Is It Still Beta Once People Rely On It?

from the whose-fault? dept

We’ve noted how all sorts of online services have been going completely offline this past week, but does it make it any better if the service has a “beta” label slapped on it? In the past, we’ve joked about how so many companies are now offering up beta products, often as a marketing ploy. However, it also lets companies respond differently when things do go wrong: “don’t blame us, we told you it was beta software…” or something along those lines. But does that reasoning hold? Sarah Lacy at Business Week notes that so many people have started relying on Gmail that the “well, it’s a beta” excuse doesn’t cut it when people get locked out of their account for days. It’s not entirely clear what’s happening, but apparently some people are unable to access Gmail for extended periods of time — and Google hasn’t been particularly responsive (extra amusing: to contact Google about your Gmail account they expect you to use Gmail — which is difficult when it’s not working). While some people say that it’s only beta and people shouldn’t complain, Lacy points out: “there is no such thing as beta testing email. It’s not an application like Froogle or Google Maps that you can run sometimes, not others. You either use it, or you don’t. And when you use it, you need it.” It does raise some interesting questions about offering “critical” applications as betas.

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Comments on “Is It Still Beta Once People Rely On It?”

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Format c: v:stupid /q says:


I think the bigger question is why do people use free services, then “depend” on these free services to keep running all the time, and get upset when the company that is providing the free service doesn’t provide the customer service that they think they deserve?

Free services are great. I use Gmail too. But my business doesn’t depend on it?

Downtime is a fact of life. But if you aren’t paying for the service in the first place, you certianly can’t expect to get any “normal” level of customer service.

Zeddock Miller says:

No Subject Given

You are kidding, right?
So your issue is that because we WANT a new product or service so much, the creator takes on a responsibility?
We ask for better… for free.
They start working on it.
We hear about it.
We ask for access.
We try it even though it is unfinished… for free.
We love it.
We ask for improvements.
They give us the improvements… for free!
We decide that it is so good that we will use it as a primary (because they have answered our requests so well, and for free!) and start to depend upon it.
We complain, because they did such a great job responding to what we wanted, that they are now responsible to give us a release and thereby responsibility for its dependability??!?!
I love gmail. I use it with the understanding that it is a BETA product. Thanx for the free service Google.

hautedawg says:

Re: No Subject Given

Couldn’t possibly agree more with your comments. It is FREE, and we get exactly what we pay for, except in this case, we are getting more. I use it exclusivly, except for junk email, and I love it. Gmail has been a great tool for me and my family, as well as my business. The few times I have had trouble accessing it I didn’t panic, bitch or whine, I just realized I was glad I had something that worked MOST of the time and realized the tremendous value I was getting for a free service that worked as well as it did. So… If you want something that works all the time, create it and send a free copy of the program to me!

Chris H says:

No Subject Given

The articale doesn’t state it, but is it the web based interface that becomes unavailable? My POP and SMTP have been rock solid and I leave Outlook open all day long… no reported loss of connection.

If people think GMail is bad they should try the service I’m gradually moving away from for GMail. Every other day the entire service would go down. No POP, no HTML… nothing.

baj says:

Re: Think Microsoft AntiSpyware

Good point… One other question needs to be asked here too. How LONG can a product feasibly remain in “beta” form? Google News has been beta for 2 years, Gmail has been beta from the day it hit the web… At some point the “don’t rely on a beta product” becomes a negative marketing problem. My question is this. When will Gmail and Google News and all their other “beta” products go OUT of beta…?

tempest says:

Re: Re: Re: Beta can be better.

Ive had gmail for a year now. Ive only ever not been able to login once. Now my messenger, thats not a beta, is less reliable than gmail. I think that your more likely to be heard when you complain about a beta product than one thats been out for a few years. ( now if i just knew who to give 100 gmail invites to Id be good )

Jonathan says:

Re: Re: Think Microsoft AntiSpyware

When they start making money of the product, of find a feasible marketing structure to make profit of the product, then they will probably release a version one.

Until they conclude what the profitiblity of a product ( extra difficult with a free product ) then they will remove the beta… until then… they can keep the beta for 20 years for all I care… like others here said… it’s free.. it works well… they give you ton’s of space…and if you had enabled fowarding, you probaly would still be getting your messages.

Google News is in beta for the same reason… there is no money in it, it’s not like a search engine where people like click on google ads. The ammount of people clicking an add in their emails, especially small unintrusive text links like gmail has is small… so i doubt google is really making any money with the gmail venture, but it’s a great tool for them, and it created millions of google users, which allowed them to introduce things like personlized google home page, and all that stuff.

