I recently ran a Japanese blog through Google's Japanese to English translation service which is currently 'in beta.' The results were simply garbage. Beta used to have a very specific meaning in software development. According to the Wikipedia, a beta version of a software product is
one that is still in development but is published for testing purpose
The problem here is that 'published for testing purposes' has come to mean a very different thing. Here is more from Wikipedia:
A beta version or beta release usually represents the first feature complete version of a computer program or other product, likely to be unstable but useful for internal demonstrations and previews to select customers.
See the problem? Firstly, the Japanese to English translation on Google isn't unstable in the sense of sometimes crashing - it has actually been tested enough to always give a result (as far as I can tell). Secondly, it is not being released for internal use or previews to 'select customers'. The meaning of beta has fundamentally changed. It now has several meanings:
- Get something out there as a foot in the door no matter what the quality or user issues (Technorati blog search, Google translation).
- Get something out there so that the public can assist with figuring out what the features need to be (BlogPulse profiles).
- Sidestep resolving any messy legal issues and at the same time be able to pull the service from users (Google news).
Beta is now synonymous with testing in the public arena while at the same time establishing a position in the market. The old meaning of beta implied neither of these. Not all of these or others (I am sure there are many), are necessarily bad - our use of beta in BlogPulse indicates an engagement with the community to evolve to the right feature set (note that Wikipedia also invokes the feature freeze as part of the beta definition).
But the fact is that more stuff is better (and cheaper) than it ever was before. You can buy far better food, access more free content of value, call further and more often... you name it, most everything is better (or if not better, then much cheaper than it used to be).
He's missed something here. Things are not better - our perceptions of what quality is are being watered down. Price always drives quality. When prices get driven down, it forces manufacturers to compete at that new prices which for some - many - means cutting corners. The current consumer experience is: there is too much stuff and most of it is crap, and: it is hard to find good stuff at any price.
But back to Google. Here is an excerpt:
It could make the occasion where weekend it does to the IKEA, with the china and was and had buying tea set. When it returned to the house, promptly the black tea and the ち ち without the chart of the monkey it did with the cake. As for hostess part being busy, serious!
Reading it is like looking through the steam rising from the midden of all the worst in language technology. Beta? Well, I can think of another tag for this with four letters, beginning with 's', but it is not a Greek word.