Alternatives to "labs" for an experimental subdomain
May 13, 2019 11:27 AM   Subscribe

I am the product owner for a fairly large government website. I would like to have a new subdomain to try out new features and services as well as to sort out hosting questions (e.g. how do we really do public facing cloud stuff). It seems that the typical pattern is to use "labs" as a subdomain (such as Powers that be have decreed that for reasons "" or "" is not OK. What would be alternatives that imply the same kind of subsite?

The types of things that would be on this site:
  • Web services that are production grade but do not yet have a stable API.
  • Different kinds of dashboards and visualizations.
  • Interesting data sets.
Basically a space that is specifically about experimentation, because the moment we put stuff on the core domain, people start building tools against them.

We have been kicking around "pilot" as an option, but that's not the same as "labs" either.
posted by rockindata to Computers & Internet (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Playground would be my choice if labs isn't allowed. Workshop? Garage? Things like that?
posted by Iteki at 11:34 AM on May 13, 2019
posted by saeculorum at 11:34 AM on May 13, 2019 [5 favorites]

There are a lot of options out there but the ones that immediately come to mind: incubator, developer, beta, experimental
posted by mikeh at 11:34 AM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]
posted by theodolite at 11:35 AM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

A little further out there:
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 11:38 AM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

'sandbox' is my suggestion too: I've also seen the simple 'test'.

But, if you won't really need to expose the server to people by them inherently knowing the default name, just name it something like "' or "" or "" or something you'll know but isn't explicitly identifying the server as a test server and isn't easy to guess. Something that makes it feel less official, so users know that can't possibly be the actual server, it must be a test or unofficial machine.
posted by AzraelBrown at 11:40 AM on May 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

chesty_a_arthur beat me to it, but: "skunkworks", especially if what gets posted there might not be maintained or promoted to production.

Some others, depending on the tone you're going for:
posted by jedicus at 11:41 AM on May 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

I've seen, but beta is a great option.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:41 AM on May 13, 2019

I'm always fond of sandbox for things like this.
posted by Making You Bored For Science at 11:43 AM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

My company uses "sandbox", but my vote is for "skunkworks".
posted by kevinbelt at 11:50 AM on May 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

I like
posted by chr at 12:06 PM on May 13, 2019

My point being, you don't define your purpose or define the goal of the selection. Is this so it's cute for other stakeholders? Is it so that it's "safe" if accidentally discover? Is it "One that works"?
posted by humboldt32 at 12:14 PM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]
posted by FirstMateKate at 12:17 PM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

("Sandbox" is a little ambiguous, since it has technical meanings about security as well as meanings about tinkering. Not sure how much of an issue that will be in your situation.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 12:18 PM on May 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Skunkworks is trademarked by Lockheed Martin, and a little long.

Beta or something shorter and not owned by other organizations would be better.
posted by TheAdamist at 12:35 PM on May 13, 2019

Maybe look to another agency? You've got to be more in the know than I am, but just throwing this out there on how one agency did it: So I know when the USGS was working on the National Geologic Map Database and were really working on/experimenting around with the mapview programming to get it up and running that they managed to make it really clear it was an experiment in progress much like you're describing. Unfortunately I don't remember how, but the folks there have been super friendly and responsive every time I've contacted them about issues or to talk about UI, not to mention pretty excited and enthusiastic about their work. So perhaps if none of these ideas work out for you maybe they would have an idea/model from their work? This is their contact page.
posted by barchan at 12:35 PM on May 13, 2019

I wouldn't use "sandbox" unless the APIs are read-only, because it might imply to someone that it's a sandbox in the development sense, i.e. a system where you can fuck around and do whatever you want and it'll all be magically reset overnight or whenever. Same with "test" or "testing".

If the issue is that these APIs are potentially useful in production applications but just not stable, why not use unstable.yourdomain.tld? Or 'beta', but I'm a big fan of plain-language names. If the distinction is the API instability, rather than its maturity in a development process (which is what 'beta' properly means), I'd call it what it is.

This also makes it really obvious, if someone is looking at a config file down the road, that they are pointing at an unstable API.
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:41 PM on May 13, 2019

NWS uses the term "experimental". E.g.: NWS announcing experimental tornado warning presentation formats now offered at NWStornado twitter account - both use the language "experimental". They use that term for other products they're releasing in preliminary format too.

For federal government products, the completely straight-faced no-jokes approach is usually favored. So slightly fun ones like skunkworks or sandbox are probably not a good bet.

posted by LobsterMitten at 12:44 PM on May 13, 2019 [3 favorites]

Test, demo, beta, pilot, study, review, prerelease
posted by theora55 at 1:07 PM on May 13, 2019

These are great so far, thank you!

Goals are to have it be
  • somewhat memorable, so that I can mention it in a talk- check out new things at!
  • Not tied to organizational structure, as organizational structure changes faster than domains
  • Not tied to named initiatives, since those also change faster than domains
  • Prosaic enough that it will be approved at the surprisingly high level that it has to be approved
I am leaning toward testbed or experimental at this point, and potentially sandbox, but it seems like sandbox might set off someone since the word does have security implications (though for these read-only system there would be no security implications...).
posted by rockindata at 1:10 PM on May 13, 2019

What field is your agency in? Maybe something related like
posted by humboldt32 at 1:19 PM on May 13, 2019

Beta has a different connotation in my line of work (as software that's almost-but-not-quite-ready-for-release) so I wouldn't use that. Same with alpha - it just comes before beta. Pre-release and preview have similar connotations, as does test - we're just moving backwards down the "release-ready" roadmap with each of these in my experience.

My votes go towards sandbox, projects, ideas, concepts or maybe literally just use
posted by cgg at 1:50 PM on May 13, 2019

posted by signsofrain at 2:52 PM on May 13, 2019

Blue sky
Dry dock
Wet dock
Test ramp
posted by Middlemarch at 3:14 PM on May 13, 2019



posted by amtho at 3:55 PM on May 13, 2019

I worked on a .gov with a similar issue and we ended up going with beta, which was approved.
posted by melodykramer at 6:00 PM on May 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

I like testbed for something that explains itself and is blandly acceptable.

If you want something with more personality: spearpoint, scout, exp.
posted by adamrice at 8:28 AM on May 14, 2019

How about "dev"? Seems appropriate for a catch-all server. "Beta" "staging" and "pilot" would mean specific things to certain people.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:52 AM on May 14, 2019

Rockindata, I sent you a memail.
posted by kovacs at 6:44 PM on May 14, 2019

After many machinations, I ended up being able to use labs after all. I got the go ahead to announce it tomorrow, and I’ll probably make a projects post next week.
posted by rockindata at 8:22 PM on September 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

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