Disambiguating Beta

Disambiguating Beta

Just a few additional words, oh gentle reader, on the unintended consequences of (mis)using words in contexts that rob them of their original meanings.

Specifically, how the term “beta” has been co-opted by web developers in general (and Web 2.0 services specifically and most egregiously) to pre-excuse poor software offerings.

Originally, “beta” was meant to connote software that was at least 1 iteration away from being ready from release, and indicated at some point there was some “alpha” software in the recent past, with the following loosely understood meanings:

  • Alpha Software – functional, but barely operational with most final features stubbed out but not fleshed out
  • Beta Software – software that was essentially feature complete, but was not fully unit and system tested

The term “beta”, however, has been totally misappropriated. Now, every new web service, site, social networking silo, or mashup feels compelled to slap a “beta” icon across its logo and call it a day, support-wise.

In other words, attributing “beta” to your site is now supposed to connote that you will not reliably support the site, the software will be unreliable in its delivery, and the user “community” is expected to ferret out all issues with no compensations or rewards (or acknowledgment).

Is this the height of what we want to put out there, as developers and entrepreneurs? Poorly supported software and services that we acknowledge to be sub par years into its lifetime (I remind everyone, Google News was in Beta for like two years – the current record holder)?

If you are a Plaxo or a Spock (just to name a couple among the hundreds that do this) you should be ashamed to still be exhibiting beta in your logo. There should be a statute of limitations on using beta to excuse poor execution. Even Twitter, in its craptitude of unequal delivery, owns its craptitude by not claiming it’s beta software. I don’t see “Twitter – Beta.” Nor do I don’t see “Facebook – Beta” for that matter.

Own your software – for good or bad.

We let these “beta” services slide because there is no pain involved for us. We’re all getting a free ride, and the underlying theory is that we are getting something for nothing so we should just shut the hell up.

As users of these services, we deserve better, because we are the ones serving up the content and traffic for these sites. We may not be paying an upfront outright financial prices, but we certainly are paying the price in lost productivity and time wasted helping solve other people’s execution issues and bugs, gratis.

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