INB347 Perpetual Beta

Gmail in BETA

Though I am sure many of my fellow students will have noticed as I have that Gmail is the perfect example for this week’s topic of perpetual beta (I will attempt to show the facts in the most witty and interesting way I can). Gmail was released on the first of April in 2004 as an invitation based free webmail service (A tactic they again used when Buzz was released in order to generate interest for the site).  For five years Gmail sat in beta and all it did was integrated chat, developed new anti-spam technology, expanded to 53 languages, created a mobile app, added group chat, launched an iPhone UI, added a vacation autoresponder and launched Gmail Labs. Subsequent to these successes Gmail modified the vacation auto responder with a Gmail Lab, launched 48 other Labs, launched video chat, enabled open protocols and APIs, added a delete button (not sure why this was not there when it was first released), rewrote and redesigned their entire JavaScript code base, and added key functionality to get large companies, start-ups, universities, and many other organizations (in addition to Google itself) running on Gmail.

Jokes aside from Google’s example we can see the advantage of leaving a product in beta instead of releasing it out right and then updating or patching it ever so often.  When a program is left in beta all its user’s becomes the programs testers, and have the opportunity to report bugs and suggest updates, then as these updates and fixes are implemented, they can then be tested by the same users.

However there is the argument that this form of long beta’s is an excuse for a company to release a product without spending the time or money to test it and make sure that it is a functioning product. As well as this fact in as a general rule users do not make the best testers as they are not attempting to find bugs so there is always the potential risk of having a major flaw that has sat unnoticed until the program is released. Onto of that the simple idea that it is in beta and not fully tested and deemed to be functional may turn users of the program altogether if there are rivals who provide the same service who have released a product. Though for Google this was not a problem as they already had a reputation for excellence a smaller product may not be able to generate enough of a user base to use perpetual beta rather than testing the product. However in the case of Gmail and I think for many other web based programs that perpetual beta will become more and more of the norm in coming years.

Some other useful and intresting links for more information;


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