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Beta and premium online services

Posted by Michael Bloch in ecommerce (Wednesday December 30, 2009 )

The word “Beta” comes from the second letter of the Greek alphabet and directly translates to mean “full of bugs”. Well, that’s actually not true, but you would sometimes think it’s the case.

In the world of the web, “Beta” usually means something that’s not quite perfected, but good enough for general release for further testing and refinement. The word “Beta” has become synonymous with “Web 2.0”, in fact no self-respecting application is released without that tag next to it these days as it also means new and hip.. or so the developers would like to think.

More often that not, the Beta tag is a great excuse for rolling something out before it’s really ready for general consumption in order to get a drop on competitors. Let’s face it, in the world of online tools and services you could spend forever fixing bugs and by the time you were done, the market would have passed you by.

Normally a beta product or service is provided free. It takes some of the pressure off the vendor regarding expectations of performance and allows for substantial uptake and feedback before moving to a premium version.

A beta product can fast-track development by identifying bugs to be fixed and tweaks to be made through operation in real world conditions by multiple, informal “testers”. Software testing can be incredibly time-consuming and expensive, so both parties get a good deal from such arrangements.

I was asked to review a service recently and on trying it out, the core function didn’t work. The excuse? “We’re in Beta”. OK, that’s fine, but this service was live and charging customers for usage. The tool related to a core function in an online business, one that has to be right from the outset.

If you’re looking at signing up for a “beta” stamped service – think about it a little – why should you have to pay for the privilege of being a guinea pig of a likely bug-riddled application and put your online business at risk? When it comes to your bucks, unless you’re getting it dirt cheap and it’s not mission critical – say no to Beta.


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