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.

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Madness? A New Spin on Sports Betting

March 20, 2009

centsportsA longstanding controversy, the art of sports betting has been around as long as people have been playing sports.  And as the internet made gambling from anywhere in the world at any time an effortless, habit forming task, the controversy spread.  What is legal?

The sheer legality of gambling makes it appealing.  As I have said in the past, even negative publicity gets people’s attention.  And if you get their attention, you’re winning the battle.

Now, imagine you can take the concept of sports betting, and make it legal in some way.  Then, say you manage to do that and offer it online, where anyone with a computer and internet access can get to it, anytime.  Sounds like a pretty innovative way to start a business.

Well there are two websites of mention that are doing this, and seem to be doing it well.

First, there’s ESPN.com.  Their website has undergone a massive transformation over the past couple of months, with a clear focus on driving advertising dollars and boosting web traffic.  One very interesting way they have done this is by creating a “Streak for the Cash” contest.

Basically, Streak for the Cash offers up various sporting events that users can “bet” on by selecting the winners.  The first person to collect 25 wins in a row, wins $1 Million.  And it’s free to play.  What this does is brings people to the site over and over again throughout the course of the day/week/month that this contest is active.  The more hits they get, the more ads they can serve, the more money they’ll bring in.

Second, there’s a site most people are not as familiar with, CentSports.com.  I was introduced to CentSports through a friend who had gotten involved and was enjoying the experience.  Immediately I was intrigued.

CentSports operates like a traditional sports betting site, except that you cannot gamble with your own money, making it completely legal.  You open an account, and you get $0.10.  That 10 cents is yours to bet with on whatever you want.  You can build up a large bankroll over time, and whenever you go broke, they’ll put 10 cents back into your account.

Here’s the catch, even though the money you are using is completely free, you can cash out for real money once you get to a certain value.  They have tricky cash out rules, and you have to play for awhile to build up enough money to cash out, but its all very real.

How do they do this? Ads.  Companies have been quick to buy ads on the site, which get displayed with the user’s permission, and often.  The money from these ads supports the weekly payouts to “betters”, and keep the site going.  As the site gets more popular, the ads will definitely continue to get more valuable.

Both of these are examples of websites that are looking to capitalize on the popularity of gambling in a new way.  Make it free (which also means legal) and support yourself with ads.  We’ve seen this model work in many industries, and it looks to be a winning formula here as well.

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