Beta Tests in software development used to be sandboxes for limited 3rd party testing. That was before Web 2.0, before Internet based services and features became the new face of the software industry. Now, increasingly Beta has become an ambiguous term.
Today, Beta’s often start out limited, as invitation-only tests, but they morph into full fledged, publicly accessible services. Beta has become code for “we may still change it” and “it may still break when you use it.” It’s a disclaimer for anything goes. Company’s like Google have stuck the label on their services for years. It’s no longer a clear marker, nor a clear meaning.
So, Beta doesn’t mean much as a word anymore. That doesn’t mean there aren’t notable milestones. The transition from invitation-only to public access is a good one. When a software product is officially unleashed on the world, it’s crossed a bridge. Joost, the Internet peer to peer video service, passed that marker this weekend. Quietly, without much fanfare the company released version 1.0 of their software. And according to their blog and website, now as of October 1st, the invitations, and the virtual velvet rope are gone too. Joost is now open to all – though it’s still called a Beta level product (and probably should be).
The new version brings a number of improvements to Joost’s interface. Among them: there is an improved Channel Catalog, which provides a graphical utility for browsing available channels. This feature has been renamed Explorer. Additionally, they’ve added drag and drop functionality so viewers can create their own playlists. Web searching utilities and other tools are now in place too. (Presumably, the back end systems are also changed, made more robust and stable, in preparation for the arrival of anunrestricted mass of new viewers)
The expansion to wide release follows on the heels of Joost’s other big news: an agreement with Major League Baseball announced Friday. Under the terms of that deal, which also wasn’t heavily publicized, Joost gained the exclusive rights to stream free baseball content to their global audience. Effective October 4th, channels on the Joost platform will provide both a highlight program and free on-demand streams of full games within 24 hours of their original airing. The service will include the playoffs and World Series and all games will be available on-demand for a month.
The limitation to the MLB agreement is that Joost will have to block viewers in the U.S. and Japan from accessing the new channel. In those two markets, Major League Baseball provides paid on–demand services that the free Joost offering would otherwise compete with. But for viewers in Europe, Latin America, and Asia, fans can watch games without need of obscure channels or use of DVR’s (due to time zone differences).
Between the two bits of news, Joost traffic will likely surge. Still, the company is anything but a runaway hit yet. They’ve opened their programming API and are adding features but they still need to lock up more programming and continue to improve the quality of their interface.
Overall, as a Version 1.0, the newest face of Joost still comes across very much as a hybrid of TV and the Internet; like two worlds joined with glue and duct tape rather than naturally merged. At the stage the video may still stutter a bit, and the controls, while functional and at times even hinting at elegant, for the most part, don’t feel natural or intuitive.
Genius being defined as simplicity, Joost isn’t there yet. They’re still very much a beta, in the traditional sense of the term. Now, though, a lot more people will get to see for themselves.