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The Benefits of Beta

September 19, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

Via a community of dedicated users, software developers benefit from a system that avoids a demand for perfection and allows a slow progression of improvement. This system of releasing “beta” versions allows for a gradual evolution and benefits both the producer and user of a product.

Under this system, a user’s software is updated on a needed basis. If a product has a fault or if a development team has developed an improvement, an automatic update can be established and the update is performed. This is an ideal system- one that exists solely in the software field and one that creates a system of multiple beneficiaries. Just as the user benefits from improved software, the developer can tinker with adjustments and rest assured that the user base is a source of endless feedback. Such a system has rendered immense improvements in the technology culture and should be recognized as a system that other industries should foster.

This “beta culture,” or world in which developers and users work together to improve a product, is one of immense potential. The motor vehicle industry would be significantly improved if users could update the vehicle’s software every six months in order to improve vehicle performance or to simply to alter minimal details affecting non-critical factors of using the vehicle. Can the radio’s interface be updated to make it faster or easier to read? Can the vehicle’s odometer be calibrated to allow for a more accurate analysis of efficiency? With some development these possibilities could be developed and used as significant selling points.

Beyond the benefits of avoiding the need for perfection, the “beta culture” would allow developers to consider user feedback and improve future productions. What better market research exists than the feedback of users with direct experience with previous models. If asked what I want in a new product, I will likely think back to my experiences with a similar product, muster up some improvements and then suggest my mind’s notion of an improvement of what I want. Such a process diverts the responsibility of the developer from producer to consumer. A better process is one that asks better questions. The key is to ask the user what features of the current product don’t work and what things could make Product X better. As a user I can tell you countless things that are wrong with Product X. We need to move beyond the notion that Product X is produced and distributed and then Product Y goes into development.

The “beta culture” allows us to release Product X and then work towards Product X.1. Producers from all industries need to adjust to create this system and switch the paradigm from serial production to a goal of improving what already exists. No longer do we need to build a new trap or re-invent the wheel; instead, we need to improve what we have and let our minds focus on meeting the expectations that have yet to be met.

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