“We’re often asked why so many Google applications seem to be perpetually in beta,” begins a post at the Official Google Blog. The post…doesn’t explain why Google loves to label so many things as beta for so long. But it does announce that the company’s taking the bushel of useful apps that make up Google Docs out of beta: Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Docs, and Google Talk are now officially ready for prime time. The beta labels are coming down today.
It’s easy to figure out why Google’s shedding the beta label: It’s devoting considerable energy to the for-pay version of Google Apps aimed at corporate users. For some of the IT managers who’ll decide to adopt (or avoid) Google Apps, the beta label might as well read this product is a rough draft that shouldn’t be rolled out to large numbers of people unless you want support headaches. In fact, it’s kind of amazing that Google left the beta identifier on a service it was selling to big business for so long.
Google isn’t doing away with its beta labels altogether–Knol, for instance, still sports one. But I wouldn’t object if the company used them sparingly, and only in the old-school sense: for products that have bugs and rough edges which the company intends to eliminate on a set schedule. That was a useful term, but it’s been almost completely devalued.
Once upon a time, Google’s betamania was a fun idiosyncrasy, and it felt like Google was letting the world in on stuff that was exclusive and exciting. But if just about everything is in perpetual public beta, the term has no value. And so many other sites have shamelessly borrowed Google’s approach to beta that it’s no longer entertaining. It’s pretty much redundant.
The Web, by definition, is a great big beta. Come to think of it, life itself is a great big beta…
Here’s more or less incontrovertible proof that Google’s beta label is meaningless: A new Google Labs feature lets you put it back on Gmail if you feel like it. How about other choices, like “Early Alpha” or “Service Pack 11?”