Beta Software You Can’t Trust

The other day I decided to offer credit card payment capability.  I quickly narrowed it down to two choices—JPMorgan Chase, and PayPal.

Chase was professional and comprehensive, but required me to fill out forms, fax them in, then phone someone a day later. Uh uh, not me.

PayPal offered a cool online menu for creating customized Outlook-generated email with embedded credit card payment links.

I went with PayPal. Then the fun started.

Let’s just say it didn’t work.  I called PayPal tech support.

“Oh yeah, I see. Hmm, you’re right, it doesn’t work. Well, that’s beta software, and we really don’t support it.”
“If you don’t support it—why do you offer it on your website?”
“Well, some people like it. But it’s beta, we really don’t support it.”

Now, I like PayPal.  It’s a business I’d like to see succeed.  Nice technology.  Nice people, good customer service manners, cool techies.

But the end result—in this case—is flakey. Doesn’t work. Undependable.  Can’t rely on it. Untrustworthy in that sense.

And the big sin?  They think it’s OK!  After all, it’s just beta!  What do you expect?

Increasingly, I expect it to work.

PayPal is not alone.  I remember discovering Plaxo, one of the early contact management software updating programs, and thinking, “what a great idea.”  It was being offered in beta test format.

I tried it.  Spent hours on it.  Pissed off several friends.  I called to complain, and the nice/service-oriented/tech-savvy person offered me a free year if I’d come back in a month and try their update.

I did.  It was not updated enough.  I left them, and now here I am saying bad things about them online.  They blew two chances with me, and thought it was OK!

I think it started with Netscape. In its early days, academics and gurus were raving about this new business model that allowed customers to actually contribute to the design. User-friendly! Cutting-edge!

True. But also flakey. Undependable. Untrustworthy.  But they thought it was OK!

I’d be interested in hearing from others, but for my money, the trend has gone way past the equilibrium point. 

I don’t want to help design some trivial widget—I just want the stupid thing to work.

And I certainly don’t want to contribute to testing something I’m going to be depending on—like payment systems, Outlook add-ins, printer driver updates, data converter programs.

The tweaks just ain’t worth it. Dependability is worth it.

We are well past the invention of major new categories. We are into the ability to trust things like we used to trust dial-tone. That is to say, we want 99.9% dependability.  But too many developers still think selling mediocrity-in-progress is OK!

The new killer app isn’t email.  It’s dependability.  Software producers, you’re on notice.  I’m quite happy to pay full retail for a working product; I’m not falling for anymore “get it first” or shareware-priced new software.

I want software I can trust. Software that works.  I’ll pay good money for it.

But I’m done paying you money for the privilege of debugging your marginally-interesting flakeware.

Do your own damn beta.  It’s not OK by me anymore.

7 replies
  1. Eric Brown
    Eric Brown says:

    Personally, I like Beta software and products…they give me a chance to play with ‘new things’. 

    That being said, Beta software shouldn’t be included in your business model…never never never put a Beta product out and expect people to pay to use it.  This seems to be the norm in the "web 2.0" world today (I hate that phrase BTW).

    There are good Beta products out there.  Think about Gmail (its still in Beta), Grandcentral (has always been Beta) and others…but the key here is that these Beta products are requiring people to pay to use them.

  2. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:

    I echo Eric’s praise of gmail and GrandCentral.  Ironically, those are two products that would be great if they did require people to pay. 

    Interesting how the high quality products–to use those two examples–get marketed in a high quality way, whereas flakeware charges the user for the privilege of feeling the product’s failure.

  3. Red Rick
    Red Rick says:

    So what was so bad about faxing paperwork if it’s results were what you wanted in the first place?  See, just like Ma-Bell was back before the low cost/low service telecom vendors revailed, you were required to do things you didn’t like (perhaps using snail mail vs fax) but you got the 99.9% reliability and dependability.  Sometimes we are our own worst enemies.       

  4. Hans de Kraker
    Hans de Kraker says:

    Everything comes with disclaimers today – BETA and non BETA. Vodafone Australia used to have fantastic service. Now they are allover the show, BETA or not.

    You should build things to work – regardless. Beta should really be a testing phase. Maybe not so much about fixing bugs but more ‘burn your hand on the hot stove and hit burns’ type of testing. How people respond to new requested behaviour.

    All in context. Some issues are not dramatic – others are. Will give you my Paypal example. I share your sentiments towards Paypal. However the breached trust with me as well. I made a payment to a supplier. $1300 dollars. They supplier did not have a Paypal account yet so he gets it via email. He presses the "Don’t accept" button for the payment. He calls me and lets me know. That was it. Try looking for information – then resort to calling and get a very friendly call centre operator. The call centre operator apologizes that it may take between 10 t0 3o days . However, it could even take more than 30 days. Now that is completely unacceptable to me. $1300 stuck (I got it back after 12 days) in the system. Not acceptable – will not use it again. This was not BETA. If they had averted me that this could happen and in big bold red font that it could take more than 30 days if the other party does not accept the payment.

    Things that work work really well for me;-)

    Regardless of the BETA

  5. Marshall Green
    Marshall Green says:

    One commenter used Gmail as an example of good ‘beta’ software. Gmail has never failed me and I’ve also used Firefox beta releases in the past without any problems. It looks like there is just a lot of good and bad software, regardless of whether the developer calls it ‘beta’. Don’t pay for beta software in the future though, because the developer won’t take responsibility!


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