For the past year or so, the group at TOPP that I manage has been known as TOPP Labs. TOPP Labs was originally chosen not because it was the best or most compelling name, but because as we were dialing back work on the OpenCore project, we needed a name that was better than “The Team Formerly Known as OpenCore,” or “Non-geo TOPP” (since OpenGeo is TOPP’s other main software group). Without a whole lot of thought, we settled quickly on TOPP Labs, as it was better than nothing and it generally evoked the spirit of experimentation and innovation we were hoping to embody after working for a long time on a single, large project.
Since then, TOPP Labs has come a long way. We’ve re-imagined ourselves as an incubator for new enterprises and initiatives that make cities work better, and have taken off down several paths: information systems for public transit (under the OpenGeo Transit brand); tools to facilitate citizen engagement, such as FixCity and Community Almanac; and initiatives to help public agencies get on board with “open,” such as Open311, OpenMuni, and the NY Transit Data project. We’ve been busy connecting with the open government, open cities, and progressive planning communities, and have been documenting our progress on our blog, The Civic Hacker.
But now, the time has come for us to choose our grown-up name. This was spurred in large part by our new Executive Director, but I fully agree that the time is come, and that we should have a name that does a better job describing what it is that we do, and perhaps more importantly, what we can offer. As I’ve written before, I’ve always been conflicted about the “TOPP” acronym, as it’s not self-evident what it means, and of course the same goes for TOPP Labs.
Of course, I’m not just writing this for my own good, I’m writing because I need help. Please help me choose a new name for TOPP Labs. Let’s make it a good one. Thank you in advance for your thoughts here. To help this along, here are a few things that should inform the choice of a new name:
First, what we’d like the name to evoke:
- Technology, innovation, and creativity
- A strong commitment to civic issues and the goal of making cities work better
- A serious, competent organization that can deliver quality products & services
Second, here’s what we’d like to avoid:
- Terms or phrases that could easily become cliche or dated (for example, Labs, or e, or i)
- Anything that sounds overly silly and not business-y enough (e.g., the Super Awesome Group)
- Anything that sounds overly business-y and not creative enough
- Open Abuse — there’s only so much “open” people can handle
Lastly, it should be informed by the things that we actually do, such as:
- Find opportunities for software and technology to help make cities more
livable, communities more engaged, and government more effective.
- Develop open source software products that accomplish the above, selling our services to government agencies, foundations, and other partners.
- Cultivate communities of open source developers and other civic technologists.
- Help liberate data for the public good.
So far, the strongest contenders for names have been something like the Civic ____ Group, where the blank is “tech,” “dev,” “data,” or something similar. I’m not opposed to those approaches, but I still haven’t fallen in love-at-first-sight with a name, which I’m hoping is still in the cards.
Other names I’ve noticed lately that I like are the Office of New Urban Mechanics, which is Boston’s new office for civic technology innovation, led by their innovation director, Nigel Jacobs. Also, I dig John Tolva‘s title at IBM of Director of Citizenship and Technology. We could go the city-analog route and name ourselves the Department of Public Networks or the Department of Civic Hacking (I could be Commissioner), but that’s almost certainly too cheeky.
So, that’s where I’m at. The clock is ticking, as I need to make a decision by the end of the day tomorrow, Friday 2/19.
What do you think, intertubes?