Prototype or alpha release? 09 Feb 09
Prototyping is a great way of getting a preview of the product or service you are developing. Then again, we are talking about an online service, something that has been developed so many times before. So do we really need a prototype? Prototypes have other disadvantages: they are generally built so the product team/customer can have a first look or it is used to present it to investors. This generally means the prototypes is all show and no substance and should be discarded afterwards; and that is the crux of a prototype: it NEVER really is discarded.A prototype sends the wrong signal: look the product is nearly finished; this increases expectations on development timelines and long and behold the prototype becomes the starting point for the alpha release.
Alpha releases on the other hand implement all necessary and high priority functionality and a simple user interface and, in theory at least, are built with further development in mind. They are used to get your customers to play with the high priority functionality and give you feedback to it early. The feedback then flows into the beta release.
In our case a prototype does not make sense. We already know what we want, we are our own customer and investment is not on the cards yet. Every startup graples with limited resources and the alpha release gets us faster to the customer and the all important feedback.
Still protoypes are important and are often used as a sales tool. Sales contracts were signed on the back of them and many myths are told about the use of prototypes in sales meetings. Just always keep in mind that a prototype is a sales brochure and its rightful resting place, like any other brochure, is in the (recycle) bin.