On the whole, we’re a bunch of geeks here at Outside Line. It’s fair to say, with some random exceptions, that we’re not the types to be found in the VIP section of some hot new club launch. Luckily, the internet offers similar, but completely different, and yet just as exclusive scenarios in the form of beta trials – where you’re invited to be the first to try out something that everyone else (at least in the industry) is virtually clambering over themselves to get access to. There’s also great satisfaction in being the one to invite the rest of the office in on the action – like reassuring the doorman that your mate is ‘alright… honest’.
Beta [pronunciation like the old SEGA intro] trials are notoriously hard to get onto. The smart and talented folks at internet start-ups have a whole heap of things to consider when seeking people to test their product. Can you sacrifice the need for feedback in order to get maximum buzz from the cool kids? How many people do you invite without your company becoming last minute’s news?
So how do you become a beta tester? There’s definitely an element of luck involved. These are normal people you’re contacting when you request access. They might just like the cut of your jib at that exact moment. If there is an email option, always take it, and make sure you personalise your message.
If it’s purely about reputation and Klout (a realistic tool for start-ups to select beta testers) then a lot of us, myself included, wouldn’t stand a chance. But start-ups know they need people who will actually try their products. Can they expect decent feedback from someone so in demand for their influence 24/7? Demonstrating a genuine interest in what you are registering for and being prepared to give both positive and negative feedback is surely a key reason you are selected.
Recently I’ve been lucky enough to be included on two beta trials.
First up was the Forecast app for Android. Upon learning a colleague was using the iPhone equivalent, I was tweeted an Android version was coming soon. One email later and I was included on the trial.
Forecast is a nice extension to Foursquare. Using its API it allows you to Forecast when you’ll be at a Foursquare location. It’s a genuinely novel and useful app. Will it catch on? That all harks back to the debate we’ve always had raging about location based check-ins (I will continue to be a fence sitter). Being in the beta does let you see genuinely substantial changes being made at short notice. Your suggestions sometimes get considered and each version does show an improvement on the last. Forecast has improved their Android app on a near daily basis, which is great to see.
Vizualize.me – Firstly, annoying spelling for my UK spell check, but a really strong and visually appealing service. Sure to be popular, it syncs with your LinkedIn profile and instantly produces a series of funky looking CVs that you’ve always wanted, but always known you’re incapable of producing. Infographics have changed the way we look at many things. With the increasingly popular trend of sexing-up of the dull (CVs are rarely that interesting), it will get popular fast, but will need to produce more and more templates that are practical as well as nice to look at. It’s important that it remains new and unique rather than just becoming the new version of a Word template, and this is the kind of feedback I intend to give the creators.
Above all, be a good beta tester. For starters, playing around with the app will help a lot. Don’t ignore the opportunity you’ve been given and make sure you deliver some feedback. There’s probably nothing worse than not receiving anything from a tester. Assume your praise/criticism has never been noted before, at this stage the developers aren’t necessarily looking for you to massage their egos, instead they’re looking for ways to make their app even better, so be honest. It’ll make you feel like a pioneer, promise!