This week’s discussion topic is about the concept of Perpetual Beta. As per usual, let’s start off with what that actually means. From Wikipedia:
Perpetual beta is a term used to describe software or a system which remains at the beta development stage for an extended or even indefinite period of time. It is often used by developers in order to allow them to constantly release new features that might not be fully tested. As a result, perpetual beta software is not recommended for mission critical machines.
So basically, what we’re talking about here is a system which has never really reached full maturity. At this stage, I think its important to note the difference between a final, mature system and a stable system. Many people associate the term BETA Release with not just an unfinished system, but also an unstable one. This might be the case some of the time, but not always. An immature system is not necessarily unstable, just like a mature system isn’t always stable. With this critical difference in mind, it’s easy to see how platforms such as Facebook are well within the scope of perpetual betas. They are fully functional systems that also receive regular upgrades.
Note: There are several conflicting definitions for the concept of software maturity. For the purpose of this blog, I define it as:
“The condition a system reaches when development is nonexistent or at most minimized, and majority of the work revolves around system maintenance”
Now that we know what Perpetual Beta is all about, the next step is to understand why this model is used and what benefits it serves.
Let’s take Facebook as an example. What are the reasons for keeping it in a perpetual state of beta?
First and foremost is flexibility. Being unfinished allows Facebook to add, change and remove features as they deep appropriate (through various means such as Collective Intelligence). Facebook can use data gathered from research and user feedback to find out what its end users want changed, added or removed from the system. Keeping customers happy is the key to any successful business, and make no mistake, Facebook is an online business (Read this for more information).
Being in a perpetual beta state also lets Facebook stay ahead of competitors, constantly throwing out new features or improving existing ones, to ensure they are the leading provider of online socialising.
Personally, I also think its a way to let users know that they can always expect improvements and new things to be rolled out in the future. It keeps them keen and interested, and also assured that their ever changing needs will be met in the future.