SmoothSpan Blog

For Executives, Entrepreneurs, and other Digerati who need to know about SaaS and Web 2.0.

Should Big Companies Charge for Betas?

Posted by Bob Warfield on February 12, 2009

Google is charging for Betas. 

Huh?  What’s Bob on about now?

I was in GMail today, nothing new there.  BTW, I like GMail a lot.  I tried my personal accounts on it about 6 months ago, and turned off Outlook for those accounts a month ago.  More on that in a later post, but I’m surprised at some of the usability things I’ve learned from it.  Awesome job, Google!

Anyway, I noticed the ad bar at the top of the screen and several thoughts hit me immediately.

One, it was tastefully done.  Not garish.  Respectful of my valuable screen real estate.  I don’t know when it showed up, it could’ve been there all along.  I thought, pretty cool. 

Two, it was very well targeted.  It was actually something that might interest me, an ad for the Sony eBook reader.  I’ve been pondering whether I want a Kindle 2 lately.  I was just about to reach over and click when I stopped.  More thoughts: 

    –  I was reading morning email and needed to tend to business, finish, and head off to work.  This was not a good time to get distracted by an ad.  No biggie, fine, file it. 

    –  Hmmm.  How did Google target me so well?  I don’t recall emailing anyone about Kindle ever.  I sure blog about it, and I read every blog post I find about it.  How much does Google really know about me?  How big is the dossier of my online behavior that they are cross correlating?  Big Brother thoughts are always so unsettling.  And have they earned the right to divine my inner thoughts and desires by opening my mail and analyzing it?

    –  But hey, it’s free, it’s beta, what am I complaining about?

Then it hit me.  Google is charging for this Beta Gmail by selling ads.  Somehow that didn’t seem right to me.  Not a big thing.  I still kind of liked that ad because it was well targeted.  Certainly nothing like Louis Gray’s campaign to mark every ad on Facebook as offensive.

I guess in the end, I just didn’t like the idea of Google charging for a Beta.  Mind you, I don’t like the idea of them calling GMail a Beta.  It’s been forever in Beta.  What would be the signal to take it out of Beta?  It’s got to be pretty stable by now.  What is the purpose of this Beta?  Some say it’s just marketing.  OK.  We’re kind of past the rush of thinking, “Oh cool, I’m in the inside crowd, I get to play with a Google Beta.”  Some say it is so Google doesn’t have to take responsibility for it.  Find a problem?  Don’t call us, it’s a Beta.  I’m more in that camp.  I hate to gripe about it. 

GMail is great and all, and I like the ad, but hey, don’t charge me for your Beta.  Just take that “Beta” off the GMail logo and I’ll feel 100% better about it.  It’s a great program.  It’s not a Beta piece of software anymore.  Take responsibility.

OK, enough on Google.  I’m moving on to more interesting topics.  I’ve gotten a couple of great interviews lately from some Cloud Thought Leaders at 3Tera and Engine Yard that I’ll be sharing very soon now.


3 Responses to “Should Big Companies Charge for Betas?”

  1. schlafly said

    I am wondering why GMail has been in Beta for years, while Google’s browser in not only out of beta, it is in version 2.0! My guess is that Google took Chrome out of beta in order to compare it to MSIE 7, and not MSIE 8 which is in beta. Maybe Gmail does not have the same competitive pressures. Maybe being in beta is an excuse to delete your spam or lose your mail, I don’t know.

  2. berilthedwarf said

    The ads don’t bother me- if nothing else, they are giving you several GB of storage for free.

    I think the reason GMail is constantly in Beta is because it’s, well, constantly in beta. They’re always making updates, changes, adding new features and the like. Google has a pay mail service as well- I haven’t used it, but my guess would be that new features and things only show up for those accounts once they’ve been in “beta” awhile and are considered stable enough for “release”. We all test their products for free so they can work out the kinks and turn around and sell it.

    Pretty damn smart if you ask me.

  3. zzgorme said

    Sounds like an idea for a startup. People select the ads that interest them and they are saved on a special page for them. Also these ads could be analysed and more ads appear like them, which can in turn be saved, and so on.

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