Y U NO Domain of One’s Own?

Screen Shot 2013-07-18 at 5.05.22 PMTim Owens just framed out in this post how we can scale the possibilities of UMW’s Domain of One’s Own project to just about any professor from any school that might be interested. What’s interesting here is that the “we” in that last sentence doesn’t really refer to UMW, or even DTLT (although both helped to make it possible), rather it begins to define a broader community of folks who might be interested in pooling their edtech resources to actually help faculty and students experiment with the web beyond the LMS (which, ironically, is quickly being conflated with MOOCs).

Think of this for a second, with the Reclaim Hosting idea Tim lays out in the above linked post, we’re essentially providing a space for interested teachers/faculty (and by extension students) to experiment on this  hosting space for free. But that alone wouldn’t be nearly enough, you can get free hosting elsewhere. What we want to do beyond that is use this space to provide support, encouragement, and, ideally, form a community of people that are interested in working collaboratively.  What might it mean to openly imagine and frame a course alongside a community of people who’ll help you do it? Would it look like a roving band of institutionally-agnostic, piratical ed tech folks who’ll support you in rethinking how you use technology to augment teaching and learning in your course? I hope so!

Brian Lamb has referred to this model as a kind of co-op for edtech people who don’t have the resources locally. Why not share those resources out that are most difficult to get? And if I were a betting man, I would wager moral support and encouragement from a community of folks who are interested in similar experiments is the most valuable resource available for just about anything you’re trying to do. I can’t really think of a precedent for this kind of community that builds good will through good deeds, can you? Was it #ds107, or something like that? Anyway, we’re taking our cue from Brian Lamb, and offering up one little bit of what we can, free-hosting and support for any teacher/faculty interested in experimenting with building a course there (and we define teacher/faculty and course as loosely as possible, so don’t feel excluded).  In fact, we aren’t necessarily new to this, back in 2008 we did something similar for Longwood University with UMW Blogs.

So, if you are interested, Join Us!

We can do this over the next five months for free in large part thanks to a flash grant I received from the Shuttleworth Foundation by way of David Wiley.  THANK YOU! This is just one of three micro-projects we will be experimenting with thanks to this grant. This particular experiment is focused specifically on providing support for using a free, open source toolkit in the form of LAMP web hosting for interested faculty. The other two facets will be focused on 1) a series of plugins for ds106 that makes building a syndicated course space that much easier and 2)  a broader, conceptual framing of what such a distributed architecture might look like for controlling one’s data online, and how might we cobble/build it.

A Distributed Domain of One’s Own

The summer has been hot but quiet in Fredericksburg and I’ve had a lot of fun over the past few weeks working with Martha Burtis to get our new server up and running with the host of software we plan to use to roll out the Domain of One’s Own project to all incoming students this fall. It’s exciting to see an idea with so much history go from blog post to pilot to University-wide initiative. The Domain of One’s Own project is probably the most exciting thing I’ve done in my professional career and it’s certainly an idea that has found its moment as I talk to other educators and institutions about the possibilities and affordances it brings. But ultimately (there’s always a but) not every institution has a group like DTLT they’ve invested in, or a culture that would allow the idea to take hold immediately. Faculty want to know how they can provide their students the affordances of a project like ours if their IT department isn’t on board, or they don’t have an instructional technology group that can support their experiments. It’s time to fix that.

I’ve written before about the history behind Hippie Hosting which serves as a precursor to the Domain of One’s Own pilot and informed a lot of the technology and decisions that drive it. We all wanted to stop paying over $120 a year for a web host and come together to run a DIY server coop. 18 months in I can tell you it’s been a great and informative journey learning the ropes of running a web host but Hippie Hosting is stronger than ever today. I’ve talked and dreamed with Jim before about how we could take the Domain of One’s Own project and offer it to other institutions and individuals. What would that look like, to form a DIY coop of educational technology support centered around the idea of digital identity and the web? I want to believe that we as educators don’t need top-down institutional support to grab at this gold, we need each other. Hippie Hosting didn’t get where it is because of being faster, more reliable, or some feature set. Hippie Hosting is valuable because when you have a problem you get to talk to a human being (usually me or some of the other folks on Twitter) and we work together to fix it. No case numbers, no customer ID numbers, real human beings. What if we changed the narrative of “Oh that idea is fine for you all because you’ve got the support of a great instructional technology group willing to help” and flipped it on its head?

