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Is there a way to browse Stack Exchange sites while they're in private beta, even without having registered for the beta?

This would be particularly useful in light of the possibility for private beta participants to invite people to the private beta via email.

Prompted by a similar question during the Theoretical Physics private beta, and I'm sure it's come up before.

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@NickCraver Private, as in only committed users can participate, and the posts remain low-profile (no high-pagerank indexing). Since the API could trivially have omitted private betas, and no one from SEInc has (to my knowledge) complained about private beta content being visible on SM or C80, I presume this is intended. And, by the way, please do not pull API access to private betas, it is useful for a variety of things (the invitation use case I mentioned, and to make stats (I used it during the Science Fiction & Fantasy private beta), and to ask random SE denizens for advice on meta issues). – Gilles Oct 8 '11 at 15:05
No Trespassing!!!!!! Seriously though, I have no idea if the API exposure is intended. It's probably the way it is because it's simpler on our side, where deploying a site initially is the where 99% of the work is, and private -> public beta transition is literally flipping a status in our Sites table, and flushing some caches. – Nick Craver Oct 8 '11 at 15:10
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Is there a way to browse Stack Exchange sites while they're in private beta, even without having registered for the beta?

Yes. Go to the Area 51 proposal page and click on the Visit Site link. Private betas are no longer locked down.

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Every Stack Exchange site can be accessed through an API — a way for programs to interact with the site. The API works from day 1, even while the site is in private beta¹. There are a number of applications and websites that you can use to browse sites in private beta (only browse: the API is read-only).

You can find applications using the API on Stack Apps. Some of them are already running on someone's website which anyone can go and browse. In particular, consider:

  • Stack Mobile: a mobile-phone-like interface, with most of the features of the real site that are available to users who are not logged in.
  • Column 80: a crude interface intended for those 80-column text terminals, nonetheless effective to show the text of questions and answers.

So, if you are participating in a private beta and want to invite someone, I suggest pointing them to Stack Mobile for initial browsing.

¹ The list of sites is only updated once a day, so if you access the site through an application, it may take a few hours after the private beta starts until the application picks up the new site.

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I wonder if this "feature" is intended or an oversight. Nevertheless nice to know. Thanks. – Andreas Bonini Oct 8 '11 at 14:31
+1 I've been using this for quite a while to get a feel for the newer sites before they launch. – John Oct 8 '11 at 16:21
I have done my best to ensure that as much information as possible is presented through StackMobile's interface. – uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Oct 11 '11 at 5:15

Except for the API (mentioned by @Gilles), there is no read-only access to a private beta because the the site itself is not finished, yet.

If you let the public into a site still under construction, you run the very likely risk that they'll see this mess and say "This site royally sucks, I'm outta here!" …and they will never come back.

The purpose of a private beta is to finish building the site prior to opening it the public. I often talk about the empty restaurant syndrome where it isn't very appealing for passers-by seeing a bunch of empty seats. But more than that — In the opening days, you don't want people wandering in off the street when half your ceiling tiles are still laying on the floor, mistakes all over the menus, and half the staff walking around with mops and buckets.

So we restrict access to the site to all but a select few who agree to help us sweep up a bit and start filling those seats for opening day. There's nothing about read-only that's going to keep some over-anxious blogger from announcing "Hey, the XYZ site is open, go check it out" …only to be seen by thousands while still under construction.

The private beta has to be restricted to those who sign up for the process. Making it read-only does not mitigate the reasons it is a private beta in the first place.

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So, does that mean that private betas will require authentication when API 2.0 comes out? How will the current use cases for read-only access to private betas be managed? – Gilles Oct 10 '11 at 21:18
@Gilles I don't have any informatoin on the API 2.0. Questions about the API can be posted to – Robert Cartaino Oct 11 '11 at 3:15

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