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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11 Comments

Filed under Web 2.0

11 responses to “Web 2.0 – Perpetual Beta

  1. Hi Brett. Perpetual Beta certainly has a lot of advantages over updating software occasionally. Do you think a companies ability to harness it’s user’s input is mainly determined by the size of the company? Or do you think smaller companies should be able to update their software services as well as the bigger ones?

    • wish you do not mind clipping in. in my opinion, in internet era, if website can get good idea to attract their audiences, even a small company can also get billions user’s input. a operational Strategies determine companies’ ability to update their web application. “Two pizza strategy” may be another example to show small team can also have large ability to update software in dynamic tools and language.

  2. I think there is a certain high level of this based on the size of the company, in terms of the need to gather data intelligence is perhaps of greater value to say Google than a small pizza shop, so by using perpetual data, they can utilise a free way of gathering data from users. Additionally I can imagine having lots of staff allocated to constantly updating a site, rather than having staff just create a major update every month would be a factor in terms of resources. What do you think?

  3. Jack Williams

    I would go so far as to say that not only do some Web 2.0 applications allow for perpetual beta, but that perpetual beta is actually an intrinsic inescapable part of developing applications for the web. There’s always a new idea to implement, or a bug to squash, or an improvement to be made, and when the users get to using your application this will become immediately apparent. 🙂

    • Well said Jack. I think its a safe bet to say there will be a time when everything internet related will be in perpetual beta. As you said changes and new ideas are discovered and formed every day, and users are becoming less and less patient in waiting for them to arrive to their devices…

  4. I agree with Jack, that in the Web 2.0 era, the perpetual beta should be the norm. With always available/always on services, updates need to be done incrementally to minimize downtime, or minimize the possibility of introducing major bugs to the platform.

    • I wonder which method would be more cost effective for a company. With staff allocation and time dedication? Having a team constantly providing regular updates or a team working on a large update to resolve multiple problems.

  5. I agree that beta doesn’t mean slow buggy software like from the web 1.0 era. Its all about small and incremental updates that use users can’t hardly tell, unless its really significant like Facebook timeline.
    I enjoyed reading your blog, and how you used Google as an excellent example in understanding perpetual beta as a important web 2.0 application pattern. We would never know which version Google doc, gmail or youtube we would be using in 15 mins time.

    Also, I made a blog thats written about a software thats currently inside a very popular mobile device thats still in beta. Check it out at http://akklam2011.wordpress.com/2012/04/30/siri-perpetual-beta-personal-assistant/

    • I think that’s the beauty of it really.. There may be the few that complain the Google keeps its apps in a state of perpetual beta for an extended period of time, but in essence who cares? I’ve never even noticed it, so if it’s bringing new features and updates to enhance my user experience, I’m all for it!!

  6. Hey there Bret, im back again. Sorry that I am posting both of my comments at the same time, ive been without net for a little bit . I think your blog is great, your posts every week are freaking awesome. You pretty much hit the nail on the head with your explanation of perpetual beta and you used a great example. Google does use perpetual beta to the extreme, in some cases they have come under fire for this. I do however agree with you that perpetual beta is here to stay, it’s the only testing and updating method that can keep up with modern users insane demands. Thanks again for the great read, keep up the awesome content and I will be sure to comment on your posts every week.

    • Google definitely has coped some slack on this topic, and I’m sure they do have their own agenda for this other than trying to make the system the best they can for users. However I can deal with a little beta time if the service they provide me is a cut above other services longterm!

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