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Private Beta

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Problem Summary

User wants to join a site that is currently in a private beta.

Example home page with Beta status indicated – beta status indicated by the upper left corner flag. Sign up form on homepage states that the product is still in beta, adding members everyday by invitation only. Twine has since moved out of their Beta phase.

Use When

  • Use this pattern when you want to allow people to sign up to join a private beta.
  • Use this pattern when you want to allow a small user list the opportunity to invite N new users to grow your site virally but in a controlled fashion.


  • Clearly indicate that the site is in private beta.
  • Offer features and benefits list or a tour of the product to let the user know what they are signing up for.
  • When requiring a user to sign up to receive information about the beta or an invitation to join at the next release,:
    • provide an email address field for sign up
    • provide a user name field for sign up
    • Show a confirmation page letting the user know that the sign up request was received and indicate some time-frame for when they might expect a response or invitation to join the site
    • Send a confirmation email to the address provided to verify the address and give the user a reminder that they signed up to receive and invitation to join the beta at a future date
  • When allowing users to invite a limited number of other to the private beta:
    • Clearly indicate how many invitations the user gets in total
    • Keep a count of how many invitations the user has sent out or has left from the total
    • Allow the user to add a custom message to the invitation
    • Clearly articulate feature highlights and benefits to the potential invitee


The private beta can give you the opportunity to test drive social features with a small group of people before opening the doors to the public. Starting off in a private beta also allows you the opportunity to seed areas of the site with friends and family in order to avoid the cold start issue.

Special Cases

In previous times, Beta was intended to be a period of time where real users would be asked to try the site out—to find bugs at a larger scale that might not have shown up with smaller test groups—and then the product would move quickly to GA or General Availability release where the public at large would have access.

In today’s world of Web 2.0 and the ability to quickly launch web applications, we are seeing more and more sites slap the Beta flag on the site and then never remove it.

This generally does a disservice to users and to the process of software development. Beta has certain implications about quality and about a point in the lifecycle of development. Keeping the Beta flag for a lengthy period of time tells your users that the site is buggy and that you may not be spending time working through them to a full GA release. That message, after a while, implies that you don’t care to improve the site and could have an adverse effect of driving users away —because if you don’t care, then why should they.

Google's Gmail with Beta status indicated under the logo
Gmail has been in Beta since 2004.

flickr was in beta for a couple of years. flickr homepage from May, 2004. moved into gamma in late 06/early 07
flickr moved into gamma in early 2007/late 2006. flickr homepage from January 2007.