Friday, August 06, 2010

Beta testers are Guinea Pigs

This morning a read an interesting blog post from Brian Gartner on the demise of Google Wave. He makes a few points, summarized below for those tired of clicking on links (a growing population: Flipboard is a sign that hypertext might be getting old):

  1. Google culture comes from the recent trend of kids education: everyone gets rewarded, even when they fail
  2. Therefore, they killed Google Wave (which has been a a failure of phenomenal proportions) also saying that they are cool for killing it when they realized it was not taking off. This, with no respect to the users that actually were using it
  3. Google should do a lot more testing internally before shipping anything, instead of using users as testers
  4. The conclusion is that Google’s corporate culture puts a higher premium on the needs of their engineers than their responsibility to users
I have to say these days it is actually trendy to kill stuff and get praised for it (see Microsoft killing Kin 48 days after birth...). And that I am really fed up with the idea that every kid always wins, since life is quite different...

That said, I disagree with the conclusion. We are living in times where the market moves too fast. You can't spend a year to test things internally and then release them to the public. You have to do it with HW, you can avoid it with software. If you do, you are left behind.

All software start-ups I know are doing it: build a stable first release, test it with friends and family, open it up to the world as beta. The users are doing the real testing.

If you want to compete with start-ups (you should if you are big, because they move fast), you have to iterate quickly, test and throw away what does not work. Fast.

Should you be worried about "the users", in case you have to shut down the system?

Yes, you do not want to piss off anyone. You need to put in place ways for them to recover their data and maybe run the service themselves (which Google is doing, creating tools to "liberate" their data and putting the Wave software in open source).

However, those who jump on a beta service know very well what they are getting: a beta product that might never see the light of day. Remember, these are free services...

Beta testers are a self-selected bunch. My mom would never start using Google Wave in beta. I would. But I know the game, and I would not be (too much) pissed if there is a bug or the system gets killed.

It is very different with HW. Those four or five kids who bought the Kin should be really upset (at themselves, what were they thinking? ;-)

In software, beta testers are Guinea Pigs. No reward for them. That's ok, they are not kids.