When launching a brand new web-based community product what are the best methods of staggering the user base through testing phases up until final launch? This product relies on user accounts with profiles, friends, relationships, etc.
I am launching a web product and I'd like to understand the transition development accounts, to beta users to finally public. What are good methods of limiting the user base and how do you allow a specific number of users in at a certain time to test, etc.
Some ideas tossed around were, giving the first 10-20 test users 'codes' used to login, for the next 100-200 users allow them to sign up but shut down registration after 200...
My thought is: 1) Initial testing is done with generic/default accounts with generic login all under a development server (1-2 accounts with logins/pass)
2) Create a public facing server/page with a signup field that uses an email with a referral ID to authenticate - limited to 10-x users. (Signup form -> Email passes ID -> complete registration)
3) A completely open signup field with the above mentioned method of authenticated/confirming the email to continue registration
Are there better options than this? What are user expectations and what is the most efficient means of development time?
*note this topic: Best way for sign up process after invite asks a similar question