The different levels of beta testers

We recently launched the beta program for ClearContext Personal.  I was planning to have my next blog posts here be about our product planning process and how we put together the product plans for our ClearContext Personal and Pro products, and the things we learned by first focusing on the needs of very sophisticated email power users with an incredible pain point of dealing with huge volumes of important and time-critical email.  I’ll get to those soon, but first I wanted to make some observations about our recent beta push.

When we first started ClearContext, our initial beta testers were friends and colleagues.  These people all provide valuable input, but no matter how  much you push them, they are biased towards you and often give you the benefit of the doubt – and are typically pretty forgiving in terms of the finer points of product functionality and user experience.  We still use these people as the first wave of people to give us friendly input on new stuff we are working on, but we recognize that it’s just that – friendly input.

As we’ve developed a base of customers, one big benefit is that we’ve grown an active beta group of users eager to try out new technology while it is still pretty early in development and provide feedback.  These users are quite vocal about what they want to see in the product and very active and important to us when it comes to defining the final feature set we ship with and the details of how certain features work.  Not to mention helping us find that final round of bugs to fix.  These users have been the core of our beta testing process over the past few releases and are a key part of our release process.

We utilized those two groups in testing early versions of our Personal product, including helping us make sure the product was as easy to install and use as possible.  They provided a lot of really good feedback and helped us release a great product that is getting lots of good reviews

When we opened up the beta program to a wider audience, though, we now had a new type of beta tester in the mix.  Many of these beta testers had never heard of ClearContext or anything like it and hadn’t seen any videos or tutorials on the website before installing the app.  Things like ranking your contacts based on how important they are, prioritizing and color-coding incoming email, and providing context around email such as related messages, contacts, and attachments – these were all brand new concepts to them.  We received a lot of useful feedback that was very different from any of the prior feedback when we presented the app to a large group of users who had never seen anything like this before.  One of the biggest things we learned from this process was that even for a lot of very tech-savvy email users, for them to take full advantage of some of the brand new concepts we’re introducing, they could benefit a lot from more guided setup and explanation.  So, we’re adding a lot more of that type of functionality (and a lot more of their feedback) into the product to make it easier for users to understand how best to take advantage of ClearContext – so we can help make their email experience better and reduce their stress and frustration with email.

It’s really amazing that the web provides the ability to get so much great input from such a wide range of users interested in and excited about new technology.  But that input is only really valuable if you understand the perspective of your different beta groups and really listen (and act on!) to what they are telling you.  We’re very thankful to everyone who has helped us in this process and hopefully other companies understand how valuable these people are as well, and how important it is to take full advantage of that valuable resource. 

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