Private & Public Betas: What’s the Difference?

There are two very distinct types of beta tests: private beta tests (aka “closed”) and public beta tests (aka “open”). They are two very different testing experiences that are managed in very different ways. They’re also often confused, since both happen during that very exciting period leading up to the launch of a new product. So, what makes them so different? What can you expect from each type of test? Which one is the right experience for you?

Let’s start with some basics:

Private betas are limited tests specifically designed to gather feedback from a carefully selected group of users that match the product’s target market. The focus in these tests is to find bugs so they can be fixed or managed before launch, as well as to get general product impressions from potential customers. In these tests, there is often a strong focus on maintaining secrecy about the product and its features, so testers are often asked to sign nondisclosure agreements (NDAs).

Public betas are tests where the product is made available to the general public. The purpose of these tests is to generate awareness and buzz about the product, rather than actionable feedback from the “testers.” They involve either a limited version of the product (to generate interest in the paid version) or a launch-ready version of the product (and the company refers to it as “beta” so that they can make changes at will). These tests generally happen after extensive private beta testing has already occurred.

Who Gets to Be a Tester?

Private beta tests consist of only testers that are hand-selected by the product’s beta test management team through an extensive qualification process. Not everyone will fit the requirements of a private beta. This means that many people won’t be selected to participate due to certain demographic characteristics, as opposed to public beta tests that generally have little to no tester qualifications. Private beta tests are also much smaller than public tests (a couple dozen testers vs. hundreds to thousands). This exclusivity makes private tests more enticing, but also more difficult to get into.

What’s Expected of Testers?

Private tests are specifically designed to collect feedback from testers through bug reports, forums, surveys, tasks, etc. Testers are expected to participate regularly and thoroughly test the product. Public tests are typically much more relaxed. The company may not even provide a clear way to give feedback on the product. The focus is more on users trying out the product and less on providing detailed feedback about their experiences.

What’s Your Style?

So, which type of test would you rather get involved in? Both types of tests let you get a sneak peek at a product before it’s released. With private tests, however, you’ll have to keep your involvement quiet and actively participate in the test by providing detailed feedback. Basically, it’s much more of a commitment than a public test. Public beta tests, on the other hand, are much less rigorous, but they don’t give you the chance to influence the development of the product they way you can in a private beta test.

What’s Next?

Now that you have an idea of the differences between public and private betas, it’s time to see what’s out there. Check out a current list of available private and public beta tests to see if any of them appeal to you. If you know you’re only interested in one type, update your personal settings at the top of the page to ensure that the Betabound homepage only shows beta tests that fit your tastes.

Have we missed any details about public or private betas that you’ve noticed in your beta travels? Let us know in the comments below.

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