Not Your Grandfather’s Beta

by Jon Lin on April 7, 2009 · 0 comments

in martindale.com,social media for lawyers,Web 2.0

It’s been a week now since we opened up Martindale-Hubbell Connected to all lawyers.  One question we’ve heard repeatedly since then is why the site still has the “beta” tag.  I touched on this briefly in my Top 10 things learned post (see Lesson #1), but I thought I would expand upon it a little more here.

Back in the good old days of enterprise software, having a beta release had a fairly defined meaning. In the software release life cycle, the beta is a step when the code base is released to the public to allow real users to provide feedback, test the usability of the application, and uncover any bugs so they could be fixed. No matter how good your QA team is, nothing can fully replicate the range of scenarios and scalability demands that the software may encounter in the real world. Given the monolithic nature of enterprise software, enhancements and upgrades are released once or twice a year at best and sometimes even longer. Therefore getting out as many bugs as possible before releasing the product was critical because your next window of opportunity was a long way off.

Because the advent of the internet has made the distribution and installation of new software, particularly web-based products, easy and virtually free, the meaning of beta has relaxed. In the web 2.0 world, this trend has accelerated. In fact, the concept of a perpetual beta is cited by Tim O’Reilly as one of the core principles that defines what web 2.0 is. As he notes:

…”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.”

Put another way, just because Connected has “launched” doesn’t mean we are done with our work. Far from it. Gmail just recently turned 5 years old, and it still has the beta tag. Is Connected going to push the perpetual beta that far? No, but for now, you’ll see it for a little bit longer.

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