Is GMail Finally Complete?

By Craig Buckler

GMail out of betaGoogle has a reputation for never completing a project. GMail has been around for five years but is yet to lose its “beta” tag. Docs, Calendar and many other Google services are still beta-products despite having evolved radically since their initial release.

The company’s reasoning for endless beta cycles has never been clearly explained, and Google always insisted the tag would be removed once the product was ready. I suspect Google’s motivation for beta tagging is a combination of:

  • It reminded users that the web application was experimental and undergoing development.
  • It lowered user expectations of early web systems and gave us a pleasant surprise to find fully-functional online products.
  • Version numbers rarely have much meaning when applied to web applications and services. Unlike shrink-wrapped disk-distributed software, web solutions can be incrementally improved on a daily basis. Few people, other than the developers, will care if it’s version 7 or 57.

However, Google has finally recognised that the “beta” label has different connotations in the business world and it could be damaging their prospects. Many business users are put off because they associate the term with incomplete or untested software.

It is possible that other Google products will follow the example set by Chrome. The web browser had a beta period of just 100 days and is already at version 2, even though it was only released in September 2008. Could Google’s beta habit be over?

Has Google’s insistence on beta labels ever confused or put off any of your clients?

  • @HLJames

    You will never know, but let’s wait and see. I think maybe.

  • Sean Johnson

    having web apps permanently in Beta means you don’t have to apologise if things goes wonky!

  • Happy 4th!
    I’d say the ‘beta’ tag will be coming off of gmail soon. I’ve never heard of anyone not using gmail because of the beta tag, but I imagine there are some companies who will be more likely to encourage their employees to us it if google declares gmail to be out of beta.

  • LazyAndroid

    I don’t see how the example of Chrome is relevant, after all it’s not really one of those “web solutions [that] can be incrementally improved on a daily basis”. It more like those “shrink-wrapped disk-distributed software” solutions.

  • stevieg_83

    I use gmail on my domain and I like it. Still too many time outs for my liking though.

  • Will

    Perhaps this is the kind of thing they created the Google Creative Labs (their internal marketing branch) to be concerned with. Can’t say that I’ve ever seen any of my friends give it a second look but it’s something I’ve definitely wondered about, and I can see how it might send the “wrong message.” I wonder why that is though – couldn’t a Beta tag just as easily convey a sense of constant improvement? Almost like the label of “Beta” guarantees that there are people buzzing behind the scenes somewhere, as opposed to some random Web App that’s been (or will eventually be) abandoned. I totally second what Stevieg_83 says about timeout, but this all kind of speaks volumes about what Google is. I’ve been using Gmail for years now – it’s gone completely down for two of those days and times out more often than I like, but let my Yahoo account do the same thing. I’d be pissed and would totally feel that completely unacceptable.

    I should sign up for a forum account here :)


  • Paul Baarn

    What’s the trigger for this post? Do you have any indication that the beta-label is coming off for Gmail? That’s what I got from the title, but from the content you just seem to speculate and make a different point. It just confused me, even though the point you make is interesting. My 2 cents.

  • cyphix

    Since Gmail started it seems having a “Beta” website is the in-thing.. I have seen oodles of websites using the “Beta” slogan since Gmail did it, whereas previously you rarely saw them.

  • floater

    I think that the Beta tag got a really bad rap back in the days when software (particularly on PCs) was really buggy. I remember MS releasing a hard disc compression application that boosted your hard drive’s capacity by almost 80% but usually caused everything to disappear in a couple of months. (You might think I’m joking but I’m not.) Was that a beta release? Nope. We paid good money for it. Then we paid good money for a better version of the OS. Ah yes, those were the days…

    Now Beta seems to mean “we think it works but let us know if it doesn’t” and then it gets fixed. Some changes really are the better.

  • Anonymous

    Depending on where you are located, so long as the application isn’t fully released, you can continue run it as an R&D tax write off. Once it is released, you have to treat each release as a separate product which has it’s own set of original features so that you can prove you are creating something the market wants. ie you need market demand for your product in order to claim the R&D investment. This is designed to fuel innovation from the tech companies. But, it’s no longer classified as R&D once it’s been released.

  • Paul Baarn Says:
    July 5th, 2009 at 7:53 pm

    What鈥檚 the trigger for this post? Do you have any indication that the beta-label is coming off for Gmail? That鈥檚 what I got from the title, but from the content you just seem to speculate and make a different point. It just confused me, even though the point you make is interesting.

    I second that

  • Jordan

    Is it me, or did the “beta” label just recently come off Google Calendar?

  • Richard – Accessible Web Design

    What surprises me is that I can still use my gmail address, as here in the UK they had to do the embarassing uturn of renaming it googlemail because the gmail name is owned by someone else. Luckily I got in early to get a gmail rather than a googlemail address.
    I’ve forgotten to even look at the beta tag anymore on Google’s products as I just assume that it doesn’t really have a significant meaning now.

    Twitter: @accessibleweb

  • spheroid

    I think this article was put out here mainly to warrant comments…In my opinion, too many websites use “beta”. To me, it has lost all meaning, especially when everyone uses it and I think other sites use it for too long of a period as well. In the article you say no one cares about the version number of a web site. Does the word beta *really* make a difference either?? Not to me.

  • @spheroid
    Are you a typical business user? Many large organisations and public bodies will not even start evaluating software until it’s out of a beta. Look at the situation with MS Windows — often businesses refuse to look at it until SP1 has been released. Many are evaluating Vista even though Windows 7 is due in 3 months.

    Historically, “beta” has been equated with shoddy and untested software. Google and many Web 2.0 organisations have tried to change that perception, but have they succeeded in the business world?

    (That was the point of this article. It’s also noticeable that Google are not using ‘beta’ on some newer products and rumors about GMail and Docs have been circulating for a while.)

  • Google today dropped the ‘beta’ mark on Gmail, Calendar and others

  • Thanks @Stormrider!
    Is anyone still doubting the validity of this post?!!

  • Pingback: Google Officially Drops the Beta Tag()

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