Web 2.0 Applications

Category Archive

The following is a list of all entries from the Pattern 6 category.

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?