Sunday, March 23, 2008

Does Beta Mean 'Escaped' ?

When talking to non-geeks, I'm hard-pressed to explain what a "Beta version" really means.

At some shops, Beta seems to mean "Time is up! Put it into production for a client."

At Google, it seems to have this ambient air of modesty that quietly implies to the competition: "we can crush you without fully trying".

I'm beginning to think it may mean "escaped". This is based on a quote from a colleague on a past gig:

Software isn't released: it escapes. -- Anon

A case in point (and a plug): a friend has developed a site called Online Task List. It's a fine, free site for tracking tasks: I use it for my weekend agenda and reminders; some of our team uses it at work as a "task messageboard".

Though past Beta now, he originally put a Beta version online. He considered the site closed, and quietly worked on it. Soon, he had users signing up. He was surprised at the speed with which people found it. Now, he has dozens upon dozens. One explanation, of course, might be that Google eventually indexed it and it was turning up for the trendy "online task" searches (a la the GtD book).

I prefer a more romantic theory: it saw an opening.... and escaped.

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