What does the term ‘beta’ mean in social software? It’s become an ongoing joke since Friendster is *still* in beta. From my, admittedly limited, experience in software dev, alpha releases were almost always internal, hugely buggy releases. Betas were distributed to a small, reliable group of people meant to give constructive feedback. Of course things are buggy in alpha/beta, but rarely is any software project ever truly complete. Bugs are always found and new versions are released.
The weird thing about social software is that systems are distributed publicly as beta. Thousands (if not millions) of users appear on beta systems. Most of them are not trying to give feedback, but they do push the social and technological limits of the technology. Lessons are to be learned. Of course, lessons are to be learned in software ALWAYS, regardless of the labels.
I find it quite disconcerting that people want to label their distributions “beta” for over a year because it hasn’t been perfected, because new versions are coming out. This, to me, seems like an abuse of the term beta. New versions always come out. Is beta simply an excuse?
What does beta mean in the context of social software? Should we forgive technological imperfections? What about social consequences? What about apparent design decisions that seem to persist?
[This message is in part in response to this rant on why we should be lenient on Orkut because of its alpha status.]
I am really uncomfortable with public distributions of software being labeled as beta (or alpha), particularly when the population joining it is not aware of it being truly an alpha/beta. For example, would it be OK to completely scrap the data inputted because it is an alpha/beta? Are structures really going to change that much when it is in the hands of the public?