Speed or Accuracy? The BETA Debate

June 5, 2009

STS100-LAUNCH1Nowadays, when an internet company wants to release something to the public before it is finished, they call it a “beta” version.  This means that the product is working and ready for use, but its not finished yet.  Maybe there is some functionality still to come, maybe there are bugs, known and unknown, that still have to be fixed.

It’s become quite popular to release entire websites in beta because it allows you to get a product to market, let the real consumers use it and learn about it, all while you continue to add features and make it perfect.  Some services and websites, including a number of Google Products, seem to stay in beta forever.

This is a relatively modern phenomenon, brought to us by the internet, mostly because a beta version of a real life product is not sensible.  But the more these products are hooked up to networks, the easier it becomes to update products after a customer purchases them.  For example, Apple can update your iPhone whenever they want.  Comcast can update your cable services whenever they want.  So the question becomes, for those products and services (online and off) that can be updated after their initial release, is perfection as important as speed to market?

There are definately two defined sides to this argument, both with their merits.  The accuracy people will tell you that if a product is “too” flawed, it will get bad reviews and hurt performance down the line.  They’ll tell you that a product should be double and tripled tested to make sure those first consumers are completely satisfied, and so impressed that they share it with friends.

The speed people worry about competition.  First to market is a huge advantage in any industry.  It gets people’s attentions, builds your brand awareness, and stifles competition.  These people say get a working model, give it to people, and then wow them with updates.  And for online products and services, what better way to test something than to release it to the public and let them tell you what needs to be improved.

So let’s hear it. If you were the CEO of a company that was about to release a brand new website to help people do this thing or that thing, what method would you be pushing?  Would you be pushing your team to get a working version of the website up as quickly as possible or would you wait until the whole thing was built and tested to perfection before getting the public involved?  Answer below, and use the comments to tell me why.