Beta testing – an obsolete concept?

September 24th, 2013 § 2 comments § permalink

I was invited to be a beta tester recently, and it struck me that I haven’t been seeing calls for beta testers being put out any more.

We want you to test WordPress

It might be that the beta testing period has been subsumed by Lean methodologies. After all, beta testing is about the feedback loop which is implicit in the lean process.

It might be that beta testing is just that much harder on mobile than web, and it was just left behind because it didn’t fit with the ecosystem any more.

But then the feedback loop isn’t visible to me these days. At least in the young startups I’ve been following. From the outside the process most startups seem to follow is: announce idea on Launchrock -> launch MVP -> growth hacking (simplified obviously). As a user of these services I am not asked for feedback, and I don’t usually see any obvious feedback collection mechanisms on the app. Is everyone relying on metrics these days?

Did beta testing lose its value because early beta testers are a very niche segment of the market, or not even a customer segment at all?
When I worked at Tangler.com, we had a dedicated beta testing forum where startups would put out the call and beta testers would jump in, test the products and let loose with their feedback. It wasn’t always easy for the startups to handle it – we had a bunch of very early adopters who had technical backgrounds so they tended to have really high expectations and …. let’s call it brutally honest feedback.
In addition, there’d always be the inevitable drop off in usage. Beta testers would flock to the new shiny, test it and move on. From a startup’s perspective this was a roller coaster ride. They’d get a spike in sign ups and activity, and then have to deal with the lull. Well that was a bummer….

There was one shining example of a success story however. A bunch of us were invited to test out Weewar.com, an asynchronous, multi-player strategy game, and in the process of testing the game, we were all hooked. A bunch of us brought our non-tester friends in – just so we could keep playing while waiting turns on other games! The founders of Weewar were very active in responding to feedback and this was also evident in the product’s evolution. Weewar was eventually acquired by EA Games.

What I think is a big loss with not actively running in a beta testing phase is the feedback loop between startups and users. (I’m not using the term ‘customers’ on purpose.)
There is an implicit social contract at play – as users we will use your product and provide feedback, as startups we will listen and consider the feedback. There is a lot more to this than obvious at first glance. As a user I am more inclined to provide feedback if I know there is a purpose for it. That it will be considered by someone. As a startup it affects how I run my communications strategy, whether or not I include a feedback mechanism into my product, how I manage my backlog.
Beta testing is a state of mind for all involved.

So startups, look at yourselves, evaluate whether running a beta testing phase is a fit, and then do it. You will get invaluable insights into your product’s UX, features and potentially even its future.
And beta testers, instead of throwing out a whinge on Twitter (GUILTY!) hit up the startup’s contact page and make a valuable contribution.

Oh, and the startup that kicked this post off – Formula Legend. Make sure to check em out and sign up if it’s your thing.

 

Dear Santa, for Christmas this web worker would like….

December 24th, 2010 § 4 comments § permalink

1. For Facebook to not force the new profile on me. Which I know they will do eventually…. It’s just the messy layout scrambles my brain. arrrrgggghhhh can’t …. think

2. For flickr and others to start charging me in Aussie dollars. Hey, if GoDaddy can do it…

3. On the subject of flickr – For Yahoo! to love it and let it go. Surely flickr could continue as an entity on its own? It’s the only way I see for them to start innovating again.

4. On the subject of photosharing… for a hot new startup to come along and really solve the problem. Flickr stopped trying years ago, Facebook is just a glorified family/friends album, and there hasn’t been anyone really focused on this issue. Get it right, and I’d be happy to redirect my flickr $$ to ya.

5. A global location setter. And by this I mean one service that’ll let me set my profile locations in one go. Ideally, Foursquare or Gowalla or the like will just ad this as a feature.

6. Speaking of Gowalla – an answer to my question – Is the ‘walla’ in Gowalla the Hindi ‘wallah‘?? I can’t rest till I know this

7. International Pandora PLEASE!! I’m beggin now

8. For Posterous to allow me to add a service to share to, but disable autoposting WITHOUT having to deselect it EVERYTIME I post. Everything else is so seamless, surely this is a no brainer?

9. For phone manufacturers to stop adding bloatware on the Android. I mean seriously HTC, did you really think I would find Peep, Plurk and Stocks irreplaceable? Ok, I’m willing to compromise on this one – add your bloatware, but allow me to remove the damn apps without having to root the phone.

10. For Google to accept that they suck at social, and start hiring people who actually have social skillz. I mean really dudes, you fail on the social aspect of EVERY cool new thing you come up with. Hot tip – most of these people don’t come with a PhD or Masters in CompSci. Don’t hold it against them.

11. For app developers to not make me wait aeons for an Android app. *looks at Instagr.am*

12. For tech news blogs to focus on, ya know, TECH NEWS.

13. For Google Reader to add a ‘Remove items like this’ feature. There’s only so many times I can handle seeing an article about the latest cool gadget – ONCE.

