This is a question that I used to think about ages ago, when I first started using Gmail – how long would it be in beta? If you look at most Google products, like Google Docs or Orkut, they’re all still in beta as well – and it has been a good few years since they first launched. (45% of Google products are in beta currently, I believe). Paul McNamara at Network World managed to get a Google representative to respond recently, and I thought it was worth quoting here what was said:
We have very high internal metrics our consumer products have to meet before coming out of beta. Our teams continue to work to improve these products and provide users with an even better experience. We believe beta has a different meaning when applied to applications on the Web, where people expect continual improvements in a product. On the Web, you don’t have to wait for the next version to be on the shelf or an update to become available. Improvements are rolled out as they’re developed. Rather than the packaged, stagnant software of decades past, we’re moving to a world of regular updates and constant feature refinement where applications live in the cloud.
That’s true of any product actually, isn’t it – we always expect improvement. I like the way Google has interpreted the term ‘beta’, given they work with products on the Web, where content is constantly being updated. I think this general principle would be a useful one for all companies to adopt – to constantly strive to improve and move with the times, rather than stick to a set of rules from the past. Silly as it may sound, companies who stick to the latter dictum do still exist – I see some every now and then, though they may not like to admit it. Movement is what distinguishes a static company from a dynamic one, and it is a fact that can be crucial in determining the success of a venture.