This week Jim and I put together Reclaim Hosting as a sort of grand experiment to see where this goes. Our goal is simple: If you are planning to offer a class in the Fall that would benefit from offering your students domains and web hosting, we want to make that happen for you. Thanks to support from the Shuttleworth Foundation we aren’t going to charge anything for web hosting, we’ll cover that along with the software to make it all happen. We just need you to cover the cost of the domains ($12/student). Our pilot will run from August – December with the goal of learning, building, and growing this thing so we can open the doors widely in the Spring. If this sounds like something you want to be a part of, we need you to go to http://reclaimhosting.com/join to fill out a short form so we have a better idea of what our numbers look like.

Reclaim Hosting is just one piece to the larger puzzle of how we allow people to easily feed their digital content back into a space they own and control. Making it easy for educators and students to get that space and start experimenting in it is an obvious first step, but over the next year we hope to play a part in building Reclaim Your Domain to provide a framework that allows people to take ownership and control of their digital identity. Anyone who read my previous post might think I had given up on the rhetoric of “Reclaiming” and that couldn’t be further from the truth. Having a space to archive the distributed work is important and making it easy both to get that space and to aggregate the work you do in other spaces is important. I wouldn’t partner with Jim to make this happen if I didn’t think so, and I’m excited about all the possibilities this could afford us as a community. Let’s build this together.

Redefining Reclaim Efforts

Over the past 2 years I’ve watched and later participated in the rhetoric of “reclaiming our digital identities in the web spaces we inhabit. Reclaim means a lot of things to a lot of people. At the end of last year I decided I wanted to start bringing more of the artifacts I put out on the web back in house with this blog. By February I had dropped Dropbox for a self-hosted file sharing program called ownCloud, taking a page out of D’Arcy’s playbook. In March when Google announced the impending doom of Google Reader I decided to jump in headfirst and get out from under the wing of as many Google products as possible. Since then I’ve hosted my own email, attempted to use Etherpad as a Google Docs replacement, and ran Fever on my server for RSS. Indeed it seemed like the perfect timing as we started ramping up our Domain of One’s Own pilot and preaching the beauty of controlling your own space. I may not have gone full Richard Stallman but I definitely abandoned quite a bit in the name of ownership and control.

It sucks and I’m done.

For several months now I have punished myself by using subpar products whose only clear advantage was that I could see their source code. I let the rhetoric of ownership cloud the real nut of what’s important: data portability. While everyone experimented with fancy new RSS Readers like Feedly in Google’s wake, I stuck to my guns with Fever on the idea that it was “good enough” and was somehow better by being hosted on my web space. “Good enough.” I’ve said that so many times, and yet data portability with RSS Readers already existed in the form of the open OPML format that most of these programs supported. While everyone else benefited from a host of great features from the variety of readers out there, I stopped reading feeds entirely on my iPad because it didn’t support Fever, and stopped sharing as widely due to the lack of social network integration.

I watched D’Arcy give up on ownCloud for now citing some deal breaker bugs and while those didn’t affect me directly, the fact of the matter was that every time I used a service that would happily back up my data to Dropbox or integrate with Dropbox in some other way it caused me to wince. Etherpad was a complete failure due to requiring a constant running Node.js process and even after loading a variety of third-party plugins the collaboration wasn’t even close and I found myself running back to Google Docs where everyone was.

Google is no saint and sure, the closure of a service like Reader that was widely used by a large audience, was problematic. But they also support data portability in a huge way with Takeout and the fact that I found it fairly easy to get my stuff off of their servers is testament to that. The fear that if I don’t own and control every piece of software I interact with it could disappear with no notice is not based in reality. Sure the overnight pop-up startups with no business model should be avoided if possible (or at the very least get regular backups if it’s stuff you rely on), but the majority of these services give plenty of notice before closing their doors, offer tools to export your data cleanly, and for every door that closes it seems like 10 more open in this vibrant age of web programming.

So I’m going to stop living in fear and start letting the web work for me. I’m still keenly aware of my digital identity and want to use my domain in a way that makes sense (likely as a form of backup whenever possible). But ultimately I want to be productive, social, and connected in a way that I’ve found very difficult these past few months by writing off a majority of the spaces that my network inhabits. I’m lowering my bar so I can start participating to a greater extent with the best of what’s out there without getting bogged down with political and ethical dilemmas that will paralyze you to the greatness of the web.

