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August 21, 2008

Inside the brain of Nokia Beta Labs

INTERNATIONALBeta Labs is one of those rare online destinations that buzzes with a raw sense of pioneering motivation. It modestly circles the confines of a traditional corporate development environment, creating an unsnippable umbilical link between the people making new apps and a dedicated unfiltered brigade of Nokia users who help make them even better. A pretty potent combination, and a genuinely encouraging foundation to build upon.

As you can probably tell I can’t disguise I’m a fan. So much so, that I recently called up the man behind the red curtain, Tommi Vilkamo (he’s on the right, with wingman Ilkka Peltola on the left) , to chat about all things Beta Labs to get more of an insight into this invaluable and radically open R&D tool.

It was back in September 2007 that Vilkamo inherited Beta Labs, and it began to quickly morph into something fresh. There wasn’t a mission statement or mantra carved in stone, but talking loosely he explains that innovation is at the heart and that Beta Labs was simply “trying to attract one percent of the most passionate, loud voiced nokia users. We want to work with them, leading to users helping the innovation process”.

Initially Beta Labs was very much a one man army outfit, with Vilkamo acting as the middleman between the users and the teams of developers, managing the feedback process and nurturing this new open relationship. Beta Labs has now grown into a small team, but what Vilkamo is pushing for is a scenario where the Beta Labs set-up is essentially a tool that enables the developers and users have an unchaperoned dialogue, empowering both sides with a closer communication and more valuable outcome. This isn’t as straightforward as it sounds, as some development teams consist of hundreds of people working on separate elements of an app, whereas others only have teams of one or two people – it goes without saying, there isn’t a one-size fits all answer, but this is the challenge that’s being embraced.

Beyond that I was eager to find out if Vilkamo and his team are investigating ways of improving the feedback dialogue on Beta Labs, and how he hopes to increase the incentive to interact. Turns out it’s already in the pipeline. They’re in the process of building and entirely new website, that’s tailored much more towards social interaction, with user reputation systems being explored, voting on comments and contributions on the horizon, as well as reviews and ratings. The idea being that anyone who gets involved can feel valued and respected, and earn more kudos with the level and quality of their input. Even to the point where the best contributers could be invited to Finland for brainstorming sessions, to get involved even deeper in the flesh.

Vilkamo is hoping the first iteration of the site will go live at some point in the second half of 2008, and personally I’m dying to see the end result, or rather the next phase in Beta Labs evolution.

I’ll be following up with more Beta Labs related stories over the coming days, so stay tuned for more.

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