The product is only in beta.

If you’ve been frustrated by the perpetual beta software on the web, or the poor quality of software that has clearly been shipped before its time, then you’ll identify with my latest article at The Industry Standard, Thou Shalt Ship No Software Before Its Time:

Today, betas are instantly available to everyone worldwide; there are rarely limits. They are used to attract free publicity, or to drive user demand through "invite only"-style launches. And a beta is not a one-time event. The software changes frequently; new features are added constantly. If problems occur the answer is often not to fix them, but to state that "the product is only in beta". But people use the product as if it were final. At best, the service might not work exactly as advertised. At worst, your data could be lost, destroyed, or leaked.

Read the whole thing here. And while you’re at it, take a look around. Make a bet on the current predictions. You’ll rarely find so much information, and so many viewpoints, all in one place.

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Huh?

Yes I’m one of those people that has to use every new thing, like Twitter for example. And I often find myself in a room full of people where nobody has heard of the thing, and I find myself having to explain why I use it.

Which is usually greeted by blank stares and comments like "Why would anyone want to do that?"

Then a few months later I meet people and they ask me if I’ve heard of this thing called Twitter, or whatever the new thing is. Happens every time.

Update: Robert Scoblesays it doesn’t matter if Kara Swisher’s friends aren’t on Twitter, because plenty of people are. But Kara didn’t ask her friends; she basically asked 100 random people at a wedding in Washington, DC. You’d probably get the same response pretty much anywhere else. I on the other hand typically find myself in a room full of technology folks and get the same response.

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“Free” Can Disrupt Your Business

My latest column at The Industry Standard is up:

“Free” is disruptive. It can create value. User generated content, in the form of videos provided for free by users to YouTube, created a valuation of $1.65 billion when they were purchased by Google. Or it can destroy value. The easy availability of free music, though not always legal, has decimated the music business.

You can read the whole thing here.

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Impossible?

I wouldn’t want to be this guy:

“Space and time are tangled together in a sort of a four-dimensional fabric called space-time,” said Charles Liu, an astrophysicist with the City University of New York, College of Staten Island and co-author of the book “One Universe: At Home In The Cosmos.”

[...]

Mathematically, you can certainly say something is traveling to the past, Liu said. “But it is not possible for you and me to travel backward in time,” he said. [emphasis mine]

It’s a bit dangerous to make judgements on what is or isn’t possible based on the knowledge you have today. It’s this kind of statement that gets quoted and remembered forever.

It was once impossible that the earth revolved around the sun. Cars were impossible. Space travel used to be impossible.Computers smaller than room-sized were impossible.

He’s going to seem a bit dumb when we’re all travelling backward and forward in time.

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Upgraded any software lately?

My latest column over at The Industry Standard talks about software upgrades in the Windows world:

It’s not just a lack of compelling features that are keeping people from buying new software. It’s also a fear of change. Customers are forced to abandon old processes and relearn new software as it changes substantially from version to version — for instance, Office 2007 users were presented with a distracting "ribbon" interface for commonly used commands, instead of the tried-and-true drop-down menus at the top of an open window. Consumers buying new software also have to worry about unknown bugs and performance issues.

Are you rushing to upgrade your software to the latest and greatest? Or are you just fine with what you have right now?

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You may not duplicate nor profit from…

I’m following the debate on Shyftr taking the RSS feeds of others, summarized nicely in this post by Robert Scoble.

Here’s a company that is building a business around taking entire RSS feeds without any kind of consent (yes, you might call that stealing) and republishing them, building a business around them and potentially profiting from them, and they have this paragraph in their terms of use:

You may not duplicate nor profit from any part or portion of the Shyftr.com web site, which includes: content from any feeds, the Shyftr.com logo or likeness, or any additional content appearing on the Shyftr.com web site. You may use the Shyftr.com buttons that are provided as links back to the Shyftr.com web site, but they may not be modified in any way.

I wonder just how many bloggers would choose to offer up their feed if asked?

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Self-serve. Like it or not.

Back in Nashua, NH, my 24 hour Home Depot has eight or ten checkouts with cashiers, along with a couple of self-serve checkouts. The self-serve checkouts were rarely used.

The Home Depot near me in Waterloo, Canada, has six checkouts with cashiers, and four or six self-serve checkouts. Yesterday I went there to buy something only to find long lines for the only two cashiers, and only one or two people at the self-serve stations.

Instead, as usually happens, other cashiers offer to help you self checkout. They end up scanning the items, bagging them, and swiping my debit card, leaving me only to enter my PIN number. Just like I would at a checkout with a cash register.

Now I’m sure that the use of self-checkout by the cashier is being tallied by some bean counter as successful self-serve use. But if the marketing people from Home Depot took the time to actually watch what customers do they might actually get a dose of reality.

These stores want you to think that self-serve checkouts are there for the convenience of the customers, when in reality they are intended to reduce staffing costs for the store. Why would a customer want to do more work themselves when the price is the same either way? The cost of the service is included in the price.

And in the end they do neither. Customer satisfaction is decreased because they don’t want to checkout themselves, and are forced to wait longer for service, and cashiers still do the work in the end.

Merely spending an hour at Home Depot on a Saturday afternoon is all the research you need to know that. And in the end I just left my purchase and walked out.

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Valuing art by taxing it.

I agree with Michael Arrington. Ethan Kaplan’s post about valuing art, possibly by government intervention, is a bit self-serving.

Simply put, not everyone values art. And among those who do, their is great disagreement on what constitutes art. That’s why there are famous painters and writers, and there are those that we never hear about. It isn’t even quality either; sometimes it is quite arbitrary. Ethan skirts this point; he defines even bad music as art:

Music in the end is a form of art. It is polemic, but I stand by the fact that the worst to the best music is art without any regard to its inherent quality. Bad music is art in the way that we deem the music bad.

But isn’t bad art just worthless art?Should we be happy to drive Edsels, because even a bad car is still a car?

Ethan clearly wants to make a case for a guaranteed living for artists, regardless of the quality of their work. He says that some countries do this:

Within Europe, it is actually pretty easy (relatively) to make a living as an artist, depending on the country. I have friends in certain countries who are Artists by trade, supported through government programs. Canada supports art through liberal granting. In those areas, the value of the artifact of art is less of a concern than the value of the process of creating.

Government bureaucrats deciding what art is. Is that what we really want? Aren’t artists supposed to suffer for their art?

I think that there should be a guaranteed living for software developers too. After all, isn’t bad software still software too? Software is an art as well, isn’t it? Or is art limited to certain forms of expression?

This is just a roundabout way of justifying a tax to download music, and perhaps pictures and writing later. Tellingly, these people don’t want the tax to go to the artists. They want it to go to the record companies, who will take their share and dole out the leftover portion to the artists.

The music industry has failed to prove their value, and now they are making a last ditch effort to put a tax in place to save them. Like many others, I don’t download music so I would get nothing of value for this money. And nobody had noted that this is essentially taxation without representation, the kind of thing that would have caused a revolution a couple hundred years ago.

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