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Why Google Buzz isn't labeled 'beta' and why it sort of is anyway

March 15, 2010 | 12:33 pm

Google buzz For the latter half of the last decade, Google software was synonymous with the word "beta." Gmail, the company's Web-based e-mail client, carried the beta label for more than five years -- finally dropping the descriptor in July.

What does it mean, and why do so few recent Google services start off with it? For a definition, we turn to Google's dictionary.

Beta: "The 2nd letter of the Greek alphabet."

OK, what else you got?

Beta: "Preliminary or testing stage of a software or hardware product."

Beta, as a term to describe programs, had existed long before Google. But the search giant popularized it as a public-facing caveat of sorts -- an excuse for software with the occasional hiccup or the obvious missing feature.

Well, it's still in beta.

Why, then, was Google Buzz -- the newest Twitter competitor in town -- not given the beta qualifier? Since launching the social service as a feature of Gmail, Google has taken heat for a bevy of privacy issues and usage annoyances. The product was tested internally for some time, was reviewed and revised, and finally pushed to all users of Google's e-mail service seemingly as a final product.

It's not. Google has responded to public criticisms several times in the month or so that it's been available. Many privacy complaints have been amended, and most recently, the company added options to silence noisy notifications.

"We don't feel it's finished," Todd Jackson, the product manager for Gmail and Buzz, said in an interview Sunday night at a company party in Austin, Texas, during the South by Southwest Interactive conference.

Now that most of the immediate grievances have been addressed, Jackson listed a few features that the developers plan to add down the road. Among them, support for Google Apps customers and better interoperability with other social networks to allow users to post to Twitter, for example.

"We're shooting for a new feature every week," Jackson said.

Many new additions to Gmail have made their debuts in Labs, an opt-in section of the software. If Buzz had done the same, its utility would have been diminished because it requires mass usage, Jackson said.

Why Buzz was not called beta from the start is due to semantics. Because it's tied so closely with Gmail -- almost as a feature akin to the chat tool -- it seemed awkward, Jackson said, to label it differently.

"We started questioning the very meaning of the word 'beta,'" Jackson said.

Google still has some beta software out there -- Web apps like Scholar, browser extensions and popular versions of the Chrome browser itself. But it appears the company is being more selective about what gets the beta excuse.

-- Mark Milian
twitter.com/markmilian

Photo credit: Mark Milian / Los Angeles Times

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