Perpetually LinkedIn Beta

As I mentioned in my previous article one of the most important patterns of Web 2.0 applications, as discussed in O’Reilly’s what is Web 2.0?, is Perpetual Beta. Kat Skinner has written a good summary of perpetual beta here which describes Perpetual Beta as something that “is in constant development”. The example given is software but the concept works for almost any valuable business-driven output. I’m going to explain how the popular professional networking site LinkedIn exhibits the best practices of Perpetual Beta.



With Web 2.0 application usage we can co-create and this is true as well with the development of these applications themselves. With Perpetual Beta the delivery of the application is different and is provided more as an ongoing service (SaaS) and development is an ongoing operation (it doesn’t stop). In order to use an application users understand there may be caveats (advertising for instance), or that the application is provided in a freemium model (you get a few things for free, but pay for more aspects). As Vitkauskus mentions LinkedIn allows you to create a free account but also offers a paid subscription service for additional application features. In fact, on LinkedIn’s about page they mention quite prominently that a large proponent of revenues come from premium subscriptions among other solutions.
So with all of this development can you tell what version of LinkedIn you are using? You don’t know, and that’s the beauty of it (except maybe your iPhone application – I upgraded today to version 5.0 I believe 😉 ). The point however is that users don’t care what version they are using, they just want the application to work. We are moving away from the design, develop, test, ship, and install method of application development (as Frank at Dutch Monkey explains) to a more meshed method where operations and development are one. The developer is much more attached to the operational process.
Uptime is very important (24x7x365 is the goal except if you’re in China) for these services (especially if you’re charging a premium) so ensure they are quick to repair. Also important is how people are using the application; how many steps do people go to before finding your product? What are they using when they access your product? Application developers must move to a stance of using users as testers and co-developers. You need to use your users; this is now the norm and not some left-wing strategy. It helps build better relationships with your customers.
The development methodology of Web 2.0 applications is less Waterfall and more Agile and it is this change which helps create perpetual beta. The development is broken up into many more, smaller groups of people and creates more ‘eyeballs’ on the code leaving it easier to debug. The flow on effect to this is the ability to release earlier and more often. Being able to add and remove features in response to what your customers want. How you communicate these changes is important. Don’t just roll out a change to your consumer-base without notifying them as Jonathan Blaine has criticised LinkedIn of doing in the past. This would have gone down a lot easier if LinkedIn had chosen a small percentage of people to experience the new system and then tracked that control group and their reactions to the changes. This incremental shift towards new products or ‘split testing’ is the best approach to continuous improvement. Development is perpetual – you need to be building and delivering as you go along (just avoid creating confusion or feature fatigue as Singh explains).
LinkedIn Labs

LinkedIn Labs

A lot of the data that is gathered from using LinkedIn is used in internal shadow applications which sometime surface in LinkedIn Labs (the development site for LinkedIn). There are a lot of great applications here using the meaningful data from LinkedIn. There are, however, ethical and legal implications when tracking people (and more-so when publishing that tracking data). LinkedIn Ads is a great example of these tracking tokens in action.
As you can see from LinkedIn’s history, this article, their Labs, their Ads, and the popularity of their developer network – the Web 2.0 application has embraced the perpetual beta Web 2.0 pattern with open arms. I’m going to leave you here with a look into how these constantly developing Web 2.0 applications are shaping the decisions that affect us in day to day life, (for instance – recruitment). What can a recruiter find out about you on LinkedIn? 😉


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