Thursday, January 22, 2009

Calling something "beta" is an excuse for releasing crap code

There have been some amusing developments in the last 24 hours for the Labour Party's latest online strategy it seems. Yesterday, Ed Miliband, "launched" LabourSpace via the Labour List website. The problem, spotted quite clearly by people in CCHQ, was that the site had been in existence for over two years already, and had already been launched/relaunched once before at the 2008 Spring Conference as PuffBox noted at the time.

The quick press release put out by the Tories essentially saying "yet more relaunches" was then quickly rebutted by another article on Labour List penned by some guy called Tom Miller, where he argued that Tories just don't get the internet, or understand technology having spoken to the Labour Party. They told him,
"It has been standard practice for years with websites. We put the website online in beta before officially launching it - a practice followed by, among others, Microsoft and Google."
Tom Miller then followed up with this wonderful "yes man" comment which didn't stop to think about what had been said and how accurate it actually was.

This is a sensible point. Have the tories really never heard of Beta sites? Did they really fail to notice that, erm, this was one? In total fairness, the header section of LabourSpace has made this apparent to anyone with half a brain for a very long time. Perhaps half is too much?

“We are launching it officially today and getting the message out there that this is a great opportunity for people beyond the Labour Party to have a say in what they think should be in the next Labour manifesto.”

In other words, the launch is taking place as the development phase ends. Disgraceful!

For a start… well, [Tories] just don’t get the internet, do [they]?
I found Miller's response particularly amusing, and also worth commenting on because looking at his biography suggests that he is a God of Technology. A recent Law and Politics graduate, since when he has worked for the Labour Party, done a bit of public affairs and is now settled as a CLP campaign organiser in Woking. Clearly a man with ample knowledge of technology and development strategies.

The fact is is that Labour's "rebuttal" is stupidly wrong, and so to is Tom Miller's cheer leading of it. It is not "standard practice" to slap the word beta on something and then release it for public consumption. That is actually what is called "bad" practice. The argument that Google do it is also crap because, as Larry Page himself said, "it's really a messaging and branding thing". As for Microsoft doing it, they have beta releases by invite of software, not "chuck it on the web and slap the word beta on it" (see Windows 7 beta release currently for reference).

Lets get something clear right now, the only reason for slapping the word "beta" on anything is to allow oneself to release crap code and simultaneously say "we take no responsibility for this crap code". To argue that because Google did it, and continue to do with their stable production-ready Gmail platform is a flawed argument, because, if you want you can sign up to Google Labs and test real beta features in Gmail.

What the Labour Party rebuttal and the commentary by their technology whizzkid Tom miller tells us is, in fact, that they don't get he Internet or technology and are more than happy to throw shit code on the web and then when anyone says "hey this is shit code" they hide behind the whole "it's only beta".

However, lets take the Labour Party on their word for a second. Apparently it's been in beta for years and now it's production ready for official launch. Interesting therefore that it now says "Beta 0.2" on the site. What I'm wondering is why Tom Miller, who gets the Internet and technology and is by no means "out of touch" has not picked up on the version numbering?

You would have thought he would right given he's so "with it". 0.2 is not a production ready version number. To anyone with half a brain, to use Miller's own words, you're not ready for the big time release of code with an "official launch" - which Labour said they did yesterday - until you get to 1.0. If you're still on 0.2. you most certainly have not come to the end of a "development phase" and you're still in the "half baked code" release stage.

As I said earlier, the defence that slapping "beta" on something then releasing it to the world is standard practice is crap. It's bad practice, and it has been helped along by the likes of Google doing it for branding reasons and prats that work in public affairs who think they get technology because they know how to click the Start button start bandying around terms they really have no knowledge of and then blur the line between good development and bad development.

Being in beta means it is not ready. Having an "official launch" and being on version 0.2 is an even bigger joke.


Anoneumouse said...

You can beta eggs


You cant beta wanking !

Westminster watch said...


I am truly appalled at your lack of technical knowledge and political awareness. We are now in an environment where any acolyte of someone who has 'saved the world' can, by diktat, rewrite conventional wisdom.

Please desist from commenting negatively on any future outpouring from this faultless government - we really don't understand how lucky we all are.

My mole tells me that at this very moment Microsoft and Google are preparing a release to all their users redesignating their use of the term 'beta' for all further equivalent releases.

What b****cks!

kinglear said...

The thing I find so utterly depressing is that Brown's Labour Party ( probably because of its Dear Leader )is unable to comment, act, propose or anything else without being utterly partisan and non-objective.
I think everyone would think more of this shower if a) they told the truth b) they didn't double count and c)admitted occassionally they were wrong.
By the way, they no longer actually need to double count. The amounts of money being borrowed and sprayed around are so staggering and enormous that most people have simply blanked them from their concious minds.

Anonymous said...

"0.2 is not a production ready version number...If you're still on 0.2. you most certainly have not come to the end of a "development phase" and you're still in the "half baked code" release stage."

I presume therefore Gordon's official title is actually:

The Right Honourable Gordon Brown MP beta 0.2

Letters From A Tory said...

Actually, that Labour site has got some good advice. It says 'Be The Change', which I am - I'm voting Conservative.

John M Ward said...

"Be tha change", LFAT? I think that's a typo, and is supposed to be a note to the coder. It probably should read:

"Beta: change!"

ConcentricCircles said...,2009-01-22

I assume that they have permission to reporoduce the image of the For Dummies publication on that page?

Just a thought.

Plato said...

I've just attempted to leave a comment and the text box appears off the page and then doesn't word wrap either, so I can't see what I was typing half-way through a sentence.

What a stupid boy.

DC said...

National ID card database Beta anyone?

Dennis said...

Leave 'im, Dizzy, 'e's not wurf it.