What does Beta mean?
Google has a reputation for never completing a project. GMail has been around for five years but is yet to lose its “beta” tag. Docs, Calendar and many other Google services are still beta-products despite having evolved radically since their initial release.
The company’s reasoning for endless beta cycles has never been clearly explained, and Google always insisted the tag would be removed once the product was ready. I suspect Google’s motivation for beta tagging is a combination of:
- It reminded users that the web application was experimental and undergoing development.
- It lowered user expectations of early web systems and gave us a pleasant surprise to find fully-functional online products.
- Version numbers rarely have much meaning when applied to web applications and services. Unlike shrink-wrapped disk-distributed software, web solutions can be incrementally improved on a daily basis. Few people, other than the developers, will care if it’s version 7 or 57.
However, Google has finally recognised that the “beta” label has different connotations in the business world and it could be damaging their prospects. Many business users are put off because they associate the term with incomplete or untested software.
It is possible that other Google products will follow the example set by Chrome. The web browser had a beta period of just 100 days and is already at version 2, even though it was only released in September 2008. Could Google’s beta habit be over?
Has Google’s use of beta labels ever confused, or put off any of your clients?
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