Installing WordPress Multisite and Using FeedWordPress

Yesterday I sat down with UBC Philosophy faculty and ds106 rockstar Christina Hendricks to record a walk-through of how to install and manage WordPress Multisite using the script-installer Installatron. Additionally, we covered the following:

  • How to manage your multisite account, with a special focus on the  level of abstraction from the site to the network
  • How to export and import a WordPress site
  • How to use the syndication plugin FeedWordPress

The more I work with faculty and students on managing their own web hosting and domain, the more I am convinced it’s not only manageable for just about anyone, but it’s near on getting dead simple. This is by no means to suggest Christina isn’t tech savvy—quite the opposite! However, she’s represents a demographic of faculty who’ve been rocking open source applications like WordPress for teaching and leanring on amazing platforms like UBC Blogs or UMW Blogs  for a while now. Given that, they’ve come to the point where they want to start managing some of their own sites, and exploring beyond the confines of these systems. That’s awesome because in my mind that’s why we started platforms like this in the first palce, so folks would start to move beyond them.

Nonethless, I emphasize some of her sites above because Christina is not planning on exporting and managing all of her numerous course sites on her own domain. Rather, she’s bringing in a few sites that make sense to be on her own domain: her blog, her portfolio site, her ds106 tumblr, etc. It’s not all or nothing, rather the two systems working brilliantly together, and the above video is a testament to how awesome open publishing platforms like UBC Blogs and UMW Blogs can be when faculty (or students, staff, etc.) can export their work from a university’s platform and seamlessly import that work into their own domain. THAT’S PROGRESS, KIDS!

In effect, by setting up her own WordPress multisite she is able to move from the concept of a site to that of a network of sites that she manages and controls. It’s weird for me, but I just really wrapped my head around this idea of the personal network while talking to Christina over the last couple of days. The WordPress Multisite network nomenclature gets at the idea that you, by way of your domain, become a multichanneled space for publishing, sharing, syndicating, aggregating, etc. As Andy Rush has noted before, a “Network of One’s Own!” And that’s exactly what Christina is demonstrating in this walk-through.

If you are interested in how to install your own WordPress Multisite (via Installatron, which you can get through Reclaim Hosting :) ), manage WordPress  Multisite, export/import WP, oand/or use FeedWordPress this video might prove very useful. I am hoping Christina and I can get together again and do a few more about managing your own domain and demonstrating that managing your own oiece of a server has never been simpler!

Has the Time Arrived for Hosted Lifebits?

I’m a big fan of Kin Lane‘s for many reasons: he’s west coast cool, he’s passionate about what he believes in, he’s a technical wizard, and he wraps that all up with some intense creativity and vision. What one might call the complete package. He’s ramping up his Reclaim efforts currently, and we got to spend some time together at the Emory Domain Incubator to start imagining what that might look like more broadly.

One of the ideas he was toying around with I really loved came as a response to the presentation  Tim Owens and Martha Burtis gave about their work setting up the Domain of One’s Own environment at UMW. They talked about hacking the management and billing software WHMCS to hide all traces of money from all students, staff and faculty using the service. This makes sense because none of them pay anything to get a domain and web hosting. So much of WHMCS  is defined around domains costs, billing notices, overdue warnings, etc.  The software is designed for folks who want to resell domains and hosting so this makes sense, no one really buys that software in order to give products away :) So as Tim and Martha quickly learned, erasing any mention of money from this application for UMW Domains was hard—the transactional logic is written into its DNA.

What Kin suggested during their session is that perhaps the WHMCS layer needs to function more as an educational/social experience that explains how domains and web hosting works, helps people understand how to think like the web in a contextual manner, and links a community together. I love this idea, and it’s funny that an article Kin linked to on Twitter just over an hour ago in Wired about the Indie Box project gets at some of this in there reference to an open source application marketplace on these personal servers. But two of the issues I see with that project are a) you have to pay $500 for your own server, and b) you have to manage your own server.

Don’t get me wrong, the vision behind this project is awesome, and I’m a big fan. I’m just wondering  if the hosted part of our identities on the web doesn’t still make some sense. You can still move your life bits to open source applications on a solid web host, and you can still have a marketplace for open source applications, Installatron is a pretty solid example of this. Kin has talked about building a marketplace of APIs that pull your contributions from various third-party, NSA-friendly platforms into your own server—but do you want to opt out all together? Maybe, but managing a server under your desk was never much fun, and I can’t imagine it will be that much better now.

So, thinking about this the idea Jon Udell was exploring in 2007 about hosted lifebits might be a conversation we’re ready to have more broadly currently given that the NSA is scanning our emails and Google and Facebook are hoarding our data. I think many of us would be willing to pay for hosted services that enable us to store and share our various digital lifebits,  providing access and privacy as needed. In many ways Kin’s idea of the re-imagined layer for domain and hosting management might consider what this might look like as a way at this issue. What if people created API tools you could pay a nominal fee for to ensure you could regularly archive your tweets, Flickr images, Facebook updates, etc? What if you could go beyond that an ensure some consistency of your online environments in terms of links, media, etc? Engineering an open web can only happen when each of us starts reclaiming some of the fundamental pieces of our personal digital archives, which does not necessarily mean taking on the role of full blown server admin. Collaborative labor collectives can be useful in some scenarios :)

This is one of the things I really want to start thinking about in relationship to Reclaim Your Domain. How can I start reclaiming my various online spaces that I’ve been living in for the last decade or more to go through the process of consolidating and ensuring a future for these conversations within and beyond the moment.