14. For more webworker-friendly cafes in Sydney. (Damn I miss Red Rock 🙁 )

15. For startup founders to look beyond the fads and focus on problem solving. We’ve barely scratched the surface and we’re already distracted.

16. For YouTube to put a ‘Repeat’ button next to the ‘Play’ one. There *is* a use case for this, I promise 😉

16. And since I’m asking for all the impossibles from a non-existent entity – a couple of hundred thousand $$ and some 1337 skillz for me to start my startup? Oh, and a US work visa would be great too, if you could get that organised.

Thanks! *grin*

Merry Happy Christmas everyone!!

How do you describe Twitter?

September 13th, 2010 § 1 comment § permalink

I found myself in a situation where I needed to describe Twitter to a friend yesterday. She is what I classify as a regular internet user – knows about and uses the ‘big’ sites – Facebook, YouTube, Google & Gmail (but has no knowledge of all their other services).

I tried explaining how it works – you send an sms, and it is broadcast, and others can read and respond to it – but the look on her face was telling me I wasn’t doing a very good job.

I eventually said “It’s like IM for status updates”. That seemed to get the idea across, but I don’t think it describes the service very well.

I can’t believe I don’t know how to explain Twitter despite using the service for something like 3 years now…. but then, it’s one of those things that needs to be experienced to be understood isn’t it?

Help me out please – how do you explain Twitter to someone new to it?

How to make location-based services less underwhelming

August 26th, 2010 § 2 comments § permalink

There’s been an explosion of location-based services lately, with even Facebook hopping in on the action, and frankly, I’m underwhelmed.
Before I go on though, I should make something clear. I don’t have one of them fancy new-age phones – I use a Nokia 6500-s. I have data on it, but no apps, so my opinion of location-based services is coloured by using their WAP sites.

Most of these services are focused on broadcasting where you are, listening in on friends’ broadcasts and simple gaming (check in, collect a badge, trade virtual goods etc). I feel that this gets boring really quickly. After the initial rush of unlocking badges and becoming the mayor of places on Foursquare, I became completely apathetic towards it. Getting a badge these days makes me go ‘Meh…’ and the only mayorship I really want is that of Red Rock Coffee or of a friend’s house. (cos let’s face it, that’s hilarious. :P) Oh, and don’t even get me started on FB Places. I checked in there once and lost all motivation to click through again.

What I’d really like is more practical use out of these services. Some ideas:

Location-based recommendation (idea A):
When I check in somewhere, show me what’s available around me, not just which of my friends are around me. Would be very valuable when I’m travelling or in an unfamiliar area. The tools I use to do this right now are either crowd-sourcing via Twitter or browsing Google Maps.

Location-based recommendation (idea B):
Keep track of the types of places I check in to and recommend similar places when I change my location. For example, I check in a lot at cafĂ©s around Mountain View and Palo Alto. When I’m in San Francisco, give me cafĂ© recommendations! My check ins are a valuable insight into my preferences and habits. Use it to keep me interested and informed.

Event planning functionality:
My location doesn’t only exist in the now. It has a past and a future. An event isn’t only about when it is. It is also about where it is. Merge these aspects and allow me to plan or schedule in my location-based service. This is what we have to do now – event discovery -> rsvp on a service like Eventbrite -> add to calendar -> get reminders via email -> check calendar/event site for address -> attend event -> check in. Why not bring parts of the whole process together? I’m thinking Plancast infused into Foursquare.

Discovery:
Slightly related to the first idea listed above. As far as I can tell, the only way to find new locations is to browse where your friends have been or to check out the newly-crowned mayors list. If I am in City A why not show me a list of places with the most check ins, with the most tips, with the highest mayorship turn over…. You’ve got all this information, why not lemme at it?!

Location-based irl social networking:
Facilitate irl connections between people who have checked in at the same location. Guess what? I’ve done this by simply searching for a location on Twitter. People tweet that they’re where I am, and sometimes I reach out with an @ reply, and we connect irl. Or allow businesses to connect with people who check-in regularly. This already happens irl (with attentive businesses) and via Twitter. Once again, this information is out there. Just make it easy for us to use it.

I have a few more ideas which need to be fleshed out more, so I’ll leave it at that. Also, most of these aspects could be monetised. I’m running out of time – it’s time to check out of Red Rock – so might leave that for another day.

Best ‘Come back and visit us’ email ever – Hollrr

August 12th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

I found this waiting for me in my inbox this morning:

Seriously, how cute is that?! First it made me laugh, then I read it again and went Awwwwwww. And now I’m sharing it. Compare this to most ‘come back’ emails which I open and barely read past the subject line. This not only got my full attention, it compels me to go back to hollrr.com and use it again.

So yes hollrr, I guess your flirting did get you somewhere… see ya back at the web app! 😉

Bugger Quit Facebook Day, I'm stayin!

