October 30, 2009 |
Today I’ve seen a rare piece of news in my feed reader: about one of the most popular online task management applications Remember The Milk graduating from beta 4 years after the team began its development. The example they quote is obvious: now that Gmail is finally out of beta (with so many people trusting Gmail for their personal and business lives), other web services are entitled to do the same – especially if they are mature enough.
But who exactly determines when an app is actually mature enough? Should there be some standards for the criteria that make an application eligible for no-beta logo? Should it be the number of users or some solid revenue stream or what? Of course there should not really be any common criteria because the status of your application only demonstrates how you feel about it and if you consider it to be mature enough to be actually used by people – and if you remove “beta” from you logo, you demonstrate that you are prepared to be responsible for all the glitches and problems your users could encounter in the process.
The team from Remember The Milk describes their initial idea of graduating from beta when they would actually be “done” but as time passed and they developed more and more new features, it quickly became apparent that they would never actually be “done” with the development. After all, if you happen to run a web application, you probably know that it is not difficult to create an endless road map while it’s way more difficult to code everything that you already have on that very road map.
So the decision is made and Remember The Milk, one of the leading applications in its field, is finally out of beta after 4 years of experiments. Of course the team now sees tons of people congratulating them on the decision on Twitter (and probably everywhere else where the team can be reached) but I have a few questions that are somewhat disturbing.
First of all, I’d really want to know if anything will change in the performance of the application now that it is the stable release free of the beta tag? I suspect nothing will really change and everything will be running as smoothly as it used to do and new features will be deployed when they are ready – beta or not any software needs to be updated.
I guess that the most important thing about being in “beta” versus being out of beta is how you treat your users and how reliable you consider your service to be. Basically if your product is tagged with beta, you kind of demonstrate that people should not really fully trust you because who knows what could happen to your service one day – even if you are Gmail. But did graduation from beta help Google avoid the recent cases of Gmail downtime? It certainly did not and nothing probably changed anyway.
So the conclusion here is that people trust a product based on a ton of factors with the most important ones being how reliable the service is and what kind of reputation it has – and in the world of betas everywhere people hardly pay attention to this particular sign at all.
What’s more, I have a feeling that people who hold premium accounts for Remember The Milk trusted the service enough to pay for it and the fact that the logo does not bear any beta now will hardly change their attitude and they will continue paying for their subscriptions provided that they are still happy with the functionality and the level of service – and not because it is a stable release now.
So I have to tell that I don’t expect any changes for Remember The Milk – or any other startup that follows their example. Yet seeing RTM making the decision to me looks a little like the web is finally ready to turn into an adult from a teen. In the early web 2.0 years everyone could easily cover all the mistakes with a “beta” tag and keep claiming the application is in beta so you should not really expect it to be 100% glitch-free – and now the decisions like this one make me think the web has matured and we should expect it to be more reliable now with web developers finally prepared to take responsibility for their creations which is definitely a good sign.