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Beta Wars: Part II { The Economics and Management perspective }

The reason why many popular products are in 'Beta' is because a web-based application, unlike a desktop app, can be in a state of perpetual upgradation and new features can be added seamlessly without planning for 'release cycles'. More so, users expect quick and frequent feature upgrades for these applications.

But adding new features is not excuse for not releasing a final product! One could always add new features to a 'test instance' test it and then release them into the 'production' version. That's the way things work in the corporate sector, shouldn't they work similarly on Web 2.0?

The reason why this cycle cannot be performed for most of these new applications is that they 'need' their users to test the new application features. Unlike corporate development environment where a dedicated team usually performs unit testing before release, some of the web based features cannot be tested by a 'small' testing team.

Take for example Flickr which has Gigabytes of photos stored - is it ever possible to create another 'test instance' like its live version? Even if possible, is it economically viable?

For that matter, at the speed at which new features get developed and added to these applications - is it possible to maintain proper time-budgets and speed for each feature upgrade if thorough testing is made a part of the process?

Alvin Toffler mentions in 'The Third Wave' - "[The] speed of change introduces a new element into management, forcing executives, already nervous in an unfamiliar environment, to make more and more decisions at a faster and faster pace... The results of this generalized speedup of the corporate metabolism are multiple: shorter product life-cycles ... more ad hoc organization..."

With the coming of age of Web Applications, the software world has experienced similar frenzy as had the corporate world due to the coming of the computer. The ordered ways of the Redmond Software Corporation which released a complete set of new features with much fanfare and marketing support, are gone. Changes now are quick, uninterrupted and sometimes released with extreme subtlety and humility (I am tempted to add 'secrecy').

Toffler said of the then managers - "Today, as the Third Wave strikes, the corporate manager finds all his old assumptions challenged..." Similarly, the old techies today have a deep rooted assumption that 'Beta' is unreliable, unripe and hence unusable. However, this assumption is no more valid. 'Beta' today refers to 'stable in basic features' but 'unstable in newer ones' also 'yet to be perfected with final features'. This new definition of Beta is what the old techies need to accept.


  1. Anonymous7:41 AM

    are u aware of a concept called dogfood? i am not sure if this is a common terminology across product cos...but in MSFT, the product group first releases the beta versions of its lates/upgraded software(s) to its internal IT teams....dogfooding as they call it....some love it, some dont...


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