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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 September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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