Beta is Better

Since when did extended betas of online applications become acceptable and commonplace?

Take, for example, Yahoo Flickr, Microsoft Live and Google Gmail. All have had that insidious four-letter word attached to their brands for several months or years. It is so bad the designers for each site have even included the word “Beta” in their logos.

Any respectable software engineer will tell you beta releases are hugely important parts of the product development cycle for gathering feedback and easing adoption. However, back in the old days of shrink-wrapped software, in the mid- to late-90s, betas were short, on the order of 3-6 months. Nowadays, it is common, if not downright expected, for hugely successful online applications to stay in beta for years.

Perhaps the permanent beta implies software that is never finished because it is constantly being improved. As a result, all the major players are falling in line with extended beta branding for fear of being viewed as staid or lagging behind. “Beta” is the new symbol of innovation. If this is true it is only a matter of time before one of the major players attempts to one-up the others by re-purposing “Alpha” in a similar manner.

Personally, I would be impressed with an “Omega” branding of a major online application whose tag line is “It is so good there is nothing left for us to add or improve.” That would be killer.