Friday, November 17, 2006

When betas are a bete noire

Last night, during a D&M* with Phil Sim after the launch of version 3 of his MediaConnect platform, a project for which I have been in Sydney for the past week acting as database consultant, he explained to me a view that I had not thought of before but found very interesting.

The perpetual beta is a cornerstone of the Web 2.0 manifesto. Web 2.0 applications are considered to always be in testing mode. Gone are the days of iterative point releases which are published en masse like they are hardcover books; now, code is dribbled out like sausage meat from a grinder.

Phil's contention was that this process was perfect for someone who couldn't handle the pressure of failure. It is an easy out, a sop to your own ego which might be too fragile to face criticism of a product that you might dare to say is finished. The result of this is that entrepreneurs, who as a breed are notorious for starting projects and not finishing them, now have a ready-made excuse for all of the flaws of their creations, bestowed upon them by no less a dignitary than Tim O'Reilly. The state of having launched a beta but not graduated to the hard fact of a final product is a seductive one, because it means you never have to give up the defence of "oh, but it's only beta". You get to have a blog and participate in the 2.0 community as an equal, or at least a player. You avoid making the difficult decisions, to set yourself up to be knocked down. You delay the time when you put your skill and work ethic on the line.

By the way, mea culpa.

This leads me to think that at some point, this dynamic of passivity will become less attractive and more of a sign of weakness. The computer game site, for instance, is an industry forum whose sole criterion of membership is that you have been on a project team which shipped a commercial game. Will there be sites or events in the 2.0 community that will adopt such an attitude of professional exclusivity, to weed out the amateurs and wannabes? At the moment it's anathema to most of the culture of the community, but I can't help but think that it's just a matter of time before someone stands up for the shippers.

* "deep & meaningful": a long, serious philosophical discussion usually conducted under the stars after a heavy drinking session at a party.


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