Contact FutureLearn for Support
Skip main navigation
We use cookies to give you a better experience, if that’s ok you can close this message and carry on browsing. For more info read our cookies policy.
We use cookies to give you a better experience. Carry on browsing if you're happy with this, or read our cookies policy for more information.

Skip to 0 minutes and 1 secondSo when you say never ending betas, what exactly do you mean by that terminology? You guys have enough IT background, so you know what a beta software is. So perhaps if I could maybe just elaborate on that point, Izzy. So there are really three points to the beta software development. So the first part would be that it would be feature-complete, so it's at a reasonable stage of development within the information systems development part. The second part would be in terms of the user interface. Again, that would be a fairly mature stage in development, so you would expect that that is the way that the release of the software is going to look once it's finally released.

Skip to 0 minutes and 45 secondsAnd then the third part is really the testing part. So you're effectively using the release of that software to test that further to a wide audience. And they are the future users. But the beta software is still buggy, isn't it? Yes. So that's what we would expect. And that's why for a long time we did not really want to use beta products. It is as if you are buying a house. You would not like if you need to fix something every week, or if some updates are still brought. You get a new bed, and so on, so we don't want that, isn't it? Yes. Now this is not true.

Skip to 1 minute and 23 secondsThis is not true, because the world has changed in the meantime. So have you seen the Forman movie Amadeus? When it is about Mozart, and when he's talking to the emperor about this escape from the Serail, then he has a big fight with the emperor, although he's very much in need of all the money that the emperor is giving him. And driven by some bad intentions of other people, the emperor says that in this particular part there are a little bit too many notes in this music. And then what Mozart says, it is not too many notes. It is not too few notes. It is just perfect. And that's the idea of perfect of the time.

Skip to 2 minutes and 10 secondsSo nothing can be added. Nothing can be taken away. It is perfect as it is. However, the time has changed since then. So we don't think about it this way anymore. And you will see that as times are becoming more dynamic, it is more and more important to have unfinished products. In the arts, by the way, this is the principle of the non finito. It is coming from the sculpting. And so for example, if you have been to New York, I don't know, about 20 years ago. Every time something breaks down, something needs to be fixed, and there is a traffic jam. You cannot go anywhere.

Skip to 2 minutes and 49 secondsAnd I was once waiting for a friend to come over from Jersey to Manhattan for seven hours. And when I called him on the phone, how long it will take you, he said, I don't know. And I did not want to believe him. He really did not know whether it is half an hour or seven hours. Now this is what also is driving this idea of the beta products. So if you go to New York now, you'll see that in many places, as they were fixing things, they were also redesigning it a little bit. So that you can actually do some maintenance.

Skip to 3 minutes and 21 secondsThis sort of reminds me of the agile project management manifesto, where a working software is better than a finish-- is more value than a total finished product. So you want the customer to have something to be able to play with whilst you're still working on the software. And it's basically one of the tenets of agile project management. Yes, it is basically rolling that out to the final user and keeping this state permanent. That's the idea of the never ending betas. And our perception changed as well. So obviously, if you think about your anti-virus software, you would not want it never to be updated because it is finished. No, that does not work that way.

Skip to 4 minutes and 7 secondsSo obviously, there are many, many areas where we actually demand all these updates and so on. But again, leading on from that, Victor, I think you could probably have one or two different areas which you certainly wouldn't want that to be the case. I'm certainly thinking of perhaps more mission-critical systems. So for example, if you are a head of an airline, would you necessarily want, say, a never ending beta when that specific airline or aircraft is going to help you land the plane? Would you want a never ending beta in that case? Yes, or if I am on a life support system, I would also not want it to be updating for five minutes at some point, isn't it?

Skip to 4 minutes and 48 secondsSo yes, of course. There are areas where we cannot afford that. However, there is a kind of big difference between the two cases. These, what you mentioned where we want a finished solid product, those work on scenarios in which we assume complete. So we think that we can come up with everything and provide something that is stable exactly because it is all mission-critical. However, in most areas of our lives, like even the buildings, but just think about smartphones and that kind of stuff, always new things are coming up. And we want to adapt continually. And there is an additional thing to that.

Skip to 5 minutes and 31 secondsOf course with these mission-critical things, you will never find those software manufacturers that are making the software on our PCs or mobile phones and that kind of stuff. They are not running airplanes or life support systems. Is it possible to have the critical elements of that particular software to be running stably without necessarily needing an update? You used the example of the cell phones. Whilst we receive constant updates on our cell phones, at no points do we receive updates that we can't receive calls, or do we? Well, ideally not. Ideally not, exactly. That's the kind of thing I'm thinking about as well, when I'm thinking about the airplanes or life support.

Skip to 6 minutes and 18 secondsCan the system keep running whilst specific peripheral updates are going on? For instance, it's the classic example of can you change your wheels whilst the cars driving? Exactly. Yes, I mean, you actually concluded this conversation by this, because this is the definition of the betas. So that's what Ian said about what the beta is. Yes, the beta should have these core things functional and stable, but many other things are changing. If the core functional things are still not working properly, that's not even an alpha product. That would be what the software developers call dog food. So what you describe is actually the never ending beta concept.

Never-ending betas

In this video Viktor Dörfler discusses ‘Never Ending Betas’ with Iain Moir and Isi Osagie.

Our computers, tablets, and mobile phones receive updates every couple of days and good security software may update several times a day as if these products were not really finished when we purchased them. This phenomenon is what we might call never-ending betas. However, as we discuss in this round table video, this does not mean a deterioration of technology, it is about our changed perception of technology.

It shows in the example used in the video about Mozart discussing his ‘The Abduction from the Seraglio’ with the emperor Joseph II (in the Forman movie) the old idea of perfection when nothing can be added or removed from what is perfect. To the contrary, the ‘new perfect’ means that nothing can be removed but it is essential to add something. Matthew May describes the same phenomenon as ‘non finito’, borrowing the term from the arts (sculpting): “A shallow relief style, non finito not only left sculptures seemingly unfinished, it made them appear deeper than they actually were.” (Creative Elegance)

Share this video:

This video is from the free online course:

Understanding Information and Technology Today

University of Strathclyde