1. Large Volume of Testers – Beta testing offers a company the ability to get a large number of testers interacting with the web site (or application) quickly. This provides plenty of opportunities to obtain feedback from real-world usage. Smart companies will usually post a Bug log or list of known issues, so that they will (hopefully) not receive a continuous stream of reports of the same issue, over and over and over again.
2. Live Testing – The great thing about Alpha and Beta testing is it's live testing, using the actual environment that the web site or application was originally intended for. And because it's live testing, results are obtained in real-time, meaning it won't take long before users report items are not working as desired.
3. Real User Testing – The beauty of Beta testing is it is being done by real users, who have no pre-built assumptions about why things work, or how they are supposed to work. This means a wide variety of items are tested and reported on by real users, including usability, function, content (including help or instructions content!), error messages and other more nebulous items. All of these and more will be scrutinized and reported.
Perhaps some of these items were
forgotten lightly covered by the design and development teams. Real users will test all systems and their feedback can greatly help add additional information and optimization of these critical areas.
4. Beta Means Continual Tweaking – Unlike boyfriends or husbands, you can change a web site or application, especially one that is being Alpha or Beta tested. With Beta testing, new versions with adjustments and optimizations can and will be deployed on an on-going basis. Because users have been warned, they should accept this and even help by testing the updates, to ensure they achieved the desired goal of fixing issues.
This by the way is an advantage over a final version of software, in that Beta versions allow for design and development improvements that do not have to be provided to OEMs or business partners as a software release. This is a distinct advantage for a company that's not quite ready to support a mass-produced (and consumed) application post launch.
Cons of Alpha or Beta Testing of Web Sites or Applications:
1. The Web site or Application Must be Built – Perhaps one of the major drawbacks of Alpha and Beta testing is the fact that the web site or application has to be built, meaning significant time and resources (meaning cost) were applied to construct it.
The cost of going back and making drastic changes to fix issues uncovered by Alpha or Beta testing can cause concern, and sometimes resistance, especially if a company has not allocated enough resources and time for post-Beta optimization.
This often results in what I like to call "Beta Momentum," which is the resistance to change applied by the business due to the costs of making substantial tweaks found during Beta testing. I can think of several examples of web sites and applications that were rolled out to the public after Beta without all problems being fixed, perhaps you've seen a few too.
This trade-off of live but flawed executions might even defeat the purpose of using Beta testing as an optimization strategy.
2. Beta Testing is Chaotic – The thing that makes Beta testing so great, multiple users with little or no knowledge of the expected outcomes testing various random items, also makes it weak.
Since there is often no organized structure to how and where users test, there is no organized structure to receiving feedback. Some issues may be reported over and over again, while other issues are virtually ignored due to lack of use, or lack of awareness that there's even a problem.
Throwing an unlimited number of Monkeys at typewriters may end up in a Shakespearean play being written, but throwing an unlimited number of testers in a beta test does not mean a perfect test of the application will be developed (even though some testers doth protest too much).
3. Beta Testers May Not Match Expected End-Users – Opening a web site or application to any and all testers could be opening a Pandora's Box, in that the feedback received may be more harmful than helpful. Typically web sites and applications are targeted for specific end-user types (in usability they are referred to as Personas). If testers don't match the profile of the expected Persona's, then feedback collected from testers may not be appropriate, or worse, may be counter-productive.
Consider a public beta test of a web site targeted for females over the age of 55 that are interested in health information. Unless the developers have created a beta registration process that screens to match this profile of user, they may not know who is using the site, and whether the feedback they are receiving from their beta testers is accurate for that target.
4. Beta Testing Exposes Your Secret Sauce – Most web sites and applications have the ultimate goal of generating income for a company. Most of the time, there's a competitive advantage of a new gee-whiz feature or function that makes using this new web site or application compelling, and makes people want to pay for it and use it.
Exposing your gee-whiz feature or function to the public for free in Beta form means others now know about it too, and can potentially reverse engineer it, or go it one better and start working on an even more exciting gee-whiz item. Your secret sauce will be out there for others, including your competitors, to see well before you may be in a position to start selling the final production version.