Sunday, July 26, 2009

Beta is Reality

I have just posted the following response to Andrew Keen's article It's Time to Bust the Beta Cult in the Internet Evolution.

Beta is Reality

Should there be such a thing called finished product?

The era of software products designed behind closed doors without dynamic user involvement is over.

a) It costs too much to develop a finished product, especially for startups, yet alone I argue that the concept of finished product is an illusion, products are never finished, and should not be finished.

b) It is too risky to ignore user feedback during development. The chances are you will be increasingly drifted away from user satisfaction. There is no way you would know what users want unless you design your product with them.

c) Increasingly users want to get involved once they experience the satisfaction of being listened. User profiles are changing, the era of passive user is over.

This is in fact what I call the evolutionary design, a concept akin to natural selection we observe in biological systems. The product evolves based on its survival value; its ability to adopt changing user requirements. In fact there is no up-front designer. Users become the nature, and they themselves design the product by selecting the fittest, fittest in terms of giving them the best satisfaction score.

The design by natural selection does not need to be perfect or completely bug free. Take the evolution of human eye for example, which is a strikingly good example to bad design, if there were an up-front designer.

"The vertebrate eye, is built "backwards and upside down", requiring "photons of light to travel through the cornea, lens, aquaeous fluid, blood vessels, ganglion cells, amacrine cells, horizontal cells, and bipolar cells before they reach the light-sensitive rods and cones that transduce the light signal into neural impulses – which are then sent to the visual cortex at the back of the brain for processing into meaningful patterns." This reduction in efficiency may be countered by the formation of a reflective layer, the tapetum, behind the retina. Light which is not absorbed by the retina on the first pass may bounce back and be detected.", ref. Wikipedia.

The beta paradigm represents evolutionary generations. Each generation, i.e. each beta life cycle changes the product's survival value, sometimes towards the extinction end, other times towards the selection end, and the reality is you would never know up-front whether your product be extinct or survive in x years time. Except that users (the nature) will survive even if it means they may end up selecting and using a different product, not yours which might have become extinct.

Therefore it seems to me that the evolutionary design (hence the beta concept) in software systems is here to stay. We humans have discovered and learned the power of natural selection in the past 150 years, why shouldn't we enjoy exploiting and using that power in commerce and in other areas of human ingenuity.

Finally, I am also thinking Beta as a meme, ie. "a postulated unit or element of cultural ideas, symbols or practices, and is transmitted from one mind to another through speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena.", ref. Wikipedia.

1 comment:

MemeMachineMan said...

"Beta" is usually more of a product marketing positioning of a product than it is any statement of completeness.
Saying to the market that your product is "in Beta" means that you do not guarantee the reliability or it and you do not guarantee that you will continue to provide support for it unless it suits you.
By contrast, a "GA" product usually comes with guarantees as to the longevity of support.