Tim O'Reilly says that Freebase — a much-praised new search engine which will funnel a query to the appropriate database depending on the subject — is "very alpha." What does the tech publisher and investor mean? Alpha usually refers to the version of an application which lacks features promised for the full release, but demonstrates the purpose and feasibility of the software. But O'Reilly's main purpose is not technical description but the management of expectations. Freebase is a "huge idea" — so expect a lot — but the first release of the product is "very alpha" — so don't expect a lot immediately. Google popularized this strategy by launching offerings as "beta" products, the version distributed before general release. O'Reilly, in anticipating criticism of Freebase's glitches, taken this game of expectation deflation as far as it can go.