Dina Kaplan, co-founder and COO, Blip.tv — “It's a wonderful cop-out. If a tiny feature doesn't work, or if someone has a minute problem with something, you can just say, 'Oh, we're in beta.' “
Caroline McCarthy – I know it sounds impossible. You've probably come to rely on those four little letters, positioned snugly next to your site's cerulean-and-pink logo. To you, it's a reassurance. It means it's OK if the photo upload tool occasionally times out, if the YouTube embed codes aren't quite working yet, if the Google Maps mashups sometimes display Saskatchewan instead of San Francisco.
It's OK, you tell yourself, because there are a ton of new Web services out there that proudly tout their beta labels. Like Gmail, for example. It's one of Google's foremost success stories. It's been in beta since its 2004 launch. And that beta label is convenient because Gmail is still having issues, most notably the occasional outage but also some data problems. Lost all your address book contacts? Oops, blame the beta.
Kaplan explained to me, being in a perpetual state of development is a fixture of the new Internet and it's quite likely here to stay.
"What's happened is that software development for the Web is very different now than it's been in the past. In the past, you'd be a six-month or year-long cycle. When you launched something, it would be perfect, or you'd at least hope it would be perfect. Now the launch is done in a much more iterative way."
Here’s the catch. In the world of developers and entrepreneurs, "beta" may be synonymous with a state of constant evolution. But in the world of Web-application and social-media enthusiasts (myself included), "beta" means, "If something screws up, it's not really our fault." This is why the techies should consider weaning themselves off beta status.