Should You Buy A Beta?

As any geek worth his salt knows, there are plenty of coders hard at work on apps for the geek haven/pay-for-play social network App.net. The geekiest amongst us have even managed to score a beta or ten. The moment access was granted to the proper APIs was the moment that the arms race began to get an application in the App Store. And it looks like we will shortly have a winner in Robin Raszka’s Alpha.

After Robin announced that the Golden Master (or GM) of Alpha had been released to testers and that the application was submitted for review to the App Store, David Barnard expressed his concerns regarding a premature release. He also acknowledged that since this is a group of early adopters, it’s possible that they would not mind the early access, even if they have to pay for it. Regardless, he seems skeptical of releasing what is clearly a very early 1.0 of an application into the wild.

This idea of paying for betas has been on my mind for quite some time now. In fact, I’m starting to work on a project surrounding it, so expect a bit of bias here, but at the moment, people are willing to pay for nothing more than an idea and a catchy video. We jump on Kickstarter daily and offer up our money for a concept; occasionally it’s one that hasn’t even been started. Robin, on the other hand, has a functional, yet admittedly feature light, working product and yet we instinctively feel more concern in paying for this than we do something that hasn’t gotten nearly as far…

I understand that the App Store is the place that we go for solid software and I get David’s concerns that Alpha might not be ready for public consumption, especially considering the importance of reviews upon the success and visibility of an app. But all you need to do is spend five minutes on App.net and it’s apparent that most people arrive looking for an option on iOS and from what I’ve heard (I’m not on the beta), Alpha has a long way to go, but is very usable.

It’s very likely that Robin’s approach will lead to some negative reviews, but this gamble will almost certainly give him the lead and an edge against other developers. Users of App.net understand that the network itself is evolving and changing every day, so why wouldn’t they expect the same from their app?

There are certainly risks associated with an early launch, but if handled well, why wouldn’t we encourage and incentivize Robin to keep improving an app he’s already put tremendous effort into. Hell, we were willing to pay $50 to the network he’s developing Alpha for before it ever even existed. Something tells me that this same audience will risk a fiver on this.

I guess what I’m really getting at and am often confused by here is why are we so willing to fund the creation of non-existent products on sites like Kickstarter, yet reluctant to hand over the same money for early-stage products that actually exist?

I’ll be buying Alpha on day one, but I’d be curious to know what you think about the early release. Will you be buying as well or do you plan to hold off until we’re certain that Alpha is no longer in beta?

5 Responses to Should You Buy A Beta?

  1. I’m not sure if I’ll be buying a beta but there will be many who definitely will. As long as the beta “just works”, I don’t think it’ll be getting any bad reviews. This is a very small community of users and we all understand that it’s not easy developing for such a fresh network.

  2. Good take here, Michael.

    I have been watching app.net. It really is a quiet place at the moment, and until there are apps available it is kind of isolated.

    I know that I cannot access it on the go right now… and the limits any involvement I might have.

    Curious to watch this develop.

    • I’ve been fortunate enough to get on a few of the betas, which make it far more usable (although the mobile interface has come a long way). As for the quiet, I’m actually enjoying that. Better conversations with fewer people.

  3. Marco Arment said something that really stuck with me on the Build and Analyze where he and Dan were discussing app.net. He suggested they drop the price of $50 quickly to drive up more members. When asked how the people that paid $50 would react, he responded with they wouldn’t care. They paid $50 to be first. The question is would you care if a better app came out later for less? I wouldn’t. So I’m in.

    I’m also enjoying the smaller group with better conversations. Feels like the early days of Twitter.

    • I wouldn’t mind one bit if they dropped the price, in fact they likely need to in order to survive. We paid to make it, let more people pay less to sustain it. And yep, early days of Twitter indeed.

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