Alpha, Beta, etc.

Beta in the age of the Internet:

I think that in many (most?) cases, these on-line "open" betas are really just an excuse for launching services before they're ready.

So what to think about Technorati dropping the term beta on their new facelift (which apparently didn't make it, yet, to the backend) or FeedBurner opening for business in "pre-alpha edition"?

May be I'm being too suspicious, especially for the two examples above (they're startups after all, far from having the same resources than Google), but I agree with Jeremy that there has been a trend going on here for quite a long time -- it started with the habit of some software editors to seed alphas under the name of betas, and the first beta as the 1.0 release!

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I have noticed just the opposite trend with free software. It's incredible the number of not yet 1.0 software I am using every day that are stable, feature complete (from my point of view) and extremely useful.

For example, I am using almost daily: firefox, thunderbird, nvu, smultron, etc.

Good point Sylvain, I too am using a lot of 0.x software that are significantly better than certain 1. commercial versions. They don't have the pressure to release-to-manufacturing before it's baked!

Francois, I will tell you why we came to market with the pre-alpha moniker, and maybe this will help. When we (the founders) created and launched spyonit.com back in 1999, we discovered that no matter how much testing of consumer internet software that you do in the lab, you don't find a great number of bugs until you launch the site. There are a number of things that are hard to simulate in the lab: totally out of control processes hammering your servers with bizarre requests, some character encoding issues, strange edge condition use cases, and of course user interaction. We therefore decided with FeedBurner that the since the Beta moniker wasn't really causing people to think that software wasn't ready for prime time, that we should take a page from Del.icio.us and come out "pre-alpha". We've said on our company blog that we're just about ready to transition to beta, and that will entail a short period of testing and partner load testing on our new and improved production configuration which should be significantly more fault tolerant.

Now, having said all that, there's a point at which you are correct....the pre-alpha just becomes a crutch. We've been pre-alpha for longer than we probably would have liked, but we didn't want to move out of that mode until our production configurationn was really to our liking.

Wow! Dick, thanks for the explanation. I didn't expect that.

Still, if I get you correctly, the tendency of many to "go beta" casually obliged you to force the trait under an even more "premature" (no pun intended, I'm not finding a better word) moniker.

May be I'm getting too old for that, but back in the past, I would have expected an alpha to run secretly amongst a faithful crowd of a carefully selected few, then a beta thrown at a bigger crowd (and a public one for online services really makes sense).

And I avoided to highlight the trend in consumer electronics (mobile phones first) to release half-baked goods with beta software on it... ;-)

Yep, your points are all fair and accurate. We discussed this for a while here before we made the decision, and it really had to do with the fact that a private alpha wouldn't get the crazy boundary conditions that the public alpha does. We will actually go from alpha to beta for a very short while in order to flex the new production configuration and from there directly to launch.

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