As the internet has grown and Web 2.0 has emerged, a number of new developments have hit the web. Amongst these has been the development of “Perpetual Beta”, but what does it mean? According to leading Web 2.0 spokesman Tim O’Reilly, Perpetual Beta is a key facet of the growth of web 2.0 and is defined as:
Users must be treated as co-developers, in a reflection of open source development practices (even if the software in question is unlikely to be released under an open source license.) 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. It’s no accident that services such as Gmail, Google Maps, Flickr, del.icio.us, and the like may be expected to bear a ‘Beta’ logo for years at a time
Google who are synonymous with cutting edge web applications and even more synonymous with betas. Ever since the start of Google there have been a number of Google Betas that have ended up being fully -fledged web applications, these have ranged from Google search, GMail, Google Maps, Google Chrome, Google TV and many more.
In January 2011 the multinational company launched a new service called Google Offers which is currently only available in a limited number of metropolitan areas within the United States. The idea of Google Offers is to provide subscribed users with an e-mail with a local deal of the day. They then have the opportunity to buy that deal within a specific time limit (usually 24 hours). Once enough people have made the purchase, the Google Offer is triggered and users get a discount.
This isn’t a new idea, one of the leaders in this field is a company called Groupon; Groupon features a daily deal on the best stuff to do, see, eat, and buy in more than 565 cities around the world. By promising businesses a minimum number of customers, Groupon can offer deals that aren’t available elsewhere (for more on Croupon try reading a fellow classmates blog post). As a result of Groupons success Google attempted to buy the company in November for $6 billion. As a result of that failed buyout Google set about creating its own service called Google Offers. In addition to the features offered by its competitors Google has also introduced a new element to the coupon subscription game, as Google Offers displays deals on a map (integration of Google Maps) and allows users to pick bargains based on location and compare competing deals within the service. Google has also integrated it into a number of other web 2.0 services including Facebook, Twitter, Google Reader, Google Buzz and e-mail sharing options. Below is a video on how Google see the system working…
But how does this new beta service from Google stack up against the idea of “Perpetual Beta”? According to Watson (2011), successful beta services have a number of common features, how these features relate to Google Offers is shown below:
- Release early and release often: As with many new products, their are often growing pains. To alleviate some of these issues Google as it has done in the past with previous services has released a streamlined service that is only available in 5 locations. Then Google will continue to be add features/releases as the service grows using agile and iterative development techniques.
- Engage users as co-developers and real-time testers: One of the main reasons Google has limited the availability of the service to just a number of towns is to allow them time to get the service right before making it national and global. By using a small sample audience and real life testers to start off with Google is able to assess its users behaviour and statistics to make informed product decisions that will allow for a better rounded service.
- Instrument your product: One of the major advantages of a web 2.0 based system compared to a desktop driven environment, is that the service provider is able to compile statistics and capture what users are saying about your product in order for the provider to create a better system and a far more user friendly driven environment.
- Incrementally create new products: Theres a saying “What version of Google are you running?”. Google has made a name for its self by launching products in beta and then gathered significant feedback from users, which is then used to incrementally added new features which are done in such a way that the user unlike a desktop OS is unaware what version of the web 2.0 service that there running. New features will almost certainly continue to grown with Google Offers.
- Make operations a core competency: Google has become far more than a search engine, and its management of data to day data has played a large part to its success and its able to utilize what information it gathers to its users. Google Offers is no different as it uses many facets of Googles business and makes Google Offers seem a collaboration of current Google products – while finding a niche and need within the market place.
As Google continues to grow its online business, it will inevitably continue to utilize a “Perpetual Beta” approach as a way to make its products better and faster for its users. As its does so it continues to move away from one of its competitors:
“Microsoft’s business model depends on everyone upgrading their computing environment every two to three years. Google’s depends on everyone exploring what’s new in their computing environment every day.” (Wainewright, 2005)
This statement alone in my opinion shows how Microsoft, once the leader of IT on the planet is being overtaken by its competitors as they embrace new technology.
As for the electronic coupon idea, the pool of services in this domain is starting to get crowded, with Google entering the market and Facebook having launched Facebook Deals to connect users and local businesses with discounts, all this competition can only mean good things for there users. For a more im depth review of the coupon services check out this infographic.