service, they are more allowed to do mistakes. If a service isnt beta, or if its a packaged service, you expect it to work properly. The advantages with perpetual beta could be:

  • You get help with finding bugs, and improving the service
  • It can be a helpful marketing ploy in terms of raising the profile of both the company and its product
  • Users access the latest and greatest tools
  • You can instrument you product, what a user do often tells more than what they say

As you can see on the image below, GMail is all the time improving their service. Press this link to see more!

Screen Shot of Gmails list of the beta changes

Screen Shot of Gmails list of the beta changes

To be able to improve your application rapidly, its a good idea to use dynamic tools and languages, like scripting languages such as Perl, Python, PHP, and Ruby. Gmail is known for its pioneering use of the Ajax programming technique.

Gmail is being criticised for a number of issues, for example privacy, technical limitations, outages and twenty-four hour lockdowns. I am going to talk a bit closer about the privacy issues; Gmail automaticly scans your email to be able to add advertisment that fits the content in your mail. It has been a concern that even letting a computer scan through the mails is a problem for the privacy. They even scan email from non-gmail-adresses(that has never agreed on Gmails terms of service or privacy policy) that send an email to a Gmail account. It was also big news last year when someone from China hacked the accounts of some human right activists. Wikipedia states: “The fact that Gmail stores, analyzes and retains user’s email contents makes Gmail an attractive target for such attacks”.

All in all it doesnt seem like the privacy issues and the beta label has frightened the users. Gmail has 176 million users monthly, and they have won a couple of awards. In 2005 they got second in PC World’s “100 Best Products of 2005”. So maybe the Perpetual Beta works?

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Comments

  1. * Jack Marrows says:

    It is great to see so many links in your blog. Well done! I think gmail is a prime example but I would also like to point out that corporations are slow to pick up products especially if they have the beta label. They aren’t willing to take to risk of a product that doesn’t work properly. I think a prime example is the number of businesses still using Windows XP with was released nearly 10 years ago.

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 3 months ago
    • * nymphad says:

      Hi Jack!
      Thanks!:) You have some good points there. Though, I that many companies still use XP because they are too lazy to reinstal all the computers, they dont see the point with it since its working perfectly fine..

      | Reply Posted 7 years, 2 months ago
  2. * rodh257 says:

    Great post. I think the beta label is unnecessary for perpetual beta sites, to me, having the Beta label means that it is potentially unstable, but now the label is removed, they are still fine to be adding new features and making changes, but they are satisfied that the core service is stable.

    The privacy issue is interesting, it’s something I don’t mind too much, their servers are housing my emails anyway, so them scanning them and giving me some recommendations for products I may like doesn’t worry me too much. As long as that stays in my inbox, and doesn’t escape to the outside world.

    Thanks,
    Rod Howarth

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 3 months ago
    • * nymphad says:

      Hi Rod! Thanks:) Yeah, thats true. I think that most web 2.0 apps are using perpetual beta, even if they dont have the beta label. I think the biggest issue is the fact that they do it with people that havent agreed on their terms of service. Interesting that you, as a user of gmail, dont mind that they are scanning your mails though. Thanks for you input:)

      | Reply Posted 7 years, 2 months ago
  3. * Wan says:

    Interesting article on Google issues with China which seeks them out from the country. What would you reckon the next strategy for Google to harness the collective intelligence and wisdom of crowd from China for being one of the most populated country?

    I saw Google Hong Kong still exist. Would this be one way to divert their existing customers to this site?

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 2 months ago
  4. Hey, great post.
    I really don’t like the fact, that Google scans my mails, although it is just a machine which does it, and which searches for keywords. But you can see that they have huge power over the data of millions of users and you can gain so much information out of mails. I don’t use Google Mail although I have an account, because I also have an Android phone. I rather don’t want to know what happened to my data on my Android. 🙂

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 2 months ago
  5. Great post

    Gmail was on of the famous beta web mail services for a long time. Also I think most of the companies are using “Beta” word to make the users know that when there is any problem occur the users will say this application is not ready yet because it is a beta but most this kind of beta programs take a while to finish.

    | Reply Posted 7 years, 2 months ago


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