Sandboxes are an amazing place for children to play. They can dig, build, explore, and imagine so many things. Castles, fortresses, caves, battlefields, and racetracks were some of my favorite creations. Yet I never recall being upset that those creations would eventually crumble in a few days.. It was the journey, not the destination that was the fun part. Websites are all too often the exact opposite. It is a rush to build the site, exploring ideas is often viewed as wasted effort, and the finished product is expected to stand on its own for years to come. This article advocates the use of a website sandbox; a space to let imagination run wild and God's creative spirit to flourish.
Proof of Concept
When a new technology or technique emerges, web geeks are on often in the know and eager to "play" with a new feature. While you may not have a direct strategic connection, or any perceived value, encourage your web team to explore these new endeavors. By pushing their boundaries, they not only learn new things, but avoid the boredom that can arise from regular content updates.
As you bring in new volunteer and/or paid staff, you will want them to learn how to update your website. A sandbox is a perfect space for them to create news posts, upload photographs, and edit pages. Per my article on "It's Never Too Late to Start", you can reassure an older volunteer that they will not break anything on the live site; allowing them to relax and learn without fear.
If you create a new feature in your sandbox, you may want to test it before you deploy it. Inviting church members, friends, or even family to test the new site is easier when you have a sandbox already set up and running. The obvious benefit is that you can test without affecting the existing site.
One of the worst situations for a web team is a hacked site. Sometimes it is possible to clean up the code and remove any defacements or malicious code. Other times it is next to impossible to track down that code in every dark corner of your site. It is in these cases that restoring your site from a backup is your best option. While you may have to roll back some features and functionality, your sandbox may make an adequate backup if no others exist.
There are many ways to create a sandbox website, and your web team members should be able to accommodate your needs. If you are a web team of one, consider setting up a local web server such as XAMPP, or turn your WordPress website into a multi-site installation. These two common solutions for a sandbox should get you started toward enjoying the benefits I mentioned above. Get moving on this project and get experimenting!
Photo courtesy of Ned Horton