An Update on Reclaiming Efforts

An Update on Reclaiming Efforts

A few weeks ago when Google announced the discontinuation of Google Reader effective July 1st what began as a moderate approach to reclaiming things here and there that were important to me was sent into a tailspin. Maybe that seems dramatic but the Reader shutdown really hits home to me possibly because it's one of the first services to shut its doors on me that I personally used every single day, often several times a day. It's hard to trust a company after something like that and more importantly it raised larger issues about what the RSS landscape looked like before a heavy like Google came in and wiped out the competition only to bow out now. I had briefly flirted with the idea of getting off Google servers but now it was personal. So here's what I've done in the meantime:


Their have been tons of blog posts detailing all the various Google Reader alternatives out there. Most of them feel like switching from one proprietary web platform to another. The idea of hosting my own solution appealed to me and paying a nominal fee to a developer I've admired and respected for years was the icing on the cake. I've been using Fever since the day the shutdown was announced and it's been absolutely great. I save items I enjoy which feed into a widget at the bottom of this blog. If there's one thing I wish it had that would be a "mark as unread" feature since I used that previously to keep posts available to me. I've been trying to retrain myself to "save" items I want to come back to which works ok but not as well. I will say I'm a bit hesitant to how well Fever will be supported given Shaun's blog post about the current state of it but regardless it's working well now and since it's hosted in my space I can use it without worry of a company attempting to monetize or close its doors on me. ### Mail

Gmail was always expected to be one of the hardest ones for me to give up. I'm not sure why that is, I'm certainly not a power user of many of its features and most of time I'm checking my mail through a client with its own featureset anyway. I connected Apple Mail to Gmail over IMAP to download all of my email and then setup a mailbox on my hosting server, connected that to Apple Mail, and dragged it all into an Archive folder there. I setup a forward on Gmail to my new address, changed the contact for as many of the services I could think of (that's an ongoing thing), and never looked back. I have to say this was one of those switches that I expected to be worse than it really was. I'm rarely using the web client but when I need to Roundcube on Hippie Hosting is pretty nice (and there's a whole host of plugins for it I haven't even explored much yet). The hardest part is getting people to know the new address but with all email from the Gmail address coming to me and my replies coming from the new address I'm hopeful over time that will self-correct (I thought about setting an auto-reply letting the user know of the change but figured that could cause real problems with mailing lists so I didn't do it). ### Google Docs

Switching away from Google Docs has been a lot harder. Getting an archive of everything I had was pretty easy thanks to Google Takeout so I grabbed everything and dropped it into an archive folder in my ownCloud folder. But the fact remains there are no good web alternatives to Google Docs. There are plenty of repositories but not many collaborative editing suites and none as robust. I've played with a hosted install of etherpad-lite which works ok but it's not great and the server demands make it a non-starter for most people that don't have their own dedicated box. For now I'll have to keep my account active but with a focus on doing more with local documents rather than making GDocs the default environment for all of my document editing which was previously starting to become the case. ### Google Groups

I subscribe to just a small handful of Google Groups which are basically listservs with a forum-style frontend. Sadly there does not appear to be a way to subscribe and interact with a group without a Google account. A few searches appeared to show some promise but the information is outdated and none of the things I tried work anymore. I get the digest emails to my new email address since Gmail forwards over but I can't respond via email and if I want to interact with the thread I have to log in with my Google account. Ugh. So yeah, a few wins, a few losses. Overall I can honestly say this hasn't been as painful as I would have expected. Especially for something as big as email which I use so regularly. I think we often get caught up in the fear of the unknown and we let it paralyze us from exploring these alternatives. Google is our comfortable Lord and ruler. It's been refreshing to notice I'm no longer signed into a Google account all the time and my life is no worse for it (and in many ways better). Photo Credit: Alan Levine

