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Eight Tips To Get Into That Great Beta

Eight Tips To Get Into That Great Beta

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    You know that beta you want to get into? The one all the cool kids are in? The one that is invite only and that you have absolutely no chance of getting into? Yeah, that one. Maybe you have a chance of getting into it after all. Try these tips to get in on that awesome experience.

    The thing about betas is that the developer running the program really does want a wide variety of people to test out his new project. Betas are all about putting a new product through its paces, letting both hardcore users and people who will just use it once in a while do everything they can to it. Heck, developers even want the most technically inept folks they can find in a beta: they want to see just how a website, software package or other product is going to break as soon as anyone can use it. And anyone can include you.

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    1. Sign up. The first step you should always take to get into any sort of beta is to go to the company’s website and sign up. Unless you have hit a special level of internet celebrity, no one’s going to contact you specially to invite you to the beta. They don’t know that you’re interested without that original sign up form.
    2. Offer a review. While this trick tends to work better if you have a significant writing portfolio, you can often contact the company offering the beta directly. Try to contact someone in the PR department, but anyone with the power to grant invites is good. Then simply offer to review the service if you can get in on the beta now. Have a specific site in mind — if you want to post the review to your blog, be able to mention your readership numbers. Otherwise consider lining up the opportunity to guest post on a larger blog.
    3. Network. It seems like the internet is huge, but the type of people participating in any particular beta really are a subset of the population. Think about the type of people who wanted Brightkite invites as soon as the site went into beta. Most were Twitter users — a group that may seem huge, but doesn’t even add up to a very large city. Odds are surprisingly good that one of your friends is already in the beta, or may even know someone on the development team.
    4. Stalk via social networking. Maybe ‘stalk’ is too strong of a word. I don’t mean that you should show up at the house of the guy in charge of beta invites or anything similarly felonious. However, it seems like most companies maintain a presence on networking sites as well as a company blog these days. Engage them in conversation through comments, links, etc. and they’ll be more inclined to invite you into a beta. Making sure that a company is aware of your existence can be the fastest track to scoring that awesome invite.
    5. Build your reputation. If developers only let the cool kids into the beta, maybe it’s time to become one of the cool kids. Setting up a blog of your own only takes minutes. Give it a few months and you can turn yourself into a known expert on whatever widget is only available in beta. Becoming an expert may not get you into this beta, but it can definitely up your chances for the next one and all the other cool betas that are still down the road. Building a reputation as the go to person on a given company can also get you into all of that company’s betas, along with all their competitors.
    6. Use cheat codes. Like any good system, most betas can be gamed. Back in 2006, there were folks itching to get into the Yahoo! Mail beta. But Yahoo! Had put a few restrictions on the beta and many people just couldn’t get access, until they found out about a cheat code. Apparently, switching locations for an old Yahoo! Mail account to the U.K. was enough to get a person booted straight into the beta. While not all betas have such super easy cheat codes, try Googling for them after the beta has been running a few days.
    7. Keep up with the media. If you follow the media that covers the niche of your beloved beta, you might notice that many blogs and news websites routinely give away beta invites, special codes and the like. Of course, these are usually limited to the first 20 or so people, so you have to be fast.
    8. Try the invite-swapping sites. There’s nothing wrong with trading invites, although super popular betas may not have enough invites floating around to make this an ideal method. But sometimes it works. Back in the day, when Gmail invites were hard to come by, I managed to trade for an invite. I didn’t swap another invite, though. I offered up fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. Think outside the box when offering a trade.

    Once you’ve actually gotten into a beta test, it’s up to you to be a good little beta-tester. Report problems, email praise and generally comment on that product still in development. After all, that’s why companies open up beta tests — and why they invite some testers back again.

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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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