Reclaim Your Domain: Honing the Vision

I have a ton to write about because this past week was pretty intense. The Minding the Future event on Monday, OpenVA on Tuesday, travel to Puerto Rico on Wednesday, a workshop at the Universidad del Sagrado Corazon on Thursday (alongside Gardner Campbell and Alan Levine), capped off with a TEDx talk Friday morning. Amazingly everything went pretty well and like Brian Lamb notes with uncharacteristic optimism (his may not last :) ), I’m about as optimistic about the field of EdTech as I’ve been in a long while.

This may be a myopic vision taken more globally, but I’m not necessarily working at 30,000 feet. I’m on the ground alongside a group of people who together are trying to make a difference in the distributed spaces within which they live and work—and in that regard I’m truly optimistic. Here at DTLT we’ve kept the course, remained true to a shared ethos (as Mike Caulfield points out brilliantly here), and we’re starting to reap some of benefits of that. All that said, this post isn’t about any of that. Fact is, I’m going to need several separate posts to try and cover the various events listed above to try and explain this optimism. this one won’t begin to cover any of those events.

This post is about yet another event we had earlier this week with a number of the participants in Minding the Future. We were lucky enough to have Audrey Watters, Kin Lane, Davide Wiley, and Alan Levine in town last Monday, and we took the occasion to revisit the idea of Reclaim Your Domain that Audrey, Kin, and I started mapping out at M.I.T. in April. This is an idea I think has a lot of potential, and both Audrey and Kin remain interested in the possibilities—so we took about three hours Monday morning, along with Tim Owens, Ryan Brazell, Andy Rush, Scott Lockman, Bill Smith, Martha Burtis, Robin2Go, and Shelley Keith (in my organizing haze I forgot to tell Tom Woodward, but thankfully he still caught the tail end of the discussion).

The rest of this post will be an attempt to try and capture some of what we talked about (unfortunately there was no recording), interpret some of the scribblings in the image above, and generally ask for feedback, clarification, and correction from anyone who was there, or even folks who were not!

Reclaim Your Domain: A Breakdown of the Discussion
Reclaim Your Domin whiteboard

The discussion started with me setting up the three different parts of Reclaim that have begin to emerge. As well as hedging about the name, which Wiley scolded me for, can you believe that?! Anyway, the first branch of Reclaim is Reclaim Hosting. This is a hosting service that Tim Owens and I spun up as part of the Shuttleworth Fellowship that gives faculty and staff affordable hosting and domains so that they can begin to explore with establishing their web presence, or bringing their presence on a distributed set of third party applications into one space they control. We talked about the idea of packages using Installatron to enable people to create quick, customized installs. For example, a portfolio package through Installatron for WordPress, or a customized syndication hub for WordPress, etc. The possibilities are myriad, but this is first and foremost affordable hosting that could scale to the institution level to not only support students and faculty, but also entire institutions that can’t run this internally for whatever reason. It’s basically DTLT’s effort to package up the work we’ve done with DoOO and provide it to any other educational institution that’s interested. This branch of reclaim is fairly stable right now, and while the other two branches will serve to buttress and augment this branch, in many ways it’s the most straight forward of the three.

The second branch is Reclaim Learning, and this is the social, community branch of Reclaim. Here we’ll be focusing on how we can start to bring a community of folks together to start sharing their work. How are you using your various spaces to build out your course site, what are people teaching, could this be a place to share tutorials, approaches, and more generally create a space where open, distributed EdTech can happen. A place where faculty and students alike can come to get help, ideas, and a sense of what it’s all about. This is all about bringing folks together to help one another. How this works and what this looks like is not entirely clear to me, but it has a lot in common with what we are trying to do more generally for the state of Virginia as part of OpenVA, so this is an ideas many of us will be coming back to. We didn’t spend too much time on this part last Monday, but that’s because most of our energy was focused on the final element.

The third and final branch, Reclaim Your Domain, is where Kin, Audrey and I started six months prior, and I think we started getting a much better idea of what this is all about. This part of the puzzle is an open source project that basically enables you reclaim, archive, synchronize, and personally centralize your distributed, online presence on the web. This is the idea that started the whole thing, grounded in work D’Arcy Norman and Boone Gorges started a while back. I think we started to fine tune this, we’ll be creating a meta-layer application that will enable you to have an API marketplace (something Kin Lane has been conceptualizing and proto-typing) for a wide variety of web services (i.e. Twitter, Facebook,, Flickr, YouTube, Vimeo, etc.) that will allow you to archive, synchronize, and seamlessly move your data between a variety of storage spaces (i.e. your web host, Amazon S3, DropBox, GitHub, etc.). What’s more, each of these will have a slick wizard (like the awesome open source profect OpenPhoto is doing with Trovebox) that will enable you to do this easily and have context specific interface that will also educate folks on what to do, how to do it, and why it’s important. Inline knowledge, so to speak.

The idea came up that the interface for accomplishing this would be similar to If This Than That but abstracted out a layer.

During the discussion David Wiley pushed a bit harder on why this is even important, you can see the beginnings of that list list in the center of the image:

  • Historical Internet Archive
  • Web Literacy (End User and development)
  • Self presentation and preservation
  • Flips the web back to the personal, self-determination
  • About the people, scaling the possibilities of the individual to more easily control their small piece of the web

The idea came up that this would lead to no more freak outs, if there is another Posterous-like shutdown or if Facebook changes their terms for the millionth time you don’t to freakout again. You have agency, you can simply pull your data out. What’s more, with the API marketplace in play that we were talking about, you could convert your Posterous data into a Tumblr, WordPress, etc. Now the hook into these various applications is something we talked about at length, and I am going to leaver the specifics to folks smarter than me, but as I understand it this will provide an interface to hook into those various applications—an open source, self-hosted control panel for managing your online presence.

One of the points that Kin Lane brought up tin terms of the larger why was that web literacy is crucial and he used the domain he is (was?) working in, the Federal Government, as an example. To negotiate anything from voting to financial aid to welfare to health care you will need to be web literate. As more and more of these social services go on line, the more we will need to understand how these spaces work, have access and control over this data, and ensure that we’re working to educate the folks who need to know how it works most. I loved that idea, and it abstracted well beyond education. In that regard, reclaim your domain is bigger than that—it is starts to possibly frame a blueprint for a kind of federal digital strategy on an individual basis—something like this has to be coming sooner or later. All of us want some way to start thinking about how we will manage, archive, and share the digital resources we have been creating, collecting, and sharing over the last twenty years, and this will all get more important as time goes on. In many ways this branch of reclaim the most exciting to me.

As far as the web literacy part, Audrey mentioned that Mark Surman and Doug Belshaw are already working with this at Mozilla (as I am sure many folks are) and it’s time to start reaching out and making those connections. What is their approach? How can we use it? help build it? Etc. Luckily Alan Levine will be going to a Mozilla event in London next week, and we can start that relationship sooner rather than later.

In the end I guess this is why I feel hopeful, I feel like there is a possible plan that abstracts out beyond any one tool or our narrow domain of education, yet allows us to hone in on the processes and projects we are already part of. Reclaim Your Domain is in many ways born out of Domain of One’s Own in my mind, but in this context it is far broader, in both its appeal and potential to promote principles of the open web, empower users to gain a deeper understanding of those principles, and, most importantly, inspire us within the edtech field to start thinking beyond our domain in order to make it that much better.