Is it just me, or is alpha the new beta? Looking around at all the Web 2.0 apps that keep popping up like mushrooms after a rain shower, the number of companies doing alpha or “invitation only” beta tests seems to be increasing exponentially. It’s not just me, because others have noticed too. Of course, Google is probably to blame for some of this, since it continues to keep products in beta mode long after most companies (cough… Microsoft… cough) would have released them, including Gmail. There’s no doubt that the kind of attention Gmail got when it first appeared probably led to a few companies deciding to try the same exclusivity approach. Why not soft-launch in invitation-only mode, and let the buzz do the rest? Hence the proliferation of “submit your email and we’ll see if you make the grade” offerings from companies such as Riya and Wink. Of course, there is a downside to riding the buzz train, which is that the buzz could overtake the reality and lead to a mini-backlash against the product, as the developers of the Flock browser found recently.