A large-scale comparative study of beta testers and standard users [CACM 2018]

   Authors: Vlasta Stavova, Lenka Dedkova, Martin Ukrop and Vashek Matyas

 Primary contact: Vlasta Stavova <vlasta.stavova@mail.muni.cz>

 Journal: Communications of the ACM

   DOI: 10.1145/3173570

  Title = {A Large-scale Comparative Study of Beta Testers and Regular Users},
  Author = {Vlasta Stavova and Lenka Dedkova and Martin Ukrop and Vashek Matyas},
  Journal = {Communications of the ACM},
  Year = {2018},
  Volume = {61},
  Number = {2},
  Pages = {64--71},
  Publisher = {ACM},
  Doi = {10.1145/3173570},


Beta testers are the first end users outside a software company to use its product. They have been used for decades and are rightly credited not only with finding and reporting bugs, but also with improving general product usability through their feedback and/or the ways they use the product.

In this paper, we investigate whether beta testers represent standard users well enough to allow for the extrapolation of testing data to standard users. We have investigated records of beta testers and standard users of home security solution developed by the IT security software provider ESET. With more than 600 000 participants from more than 180 countries, we present what we believe to be the first large-scale comparison between standard users and beta testers.

We compared several aspects of both populations, such as hardware, operating system, country of origin and EULA reading time, all taken from system data. Other attributes, such as age, gender, privacy perception and computer proficiency self-evaluation, were available thanks to a user questionnaire.

We conclude that - at least in our study - beta users represent standard users well in terms of hardware and operating system in large scale beta testing. However, populations differ significantly in the distribution of users and testers between countries. This may cause a problem when a testing includes localization and usability issues that may be influenced by regional differences.

Our research produced the following actionable takeaways for software developers:

  • Using data
    Data you can collect can help you learn who your users and beta testers are. Consider country of origin, software and hardware configuration, and basic demographics.
  • Selecting testers
    The fewer testers you have, the pickier you should be about their selection.
  • Identifying usability issues
    When testing international products, ensure beta testers are culturally representative of regular users to help identify potential localization and cultural usability issues.
  • Ensuring representation
    Most important, testers should be representative of regular users. Keep checking that this is the case or pursue additional rigorous analyses to reach the most credible and applicable conclusions possible.
  • Diploma thesis based on localization data from this project (in czech only). It compares free available online GeoIP databases on a large sample of available IP adresses.

We thank Masaryk University (MUNI/M/1052/2013) and Miroslav Bartosek for support, and to anonymous reviewers and Vit Bukac for valuable feedback.