Besides… Hotmail has bugs much more often than Gmail, and lastly like everyone else here said… your business probaly shouldnt rely on a gmail account or any product that does not have accountability in it.

Steve Jones (profile) says:

Relying on beta stuff??

Saying it isn’t fair to make “critical stuff like email” available for beta testing is just stupid. It’s going to be version one, and new/buggy at some point. What would you rather them do, just keep it internal ’till THEY think it’s ready, and let you suffer with a buggy version one, or do what they’re doing, and let you use it – FOR FREE, I’ll remind you, help you the best they can – FOR FREE, and then put up with YOUR BITCHING about something you’re getting FOR FREE isn’t supported well enough?

If you want to be able to complain about something, go pay for something, and get a service level agreement. If you want to enjoy leading edge technology, FOR FREE, then shut up, and be thankful for what you get.


Doug says:

OR... People could not use Beta software for criti

It seems to me that if people use Beta software for a critical purpose, that is their decision, and it does not place any additional burden on the software developer. Just because a large group of people make a stupid decision (such as using Beta Email as their sole/primary email account) doesn’t mean the developer needs to support it more – it just means a bunch of people made a bad decision…

Max says:

Beta, beta, bo, beta

I’ve used gmail all along and not had any problems with it. No, it’s not my primary method of communication with anyone, but it is pretty handy. Beta releases are called Beta because the company producing the software does not think it is ready for full commercial release yet. Many companies put out betas to get feedback. Honestly, just because people depend on it, does not mean that a company should stop calling it beta if it’s still a work in progress.

Anonymous Coward says:

Beta = Free

It’s as simple as that. If you pay, it is not beta. If it’s beta, it must be free. If you don’t pay, don’t expect support or anything. As such, it is not necessarily just a marketing ploy, but a great way to do a number of things:
1. Get market share (if you are one of the first).
2. Eliminate support costs.
3. Eliminate liability.

G says:

Beta Gmail

I have yet to have a problem with it, but apparently some have. Is this your only email service? Have some backups people!! For instance, besides the email you pay for with your ISP (which I never really use), there’s other FREE email such as Yahoo and Hotmail. I have 2 Hotmail, 1 Yahoo, and 1 Gmail account. That’s besides my work email, which has web access, and my Comcast account. Forwarding is free from Gmail, so USE IT!

Diego Ferreyra says:

BETA means BETA!

Quoting: “You either use it, or you don’t. And when you use it, you need it.” It does raise some interesting questions about offering “critical” applications as betas.”

That’s not true. You can subscribe to a mail program like Gmail jus to try it out, until it goes out fo beta. Me and all my friends for university (all software majors) use it by sending copies of our emails there, we’re just trying it out.

Still I think the “BETA” label it’s becoming some sort of protection against complaints…

Andrew Strasser (user link) says:

Re: No Subject Given

Beta means it’s not done yet. It’s in it’s second almost completed form after Alpha. Being a beta tester for many games on-line you learn that yes. Even though it may have been in beta for years there are still things that can crop up. I played one once that actually went passed the beta stage and then had to go back again and give everyone the next era free. This was due to a glitch that they just never hunkered down and fixed. I love beta tests and I love to see new things on the market.

Beta stages are for those stages where you “need” people to rely on your system and give it performance checks. How else would you test under load.

D_Basham says:

gmail is free?

Let’s see, so far the argument is this: gmail is stated to be in beta. Beta versions should be free, and if gmail is free, nobody has a right to complain if the service goes down.
gmail is free the same way broadcast tv is free: because of advertisers that pay for the commercials, or in the case of gmail, the ads that appear based on the content of the email I’m reading. Presumably google is getting paid for the ads, so although gmail is “free”, it’s being paid for — by advertisers (in $$$) and me (in attention).
Just because users don’t have to pay for the service doesn’t mean it’s “free”.

Diego Ferreyra says:

Re: gmail is free?

YOU DO HAVE A RIGHT TO COMPLAIN, even if it is free. Software vendors are, and why shouldn’t they, always trying to get you to use their product not the competition’s. There’s an ethical responsability in this. Anyway, failing to give a good product affects the company directly. But you do always have a right to complain…

“hey eat crap… I know it’s crap! but it’s free..”

Anand Kishore (user link) says:

No Subject Given

Reading the above comments i’ve noticed people have an anti-beta attitude. According to them beta signifies people(developers) not ready to take respisibility for their own actions OR dumbasses who have put buggy code for public usage.
But actually according to me ‘Beta’ signifies further enhancements, feature additions and continous development. For example Gmail is still beta because its adding new features and making enhancements by the day. In the process it may happen that something might go wrong and the service could be affected for a short time span. Therefore it has made people aware of this by the word ‘Beta’.

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