I just found out not too long ago that Remember The Milk has launched a new sort of alpha-testing service where users can test out unreleased features before they are finished, polished, and released to everyone. Admittedly, it’s only been available since the middle of my stay in Milwaukee, so I wouldn’t really have found out about it, but now that I’m back I have some things to say about the program.
First, a little background. The Pro Tester Program (more on that first word in a moment) is intended to aid in the testing of new features on multiple and diverse browser/platform combinations. From the RTM blog entry:
PTP members will be given pre-release versions of new RTM features to try out, and will be invited to provide feedback and help us by reporting any problems encountered with said new features.
That sounds exciting. It’s a lot like Google’s limited roll-outs that happen from time to time as they implement new features in services like Gmail or Google Docs. A few users will see the new features, and nobody else will. The difference? First, it’s not random. Users sign up for this testing. Second, the participation requirements are actually published (my emphasis):
- An RTM Pro account (the “Pro” bit of “Pro Tester Program”).
- The ability to keep a secret (you’ll be testing features that aren’t available to the public yet!).
Wait a minute, I don’t pay to use the service so I can’t test out new things for you? I’m not completely against paying for RTM — it is, after all, a wonderful service — but it seems like I should be getting paid to do your testing for you. After all, users who sign up for the testing service will be saving the RTM team work. Why is a Pro account required?
Granted, RTM needs to make money somehow, and adding Pro-only services as incentive to buy a subscription is a valid business model. If I ever have need of synchronization with my Windows Mobile device, I’ll pay for it. If I ever want to get a special iPhone/iPod Touch interface, I’ll pay for it. If I’m going to be alpha-testing new features for a beta service, I won’t pay for it. I’m sorry RTM. I love testing, but paying for the privilege of saving you guys work just doesn’t cut it for me. Make it accessible to all your users and we’ll talk.
Oh yeah, my notes for this post (stored, ironically, in a Remember The Milk list) say that your new program is similar to Google’s Trusted Tester program as well. Similar because people who apply get access to pre-release features. Dissimilar because you have to pay to get at it (and also because you don’t have to be blood with someone at RTM to do so).
So, while this new service has increased the probability of my buying a Pro account, it has definitely diminished my respect for how RTM structures its business. And no, I won’t buy a Pro account now, just on the principles I have outlined here. I will not pay for the privilege of saving someone else effort; they should be paying me, or at least not charging me money.
RTM: Try allowing everyone to participate in the Pro Tester Program. You’ll probably get more feedback, which means less time overall pushing out updates. Please?