Monthly Archives: April 2012

Web 2.0 – Perpetual Beta

When people hear the word “beta” they instantly think of a new or incomplete application that is buggy, unstable and experiences frequent crashes. However quite the opposite can be the truth in many cases, and “beta” isn’t always a bad thing. So much so is this, that some Web 2.0 applications have the ability to opt into “perpetual beta”, and more than likely most everyday users won’t even notice their favorite  apps are in fact constantly in beta.

In simple terms, the “Perpetual Beta” pattern by O’Reilly refers to an application or piece of software that remains in constant development and although the application may still contain all complete features, and minimal bugs present, new features and updates are regularly been applied.

According to O’Reilly, when it comes to Web 2.0,

“The users must be treated as co-developers”, thus, “the product is developed in the open with new features slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly or even daily basis.”

While many users associate software updates with those annoying popup messages on the bottom of the screen, telling us we have updates to be applied, some Web 2.0 applications can apply updates as frequently as every half hour without us even knowing.

Web 2.0 has become such a crucial component of the Internet era that big companies such as Google have devised ways to update their services in order to enhance the user experience but also avoiding large updates and downtime. Simply by slapping a “Beta” label on a service or application they are essentially employing everyday users as real-time testers.  Why do this?? Easy, because this allows them to receive feedback on flaws/bugs within the system that they may miss without real life users.

In the past “Perpetual Beta” was most commonly used by developers and tinkerers learning new skills and testing applications, which does have enormous advantages for reducing problems in the application. In recent years this has become quite common with large software companies such as Facebook and Twitter. The example I find particular interesting is Google which also uses “Perpetual beta” and has copped quite a lot of mixed opinions on the topic.

Pretty much every single application developed by Google over the years has been in a state of “Perpetual beta”, from Gmail, Google Apps and their Web Browser Google Chrome. Google’s Approach to leaving products in this testing phase has been advantageous in many ways, but also frustrating for some users, due to at times applications staying in beta for as long as 5 years.

“Analysts have dubbed Google’s approach “perpetual beta.” Under this strategy, Google launches early versions of new products to see what sticks with consumers. The problem is that some of these experiments aren’t sticking — especially when users have to pay for products”

No matter the gripes people may have with “Perpetual Beta” this method is here to stay and the old days of us traditionally buying software, installing it, and running it over and over again until we buy the next version, or an update was released are becoming less and less common. As the internet evolves, every time we visit a website we are downloading newly available updated content without even knowing so….

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Web 2.0 – Software Above the Level of a Single Device

As discussed in my previous blog, “Rich User Experiences” you have already learnt how powerful Web 2.0 and the applications that are built off it are becoming and how they are now reaching far beyond that of our everyday desktop computer; hence the ability to reach target markets has increased dramatically.

In 2010 an astounding five billion devices were connected to the internet an incredible number to reach users and target markets. These 5 billion devices were certainly not limited to your traditional desktops, but including mobile phones, tablets and any number of other devices. Clearly, one version of an application cannot suit all devices due to the variances in the features of devices. Even more amazing was a prediction made by CISCO in 2011;

“By the end of 2012, the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the number of people on Earth, and by 2016 there will be 1.4 mobile devices per capita.”There will be over 10 billion mobile-connected devices in 2016… Exceeding the world’s population at that time (7.3 billion).”

 

Today I will be discussing the next pattern of Web 2.0 identified by O’Reilly in 2004 “Software Above the Level of a Single Device”. Even those that are unfamiliar with how certain applications work most would agree applications that are limited to a single device are less valuable than those that are designed across multiple platforms. In an era of ubiquitous computing, the PC is definitely no longer the one and only device that we use to connect to the internet. Therefore, this has resulted in billions of devices in all shapes and sizes that can be connected to the internet.

So what does this have to do with “Software Above the Level of a Single Device” you ask? The whole idea of this core pattern is that web applications should be tailored to meet the needs of individual devices by focusing on the most important aspects of the service and then customize it to the resources available on the various devices. By doing so the application can create a rich and tailored service that can be used efficiently without the need for a PC.

The benefits of ‘Software Above the Level of a Single Device’ include:

  • Opens new markets
  • Access to your applications anywhere
  • Ability for location and context awareness

One such service that is a perfect example of this pattern is iTunes. iTunes which is a proprietary digital media player application, which is used for organizing and playing music and video files on a Mac or PC, which is then usually added to an iPod, iPhone, iPad or Apple TV.

The application works extremely well in seamlessly breaching the gap between handheld device to a massive web back-end, with the PC acting as a local cache and control station.  Although iTunes was not the first of this type of service, and there has been many attempts to bring web content to portable devices, iTunes has been by one the most successful and was one of the first such applications designed from the ground up to span multiple devices.

Ultimately iTunes, and other services that expand their applications among many different devices, demonstrate clearly that the PC is no longer the only access device for Internet applications, and ultimately if the application is designed only for a PC then its value is considerably less than those that expand into multiple platforms. In the end the main goal for any designer of a Web 2.0 application should be to produce an efficient and useable application for Internet services across all platforms, and push the limits of the technology.

References:

Brodkin. Jon (2012) Mobile Internet devices will outnumber humans this year, Cisco predicts. Retrieved 20th April from, http://arstechnica.com/business/news/2012/02/mobile-internet-devices-will-outnumber-humans-this-year-cisco-predicts.ars

O’Reilly. Tim (2007) Software Above the Level of a Single Device. Retrieved 20th April from, http://radar.oreilly.com/archives/2007/11/software-above-the-level-of-a.html

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