How can you be a better beta tester (and not get frustrated in the process)

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I like to try new apps, processes, and things. Perhaps it’s the kid in me who always wanted to join a club, and I love being a beta tester (usually.) Yet even the most thoughtful beta tester misses a few key points and is blinded by their biases. On the occasion of being noticed as a helpful Quora tester (thanks Stormy Shippy for mentioning me in the What is the combined answer length for the most active Quora answerers?) or at least a verbose one, I thought it would be interesting to think about some methods to become a better beta tester.

When you become a beta tester, you are trying an uncertain product pointed at an uncertain customer occupying an uncertain market with an uncertain likelihood of success. Beta customers feel special (you are – trust me) and companies feel free to stretch the tolerance of these users constantly by changing policies, user interface elements, or the basic functionality and process of the app or service (“the way things work”) in one fell swoop.

It’s pretty cool though. For the price of my time (it’s stated as *free* but there is a substantial investment that any serious tester must make in terms of their own time) you get to see a laboratory where changes are being made in (near) real time and gain the ability to influence and learn from the people who are making a brand new thing. I’m appreciative of the opportunity to share with and learn from some of the smartest people I’ve ever met. So how can you help the company (or companies) for whom you’re doing this beta testing?

You can help by being a “more certain” customer
Beta testing challenges you to articulate what you’re doing (or trying to do), to be able to explain it to others, and sometimes to realize that you’re an edge case and to stop wasting your time and the time of others.

Practicing this set of skills is the real reason I love being a beta tester (that, and the free t-shirts), and I try to do the following when I’m giving feedback to a team or an individual:

  • determine what it is I’m trying to do – if I’m not sure how I’m using the product, it’s going to be pretty hard for me to explain it to someone else;
  • explain what I’m doing in terms the “person on the street” could understand – it’s really easy to drop into jargon, and so I try to use the same terms throughout the feedback and detail my steps in clear language (and try to use the instructions myself to complete the steps);
  • be honest with myself when I’m bored and no longer want to test an app or service – it’s very easy to keep YAASA – Yet Another Social Account Alive. And much more kind to yourself and to the team building the app if you just bow out. (And let them know why you’re leaving.)

Learn new things, meet new people, and stretch your brain a little. What’s not to like? It’s true that trying new applications and services can sometimes clutter your experience or distract you from the things you ought to be doing today. Or maybe, practicing the skills of being a beta tester (and making it easier for teams to understand and learn from your feedback) gives you the exact set of skills you need to better beta test yourself.

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