On Gmail Labs and Beta

If you use Gmail and haven’t looked at Gmail Labs lately, do. There are a number of interesting features listed which you may consider enabling (default mode is disabled), such as the Forgotten Attachment Detector and Got the Wrong Bob (where you are prodded if you type in the wrong Bob’s email, if you have more than one friend with the same name), both of which I enabled recently. 

Also, here’s an interesting quote from back in 2005 by Larry Page, about Gmail’s constant ‘beta’ tag at the time:

“We could take beta off all of our products tomorrow, and we wouldn’t actually have accomplished anything…If it’s on there for five years because we think we’re going to make major changes for five years, that’s fine. It’s really a messaging and branding thing.”

And by the way, though Google’s taken Gmail’s ‘beta’ tag off, for people who find the ‘beta’ tag soothing, Labs has a way of letting you put it back on!

So aren’t Labs’ constant new feature additions an indication of a continuing beta state, then? I found this comment in a piece that came out when Google shed the beta tag on a lot of its products earlier this year:

Google thinks there are a number of CIOs that will find Google Apps easier to sell to their bosses if it’s not formally known as a “beta” product. “It’s something that does send the wrong message,” Glotzbach said, referring to the historical definition of the word beta as a not-ready-for-prime-time piece of software. 

It’s funny because though the term ‘beta’ does literally mean something that is not yet 100% ready, in my mind, it signifies something that is always innovating and preparing to change for the better. Am I the only one who thinks that? I’m sure it’s a tech thing, largely motivated by Google. Is that good or bad?

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