June 8th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

So Quit Facebook Day has come and gone. From what I can tell, two of my friends, Mark Pesce and Nathanael Boehm deleted their profile. (It’s hard to be sure just how many deleted their profiles, from what I can tell my total friends’ count has gone up *scratching head*). That’s cool, I have them on Twitter anyways.

I have read theirs and others’ reason for quitting, and on an idealistic level, they have a point. I’m pissed at Facebook, I feel like they’ve reneged on the deal we had, I don’t trust them AT ALL, and I would like out too.

Reality however, as so often is the case, is a bummer. The fact of the matter is that I am too embedded in that closed off, archive-free (a pet peeve, indulge me) ecosystem. It’s not about content. A while ago I made a conscious effort to put my content elsewhere and port it all into Facebook. I basically stopped trusting Facebook with my stuff a while ago.

But here’s what Facebook has that I can’t give up – I *won’t* give up – my people. I’ve spent immeasurable time and effort building my circle and there are people there I don’t have access to outside Facebook. It’s not that we won’t be able to keep in touch outside it, but the fact is that our relationship exists *wholly* within it. We would never email each other – exchanging comments on status updates and wall posts is the extent of our relationship. I would warn against trivialising these relationships due to the nature of the communication. These friends of mine diversify and add colour to my horizon. They’re like the neighbours you see in the street – you exchange pleasantries, clear out each other’s mailboxes when the other’s away – close enough to care, far enough to not share your secret recipes with.

Another form of communication that doesn’t exist outside Facebook is third-party-enabled exchanges. This is the stuff you see that friends of a friend have put up about them. Stuff that you wouldn’t see otherwise. And before you yell ‘STALKER’ at me and run off, I’ve got a real world example for ya.
I’m in California, my parents are in Singapore, and my brother takes off for an European tour with his trash metal band. I had no way of reaching my brother, so my only irl source of keeping in touch with him was through my mother. There was one night when I had a call with my mother who was updating me where bro was and how he was, while at the same time looking at pictures of his trip that his band mate had uploaded to Facebook and tagged him in. I in turn was able to update my mother that it looked like he was still in one piece and having fun. 😛

Resharing on my wall
And then the kicker – I take an image my brother’s friend (who I’m not connected to) has uploaded and share it on my wall, thus allowing all my people who aren’t friends with him to see what he is up to. The comment in that wall post is by a friend of mine currently in India. That’s a four-party-exchange of information that would not have happened this easily any where else.

So give me any argument you have against Facebook, any other platform you can build to replace it – as long as it doesn’t replicate the immediate, intimate and enabled methods of communication Facebook currently provides, I can’t leave. I’m staying, and while I’m there, what I can do is make efforts to educate my people on best Facebook practices, and aid organisations like DataPortability.org to make big bad Facebook a more trustworthy place to hang out. For what it’s worth, I have hope that we’ll all live happily ever after.

Study: Twitter Is Not a Very Social Network

May 12th, 2010 § 0 comments § permalink

Given that Twitter was set up for these kinds of non-reciprocal follower/following relationships, it doesn’t come as a surprise that many users would use Twitter to follow breaking news channels and celebrities. The fact that almost 80% of these relationships are one-way relationships, however, does come as a surprise and hints at how Twitter’s mainstream users use the service more as a news medium than as a social network.

I looked at the slides, and I think the one thing they’re missing is @ replies. From the few celeb profiles I follow and have looked at, they don’t follow all followers back, which is understandable, but many engage with their followers. There is a second level of reciprocity that needs to be taken into account.

Would also be interested in seeing how the big accounts (profiles with a gazillion followers) and small accounts (people who have signed up, looked around and buggered off) skew the stats.

Posted via web from dekrazee1’s posterous

Real time is the best thing since sliced bread, but where are my archives?

November 28th, 2009 § 3 comments § permalink

This issue is fast turning into one of my pet peeves, hence the following rant.

Dear Facebook and Twitter,

I’m a active member of your sites. So active (productive even) in fact, that I have thousands of Tweets, likes, shared items, comments, you name it. I’m doing exactly what you want and need me to do. So why won’t you let me access them?!?!?! *pulls hair out*

Why is it, Facebook, that I can’t search my past activity? Why is it you won’t let me search wall posts I’ve received? Why is it there is nowhere I can go to view the comments I’ve made?
And Twitter, you’re no better. Thanks to you, I’ve had to resort to ‘favouriting’ my own tweets so I can find them when I need them.

(I mean, seriously, how insane is that?! Not to mention it makes me look like a complete egomaniac… *tsk*)

This might seem like a trivial issue to some, but there is a lot of information exchanged in micro-exchanges on both these services. Information directly related to and useful to me. And every once in a while, I need access to this information. It would be great to be able to perform a simple search and get the information I’m looking for. And I don’t understand why I can’t already do just that.

Living in the moment is great, but I would like the ability to wander down memory lane too.

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