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Perpetual Beta “Ebay”

This blog will look at  the concept “Perpetual Beta”, the sixth of eight patterns as defined by Tim O’Reilly.  In the current internet age, applications and softwares doesnt just rely on CD or install update packages. When devices and programs are connected to the Internet, applications they  are no longer software artifacts, they are ongoing services.  Development teams for these application should engage the users to be real-time testers, and structure the service to reveal how people use your product.

Users must be treated as co-developers, in a reflection of open source development practices (even if the software in question is unlikely to be released under an open source license.) The open source dictum, “release early and release often” in fact has morphed into an even more radical position, “the perpetual beta,” in which the product is developed in the open, with new features slipstreamed in on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. It’s no accident that services such as Gmail, Google Maps, Flickr, del.icio.us, and the like may be expected to bear a “Beta” logo for years at a time.

Benefits for this pattern includes:

  • Faster time to market — using actual users to test your application/software
  • Reduced risk — real time feedback
  • Closer relationship with customers
  • Real-time data to make quantifiable decisions
  • Increased responsiveness

Ebay is an online auction and shopping website where people can sell electronics, cars and many other things. Ebay was founded in 1995, since then Ebay has become the leading auction site on the internet. Throughout the past 18 years Ebay has been though many changes,  particularly in the UX area. So does Ebay close down during updates? No! Whilst, going to my Ebay account recently i felt something was wrong my listings weren’t showing up, this was because of Ebay doing maintenance work to improve the application for its users. Here are best practices that ebay has adopted in relation to practices that  Professor Jason Watson’s from QUT   pointed out during “Perpetual Beta” lecture.

(1) Release early and release often

Since its launch Ebay has been through many changes, it is said Ebay deploys a new version roughly every 2 weeks. Since Ebay is such a popular application used by many, it is essential that Ebay releases a new version to fix bugs, improve user experience and implement new features. We also have to remember that Ebay is also now accessible via smartphones by downloading the Ebay app.

(2) Engage users as co-developers and real-time testers

Screen shot 2013-04-28 at 5.06.33 PM

What better way of getting feedback and monitoring Ebay’s users use of the application then engaging users to help with the development of Ebay. One way Ebay has adopt is to have an image on the right hand side of the scroll bar that says “Tell us what you think”. This is a way of getting feedback.

(3) Instrument your product

What users do often tells you more than what they say, other ways ebay could well have used other than the “Tell us what you think” image for fast user feedback is a hot spot/heat map monitor. This will track the mouse movements and clicks of users, this could give good feedback to Ebay developers on which areas they need to look at to improve Ebay from a users perspective.

(4) Incrementally create new products

Since using Ebay i have seen numerious new features being added on to the Ebay application. New features includes having recommendations based on previous items viewed,  changes in feedback and many more.

5) Make operations a core competency

Ebay takes users data and feedback to provide users with much better experience.  Ongoing day-to-day management of data and services play a large part in where Ebay is at right now.

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Conclusion

Ebay’s use of Perpetual data has helped them continue to improve their application to adapt to the users needs. By monitoring and collecting data from users use of Ebay itself this allows fast and efficient changes without the need for huge downtime.

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References:
– Watson, J. 2010 – INB(N)347 Week 8- Lecture slides
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7 thoughts on “Perpetual Beta “Ebay”

  1. Hi Andy,

    Great Post!
    When you say ongoing day-day management, does it means that every day the programmers would integrate small steps of changes so as to allow little downtime as possible within a day as compared to other web applications or games where the downtime could take up to several hours or days? Cheers!

  2. Hi Andy,

    I agree with you that eBay has incorporated the idea of perpetual beta into its foundation. In my opinion, one way that I think it is possible is by using the information that users use eBay. The way users search and find items on eBay is also a vital information that helps eBay know how users use eBay. Most updates are minor but its those minor updates that help users enjoy the experience even more.

    -Sukshan

    • Hi Sukshans,

      Yes, without all this minor updates there wouldn’t be the user experience we now all enjoy from ebay. Ebay shows that they incorporate perpetual beta into their foundation.

  3. Hi Andy

    eBay is not that popular when it kick off however, when eBay launch it keep updating and improve. It have more features and easier to use and also more things for people to buy which really expand their customers.

    Prapat W.

    • Hi Prapat,

      Yes, like a lot of applications it wont start out the best/popular, however through Perpetual Beta ebay has become one of the biggest auction sites on the internet. From updating, maintaining and improving its features users can have an easy and friendly experience!

      Andy

  4. Hi Andy,

    Great choice of Web 2.0 application. Ebay has come a very long way since its early beginnings in 1995. Today it is most popular online auction and shopping site. Which of the 6 Perpetual Beta best practices do you believe ebay has implemented the best? And how does the implementation of such best practice compare to its competitors?

  5. Hey there
    I’ve noticed that eBay allows users to have their own stores using the api, does eBay allow users to attach addons or extensions within their shops? and how is this affected by the automatic updates?
    I’m just wondering whether apps using the api will stop functioning if an update were to happen.

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