Do most Internet users know what the term "beta" is supposed to mean when applied to a piece of software or a service on-line?

I doubt it.

What got me thinking about this was getting an e-mail message from someone who I've always thought is quite clueful. He was using a Gmail account. And not just to send the message either. The Reply-To header was set back to his Gmail account.

At that point I was surprised by his willingness to rely upon a beta service for something as important as e-mail. But then I thought about it a bit harder and realized how diluted the term "beta" has become.

Earlier today, I read about Radicati recommending Yahoo Mail over Gmail. And my first thought was "yeay for us!." But then I realized how stupid that was. Gmail is a freaking BETA PRODUCT. If they'd recommended the opposite, I'd wonder what they were smoking.

The fact that they're charging $40 to read that report only adds to the stupidity of it all.

I really hope that the PR folks at Yahoo get this and don't start using such recommendations as a form of ammunition against Google and/or Gmail. It would just make us look stupid, and we really don't need anymore of that.

Looking beyond Gmail, Friendster has been in Beta since the beginning of time, but they have well over 6 million users now. Technorati was in beta for a quite a while, but recently dropped that label just before being launched into the media spotlight by CNN and the DNC.

I suspect that if anyone even notices the "beta" label anymore, they don't think twice about it. If the company was willing to put their service in front of millions of users, how likely is it that they're not reasonably confident that it's "almost there" in terms of usability and stability.

It's not like the old days when software beta programs required you to apply and then demanded regular feedback during the process. I think that in many (most?) cases, these on-line "open" betas are really just an excuse for launching services before they're ready.

Or maybe I'm just weird.

See Also:

Posted by jzawodn at August 01, 2004 06:12 PM

Reader Comments
# Jon Gales said:

You weren't the only one... 37 Signals has a little list of "Beta" services.

on August 1, 2004 06:31 PM
# Missa said:

It seems that at least in Gmail's case, it's an excuse if things screw up.

'don't sue us, it was a beta'

on August 1, 2004 07:05 PM
# Seth Finkelstein said:

Almost what Missa said.

"Beta" means "If it doesn't work, that's our excuse".

on August 1, 2004 07:23 PM
# Larry said:

- alpha, RC's, beta, ... Beta's been through several paces already.
- Email important? Same as phone calls, yet you don't routinely save those.
- Email's not rocket surgery - I wouldn't lose sleep over using beta.
- I DON'T trust GAMMA's of certain products (like my___)!

on August 1, 2004 08:41 PM
# Philip Tellis said:

I've never released a beta, but some of my projects never crossed version 0.

on August 2, 2004 01:10 AM
# Rimantas said:

Yep. And don't forget that cute technology preview beast - FireFox ;)

on August 2, 2004 01:34 AM
# Sencer said:

>I think that in many (most?) cases, these on-line
>"open" betas are really just an excuse for
>launching services before they're ready.

What do you expect, when it is evident, that in internet-times time-to-market has become more important than ever.
If contrasted to the option of "wonderful things" like Duke Nukem Forever (if you don't know the story, see here: ) I will prefer released software that is labeled beta anyday. ;)

on August 2, 2004 07:36 AM
# Christopher Byrne said:

I am using GMail precisely because it is beta and I am trying to accomplish specific goals with it. But I would never use it for "real" business correspondence, beta or not (and the same goes for yahoo and hotmail).

I invite you to read my recent postings about Radicati at ,as well as a particularly "fun thread" about them at Ed Brill's blog:

on August 2, 2004 11:25 AM
# Jeff Boulter said:

Expect Gmail to be in beta for a while. Google News has been in beta for about 2 years. Froogle (still beta) launched in Jan 2003. I guess the whole company is still in beta or maybe they're too busy creating new things to finish what they started. :-)

on August 2, 2004 11:27 AM
# Greg said:

what's the point of beta if you don't stretch it out? sure, he should probably have a cc or a bcc in his outgoing emails, and ask you to do the same when replying, but if it's in beta, use it like you normally would. I use my gmail account to subscribe to a few high-traffic lists (a freecycle list and some other discussion lists) and find it to work very well in this condition - much better than the pop service offered by my isp and equal to the imap service offered by my employer.

on August 2, 2004 01:59 PM
# Paul Watson said:

My latest favourite is "Technology Preview" from my bread and butter, Microsoft. Alpha, TP, Beta, RC, RV, Patches, SP. Never ending cycle of dev.

on August 3, 2004 04:21 AM
# Benne said:

Well you have to do some beta versions before it's ready to be in full business.

on August 4, 2004 04:41 AM
# Adalbert said:

I guess the beta status is just a legal problem. It allows to say that the product may or may not work, that you should relay seriously on it or that you are acting at your own risk if you do. I worked for a major ISP who had several services who were in beta even for an extended period of time. This comes quite handy if the service is free for the moment because no know decided on a price for it or a billing solution isnīt ready yet. Also if youīve decided to offer the service for free but only if usage stays at a certain level. That way if usage explodes, you can say "hey, itīs beta".

In case you donīt remember, the first versions of Netscape where also beta versions. Beta versions are even sometimes used with enterprise server software and the like. Itīs interesting though the concept of beta hasnīt left the sphere of the software and internet services industries. On the other hand, it would be unimaginable to get a car at half-price if itīs still beta and hasnīt complete the design process and / or testing.

on August 5, 2004 02:39 PM
# MrKrrtFt said:

Most have said it here already, but BETA in GMAIL's sense seems to be "We don't have enough people to test and we don't have enough money to hire beta testers so let's open it up to everyone and have free beta testing so we can build this service even better."

Make sense?


on September 9, 2004 08:17 AM
# phil said:

AOL is now useing alil beta..

on August 6, 2005 03:43 PM
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