I had a conversation last week, and yet another in the same line, with someone over Google’s excessive stay-in-Beta policy. When I say excessive that is because they never seem to come out of it.

The product we were discussing was Gmail that he, mistakenly, believed was out of Beta. He is not alone. Most of the people I know who use Gmail and other Google products do not realise they are mostly – I say mostly because I don’t use them all – still in Beta.

Now this is not an attack on the products themselves or on Google it is a discussion about them never leaving a state. In fact I use Google’s products a lot, I find them convenient and easy – especially for non-business related tasks and running my private life with various activities…

But I have a problem with them staying in Beta.

Beta, to me, is a test state. It says this product is not only not finished, but if it screws up and randomly deletes your entire life and everything you have been doing with it, then meh., sorry, we’re in Beta.

Again, I am not claiming that Google mean this, or would do this, or even imply this, or rely on it as a way of insuring themselves against litigation or reprisal. I am saying the term Beta when used with software development carries those things all by itself. I am saying that I cannot wholly trust them if their products stay in Beta.

If someone told me, and they have, that they use Google Docs and Gmail for all their business activities my first response is to tell them to make sure they have a sensible alternative. Now I would usually recommend that people have secure back-ups or use sensible archiving anyway, but I also feel compelled to tell people that the product they are using is Beta. And that carries its own set of implications.

There is no full rational to this, when one examines it. Beta is an indication that they are constantly developing their product to make it better, adding new features and abilities, making it more stable and working on a newer platform…

But that is also true of many products that are released without the Beta tagline.

So what do Google really mean by the Beta, do they mean it is unfinished? All software can be seen as unfinished, that’s why we have versions.

I guess I just don’t completely get it, part of me wants to tell them to ‘act like they have a pair’ (please excuse the crude gender stereotype), or to have it explicitly told to me why everything is in Beta. And, no, I don’t mean told in some hard to find section of the terms and conditions or on some random developers blog, but with a big-old link on the front page of their Beta sites saying “Why are we Beta?”, that links to a discussion of why they chose this.

As for why it annoys me more than it should, Well that’s not Google’s fault, it is the people who clone them. The sites who declare themselves functional but ‘Beta’ in a similar font and position to the mighty G’s and then bring you a crappy experience with poorly designed code and a bad manifesto, but then say, ‘hey, don’t blame us mister peeps, we’re Beta’.