For those unfamiliar with the term, “beta” is the testing stage in software or application design when the company puts its product out for a larger audience. It’s essentially the second trial run (the first is “alpha”) but, it’s usually the first time the product sees more than a few eyes.
It’s the part of testing when a company says, “enough already” and rolls out its innovation. The product is not supposed to be perfect – in fact, it’s supposed to be flawed. Then, the beta testers are tasked with finding these flaws, suggesting improvements, and generally getting that product ready for its actual release.
This idea was taken a bit further by authors Reid Hoffman and Ben Casnocha in their book, “The Start-Up Of You”. One of those names might mean something to you if you’re any kind of online, startup, personal business guru. Hoffman is the founder of LinkedIn, the uber-everywhere business-based social networking site.
Needless to say, he’s been successful. And his book shared the same fate of popularity - most likely with a similar fanbase.
In full disclosure, I haven’t read the book. I will read it, I’m sure, but in reading a few of its reviews and blog discussions online, I came across this idea of “permanent beta”. Or, more specifically, living, existing, or generally being in a state of “permanent beta”.
It’s as much a business idea as a personal mantra. Live in permanent beta. Live in that testing area where you aren’t quite THERE, but you’re certainly far removed from NOWHERE. It’s the idea of living in a state of review, which will be followed by improvement, followed by more review, then improvement, then review and so on.
Personally, I love the idea. Its focus is improvement by experience. Its endgoal is a better beta; a better product. And it’s still ambiguous enough to let individuals and/or businesses decide how to run their own, personal beta testing process.
Look, the world changes faster today than ever before. If the Edict of Nantes were signed today, there’d be fewer Huguenots dancing in the street than updating their Facebook statuses. The Declaration of Independence could be e-mailed to King George, the second John Hancock copy & pasted his signature in the appropriate box. Luther could post his theses on the Pope’s twitter!
The point being, everything is changing so fast and if it’s not changing it’s probably not working. The internet has sped our lives up to a point where updates are expected in real-time. Improvement, instead of being a sign of good business ideology, is now a necessity. And its need is expected to be recognized immediately. Permanent beta is a commitment to always be attempting to recognize the need for improvement. And then, once recognized, to make that improvement a reality without a systemic overhaul of any sort.
We’re suckers for self-improvement. But we should be. Permanent beta is an idea of constant self-improvement, of understanding that you are not the finality of yourself, your business not any kind of “last stand”.
How about this….you know Google, yes? And you maybe use Gmail? Gmail was released in 2004, in its beta stage. Google, the company that can have any engineer it wants, wanted users to test it out. Find the problems. Work out the kinks. You know when Gmail officially ended its beta stage? 2009. Five years.
And why should there be a problem with that? I wouldn’t mind if Gmail were still in “beta” , it’d still function, but it’d be interested in the betterment of itself, as well.
The point being, why not adopt the philosophy of permanent beta?
There’s really only one counterpoint I can summon. A product being tested – in beta – may be seen as a less confident offering. That the company may still be nervous about its product.
I’m fine with that argument. You want your products and your life to be strong-willed. You want to release your glories and successes. But confidence is a fickle thing – it can leave at any moment. Quality is less flaky. Be confident, instead, in your ability to improve.
And consider staying in beta. Permanently.