Tuesday, March 14, 2006

8 mandatory requirements for beta versions

I know that "mandatory requirements" is slightly redundant, so chalk it up to poetic license. I like to toy with language at times, much like the Bible, Derrida, Chris Locke, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Rimbaud, Freud, Jacques Lacan, Doc Searls, Seth Godin, etc.

The vital aspects and components of any software beta version are very similar to essential characteristics of a web site, based on user research and personal experience as an unpaid beta tester, i.e., a provider of free usability analysis.

8 Mandatory Requirements
for Beta Versions:

(1) Fast download...simple install...easy activate (icon for desktop, include in user's Start menu).

(2) Good tech documentation: instructions, labels, titles, URLs, graphic tags, image captions...including a complete Help page, FAQ page, Advanced User page, Buttons/Badges page, About page, and Upgrade/Pricing page.

(3) Upfront contact info/feedback

(4) Upfront company info, staff bios

(5) Variety of ways the user can customize and manipulate the data and the task performance parameters

(6) Fast, complete, authoritative replies to customer/beta tester questions, complaints, praises, and suggestions.

Direct contact with lead engineer, CEO, or product manager...and not a freaking "user forum". Those are total cop-out bullshit.

Discussion forums are often poorly constructed, vaguely moderated, chaotic messes of dubious answers to mostly goofy questions from totally clueless newbies, who prove their stupidity with such idiotic topic titles as: "got a problem", "help!!!!!", "check out my web site and tell me what's wrong", and "Hi, I'm new here".

Users want specific and *direct from the horse's mouth* answers to specific questions, which may concern proprietary issues, and are not suitable for public display or discussion.

(7) Code for a *variety* of different sizes, styles, colors, and wording for clickable promotion badges. By clickable badges I mean the company buttons or ads you see in my sidebar...click on them, and you'll navigate to their web site.

See Odeo or Firefox for a great example of providing various badges you can copy and paste the code for, into your blog or web site.

(8) User observation tests, prior to releasing the beta version.

Do NOT trust your designers to "know" if something is usable. They know how to use it because they created it. But guess what? Even so, they still usually don't know what the bugs are, nor can they guess what users will try to do.

One thing I've learned from conducting user observation tests: users do unexpected, unpredictable things.

A well conducted user observation test, by a web usability professional, should identify up to 90% of all possible bugs. And it only takes about 5 typical users. See Jakob Nielsen's research.

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