Reclaiming this Blog

Reclaiming this Blog

As I wrap up the 2012 year and celebrate 2 full years of blogging I've begun the process of taking a harder look at what I post here and where I put my media. It's no doubt a popular topic of conversation in light of concerns people are having regularly with various services terms and agreements. A great post by Anil Dash titled The Web We Lost made the rounds on the internet recently and highlights this sentiment perfectly. As a culture we are putting more and more of our media in places where we don't have control or security. I've also closely followed the Project Reclaim work that was started by Boone Gorges and have always found the ways D'Arcy Norman locally hosts the media he creates on his blog inspiring. I have a few different motivations from those folks however so this post is the start of me outlining what my goals for this space are and how I plan to tackle them. Boone, and to some extent D'Arcy as well, have been motivated by philosophical arguments in favor of owning and controlling your data. A great example of this is Boone choosing whenever possible to use open source software including his operating system. A lot of the work I've seen D'Arcy do this past year has been to move away from commercial services like Flickr and YouTube in favor of having all of his media and work be published locally on his blog. My plan is a bit different in that I don't find the use of tools like Flickr, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to be inherently bad as long as* I always have a local copy of the data here on my blog*. In some cases I can use the benefits of aggregation to still post to the services I love and have them pull the data in here for perpetuity. In other cases it will mean locally publishing and then having that data feed out to the social networks I use for better community interaction there. Whether the activity around the work I create happens here on my blog or elsewhere is of no consequence to me. My utmost goal is that when these services inevitably get closed down I'm not sent into a panic, rather I already have everything here and can find a new service. I've started by giving this blog a much needed facelift. The previous theme was a modified version of the Skeleton template which was heavily focused on one single thing: the text I write. I rarely posted images with my posts and so I made sure the text was large and legible, that the blog as a whole was responsive, and that everything else got out of the way. I liked it, but if I'm to begin housing more photos, videos, and other work I create elsewhere I need to have things like a menu and a sidebar to contain some of it. I've switched up to the Yoko theme which I find pretty elegant and as a bonus it remains a responsive design. For full width browsers you'll get the benefit of 2 sidebars where the "extra stuff" will be. For smaller widths like mobile devices that information will drop below the posts which remain the primary focus. The next area I've begun to tackle which is still a work in progress is the act of posting photos to Twitter. In the past I typically defaulted to TwitPic for this (I also occasionally used the built-in photo functionality of Twitter when they released that, but always liked that TwitPic had full-size images). Earlier this year I briefly played around with a plugin called Tweet Images that allows you to setup the necessary API endpoint to create a new Image Post when a photo is added to Twitter using Twitter clients that support the feature. I use Tweetbot on both of my iOS devices and Twitter for Mac on my laptop. Tweetbot supports this and after installing the plugin I'm given a URL that I can put in as a "custom URL" for photo sharing. Now when I tweet out some text with an image, what happens in the background is that a new Image Post is created on my blog with a category I've assigned, the photo is attached and embedded in the post linking to the full size version, and the URL for that post is sent back to Tweetbot and used alongside the tweet. There's currently no support for custom image uploads in Twitter for Mac so I'll either have to find another desktop client to use, or accept that any images published from the desktop won't get pulled in. Since these image posts are something I do quite a bit more often than regular blog posts, I used the Ultimate Category Excluder plugin to make sure they wouldn't appear on the homepage and overwhelm the rest of the content. I wanted to also have a way for now to show these images in the sidebar of the homepage as a gallery. I thought an image gallery restricted to a specific category (or even better all Image Posts) would be relatively easy but my searches have been pretty lackluster so far. I did find Category Grid View Gallery which is what I'm using for now. It grabs the image from posts that have a specific category assigned to them and creates a gallery of thumbnails that open in a Lightbox fashion when clicked. I love that it has a lot of settings to adjust (category and tag exclusion, thumbnail size, number of images, etc) and that I can also use these galleries in posts if I wanted since it works as a shortcode. What I don't like right now is that when clicked what opens in lightbox is a windowed version of the entire post. I really just want to have the image open in large size rather than have a lightbox appear that has scrollbars. So it works for now but I'll keep searching around for something a bit more elegant. I've also gone ahead and setup a new IFTTT recipe. Any image from the feed of those Twitter photos gets pushed to Flickr. If there's any chink in the armor it's IFTTT because I can already tell its ease of use for a non-programmer type like myself means I'm going to rely on it for a lot of this automated work. Yet IFTTT has no business model (yet). They don't charge for there service, there are no limits that I'm aware of, and I don't see any ads (even if they did have ads it's not like I'm actually on there site for much longer than it takes to setup a new task). They've done an incredible job of making automated aggregation dead simple but the future of it does worry me. If they began charging for the service I'd have no problem paying for it, especially as I envision more of the work I do here hinging on the tasks I setup there.


I did say I was going to outline my goals for what I want to accomplish. I'm sure there are things that I will realize as I get into this project could be useful that I'm not thinking of here but this is a short-term list of what I'd like to do: - Have any video posted to YouTube or Vimeo also get added to my blog with a local copy of the video and metadata - Have any photo I upload to Flickr with a specific tag get pulled into my blog as an Image Post (the tag to prevent duplication with Twitter photos that get pushed there from coming right back) - Possibly setup some archive of all of my status updates on Twitter (maybe ADN too, but I honestly am not finding I post there much yet) - Pull in any photo onto my blog that gets posted to Facebook that I'm tagged in - Setup better ways of viewing these new media containers in gallery form - Setup a bookmark area (possibly here on the blog but this doesn't necessarily have to be public or live here) that automatically bookmarks favorited tweets, upvoted Reddit posts, and any link I share.

What else might I be missing that would be useful if you were doing something similar?