Why do people beta test?
If you spend any time around social media, it’s likely you’ve seen a reference to Beta testing of an application a company is about to launch in the market. If you’re involved in application development, you probably know what this is. For the rest of us, let’s take a look at what a Beta test is for and why you might consider getting involved in one when the opportunity arises.
Part of application development is to have actual users test the application before it goes into full use (generally known as “production”). The organization doing the development (whether for internal users or commercial customers) is looking for feedback on a number of areas. First, does the application do what is expected in a way that actually solves a problem (or more) the user is experiencing. For example, if the users need to be able to track the outcome of phone calls made to prospects, is the user able to easily and effectively record the who, when, what of that call in a way that the data can be aggregated and reviewed? There are a myriad of other examples along this line. Second, does the application work? Here, the developer is looking to ensure that when there is a button to click that says “Submit”, that process actually takes place with the click is made. There’s also consideration of the size, shape and location of that button, all part of the look and feel of the application. Third, will the users adopt the application. This is a more qualitative judgement. The application may do what was expected, it may work flawlessly (no errors), and is it better than status quo (even if status quo is a manual process)?
The Beta test is like a dress rehearsal for a play. All the actors are in costume, the stage is set, all the lines are ready to be delivered. And then you have to add the audience to judge whether the whole ensemble hits the mark.
When a company asks for you to participate in a beta, they want you to be part of that audience, they want your feedback, they want to ensure that their product is something you will be able to use and would be willing to pay for (if it’s commercial).
A company I worked for developed an application for a customer that fully automated an existing work process. At the same time, it replaced an existing application that had been in use for a few years (the company thought the old application was outdated, inefficient, in need of an upgrade). The new application was easy to use, it did the job, and it functioned without errors. However, the qualitative step of confirming user adoption was missed. When our CEO was visiting the customer several months after go-live, he observed the users taking screen shots of the application, printing those out, and then reassembling the paper to look like the system they used to have. We had missed the critical step of looking at how the users actually did their work, how they actually interacted with the application.
You might be thinking, okay, I get how the company benefits from the Beta. What’s in it for me, for my time, for contributing my expertise? First, you’ve being offered the chance to provide feedback on a new or upgraded product to help in your day-to-day work. Second, you get the chance to be part of a product lifecycle, even change its direction. Third, you’re likely to
be given some incentive (usually free use of the product for a period of time). And fourth, if you like being at the cutting edge, you get an advanced view of what’s coming in your industry.
Beta testing is a crucial component of the production of new technology. Participating can be educational, fun, and could help you be more successful in your work. When offered the chance to take part, give it some serious thought.