We have come a long way studying the O’Reilly’s patterns for Web 2.0 platforms; some of the previous topics have been: harnessing collective intelligence, data is the next Intel inside and assembly in innovation. Now the turn is for “Perpetual Beta”. But what is it?
Beta testing is, according to Webopedia (n.d.), a test to a computer product prior to general release, this test could be done by sending the software to beta test sites or to real users through the Internet to get some real-world exposure and feedback necessary to refine and revise the system. Beta testing is part of the old school waterfall model which include a program of sequential and iterative activities which are done for the user to ultimately enjoy and utilise the software; those steps in the waterfall model are: conception, initiation, analysis, design, construction, testing, production and maintenance (Wikipedia, n.d.). The approach of this highly rigid structure is to have most of the features ready and then show it to a sample audience that would help to spot the flaws and inadequacies in the software. The exposure of the software to the target users is often quite to late in the schedule and the interaction with the user base is usually not enough; that could lead to an unsuitable product.
With the emerging of Web 2.0 technologies and the open source movement a pattern was recognised by Tim O’Reilly (2005, para. 4) that mitigates dramatically the problem mentioned: “the open source dictum, ‘release early and release often’ in fact has morphed into an even more radical position, “the perpetual beta,” in which the product is developed in the open, with new features slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis”. This creates a more dynamic and close relationship with the user as the developers are on the lookout of users’ operations to fix, tweak or add to the current functionalities. Let’s see how this principle applies to one of the most popular social platform in the music arena: Reverbnation; which is devoted to create a network of musicians, venues, managers, labels and fans, striving to give to each of these target groups special benefits tailored for their needs.
Reverbnation has been in perpetual beta since its conception and numerous functionalities have been added according to the current needs of the users and the trends of social media platforms:
- Promote It: is a feature that uses the fact of interlinked social networks to present the band to fans who like similar kind of music. For that, Reverbnation connects with fans through YouTube, Facebook, Pandora, etc.
- Music for Good: with this functionality the artists contribute to established good causes via a percentage of songs sold. This taps into fans inclination to buy more music from social active artists.
- Tunewidget: are popular between musicians to feature their music, videos and press releases in widgets that could be fixed anywhere in their websites, social media pages, etc.
- Band Equity: this is a performance metric to establish the engagement of an artist with their fans and it takes into account several factors: the reach of people through social networks, blogs and websites; the influence of the contact, e.g. how much time the fans listen to the artist’s songs; the access to direct communication to fans, that is, mailing lists sign-ups and finally how recent all those interactions are. With Band Equity Reverbnation is able to create chart-like lists that featured the most popular bands in the platform.
All these functionalities were included in the platform not as important version reviews, but as incremental tweaks based on user feedback and behaviour and market trends. From my standpoint, Perpetual beta is not other thing that a responsive outlook to what is going on in the platform environment.
Thanks a lot for reading and I’d appreciate your point of view.
O’Reilly, T. (2005). Design patterns and business models for the next generation of software. Retrieved from: http://oreilly.com/pub/a/web2/archive/what-is-web-20.html?page=4
Webopedia (n.d.). Beta test. Retrieved from: http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/B/beta_test.html
Wikipedia (n.d.). Waterfall model. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waterfall_model