Slate put out an article yesterday about GMail’s “protracted beta phase,” and of course the echo chamber is pulling out their old posts, dusting them off, and giving Google a big ol’ wag of the finger on it.

Mike Elgan talked about it this morning in his column at Datamation:

To label something “beta” is to hang the equivalent of an “under construction” sign. The idea is that a “beta” product should be judged by a more lenient set of criteria than a “shipping” product. Normally, “beta” products are distributed free in exchange for constructive feedback that enables product improvement before the company starts making money on it. The “beta” stops before the income starts.

Somehow, Google got the wacky idea that it could start calling free online services “beta,” and never stop. The most conspicuous example is Gmail, which has been “beta” for five years! Meanwhile, the company has raked in billions in advertising on this “beta” product.

A more honest label for online products like Gmail would be no label at all.

image I think I caught the article originally on Friendfeed when Susan Beebe posted the link. The comments were fairly predictable:

I have a feeling we’ll be saying this next year – Bwana

still evolving isn’t it…?? ;o) – Rob Sellen :o)

Most of google stuff is in beta. – Oskar Murand

It allows them to skimp on support for general users. – Sprague D

Here is my response, though: Why do we care if there’s “Beta” after the title? A large number of us obviously trust it well enough to carry on as our primary email. We might as well call it GMail Mxyzptlk.

Does using the word Beta somehow harm us as a species or as users of the service (or even as users of the word “beta”)?

Seriously.  I mean, there are really only two ways to look at Google’s usage of the word on GMail.  Way one is that they’re legitimately still in Beta, as the Slate article says:

“Company spokespeople won’t say exactly when Gmail will be out of beta, but apparently there’s an “internal checklist” that’s lacking in some crucial checkmarks.”

The other way you can look at it is the same way everyone in the movie The Princess Bride looked at Paul Wallace’s character Vizzini’s use of the word “inconceivable!”

image He kept saying it in reference to things that were clearly happening, and finally Inigo says to him: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

It’s a funny line, and it’s delivered once, mostly because Vizzini dies shortly thereafter.  Here’s the thing… most of us aren’t Inigo.  We don’t get all the good lines.  I’m here to tell you that when it comes to GMail and it’s beta situation, all the good jokes and good points have already been said. 

When you continue to repeat the Inigo lines here in your all too clever comments that Google’s usage of beta doesn’t mean what they think it means, you run the risk of looking more like Vizzini, endlessly repeating the same line.

Essentially, you’ve set up the situation for me to be the Inigo.

My name is Inigo Montoya. You beat a dead horse. Prepare to die.