Reclaim Today Episode 008: Sparking Conversations

Last week, was a whirlwind of work. But while everyone was back in the office for a few days, Lauren and I sat down for our first solo Reclaim Today episode. Tim and Jim already have 8 episodes behind them so we needed to catch up for sure. Lauren and I jumped into a quick conversation about Spark.

Now before I get into the gist of our conversation, I’m still new to using a third-party email client. I used AirMail for the past year I’ve been with Reclaim and before that, I used Gmail or iMail. It never really struck me to use another email client. I was so used to the default systems. But AirMail changed the game, and Spark is even better.

Lauren and I began talking about some of our favorite features. Mine, in particular, is the calendar. This helps a ton when trying to schedule meeting or calls, you don’t have to leave the application. I can see Reclaim’s calendar and manage my personal calendar all in one. 

Another feature that is super handy is the Smart Inbox feature. While working with a traditional inbox, you see the emails in reverse chronological order. So all the newsletters, shipping notifications, and important emails. It’s not easy to sort through and I always felt like I was going to miss an important email. Spark has a Smart Inbox feature that automatically sorts out emails for you. So all your newsletters, notifications and personal emails are sorted into their own category. It makes sifting through emails so much easier. 

Spark has a comment feature where people in your ‘team’ can comment and draft emails behind the scenes and collaborate on ideas. Reclaim Hosting receives a ton of notification emails and the comment feature comes in handy. It saves a few steps for sending emails responding to these notifications. 

Lauren continues the conversation with her favourite features, the smart inbox feature and email ‘templates’ using signatures. The episode is short but if you’re interested in a new mail client this is a good one! Take a look!

Archiving a Twitter Account

One of this week’s episodes of Reclaim Today sparked a conversation around archiving. These episodes are always a great listen, in this particular episode, Tim and Jim were chatting about Harvard’s announcement to close down blogs.harvard.edu. 

A highlight of this talk occurs about 9 minutes in when Tim discusses how users begin to think about taking their content with them. Jim continues the conversation,  describing that the blogging platform, specifically with UMW Blogs, was intended as a point of content creation with the notion that users own their content and can take it with them when they graduate. This became, as Jim said, the “kernel at the beginning of agency and digital identity.”

I looked into what this meant during my senior capstone project, where I created an Intro to Domain of One’s Own video. 


I didn’t really think much of this after listening to the live stream, but then I came across an old twitter account. I created an account as part of a final project for ds106, where we portrayed a character from the Wire in ‘real life’ through social media. We watched the Wire as part of the class and my character was Beadie Russell. 

This sparked my thoughts more on what I can control in other digital presences like through Twitter. I examined what this looked like through my own content and through my capstone project, but it never really hit me I could do this with content on a social media platform. So I decided, since I wasn’t actively using the account anymore, I would download an archive of the tweets I created for ds106.

So I requested an archive of the account (thank goodness I remembered the login credentials) and in a few short minutes, I had a .zip file of all the tweets for @beadierussell. I saw Tim did this exact thing with his previous twitter account as well.  I combed through the files, fully expecting to keep them on my computer locally and, I realized this was set up to be uploaded online. So I decided to do just that, I created a subdomain from my domain, and upload the .zip file of the account to it, so I can link it to the final project. 

It was super easy! I FTP’d into my account, uploaded the .zip folder and boom, @beadierussell now lives on meredithfierro.com! You can view the archive here at twitter.meredithfierro.com/beadierussell.

It’s nothing fancy, but I imagine it would look awesome if you had years of tweets, like Tim. Super cool that Twitter provided the coded files to upload the account right away too!

Embedding Myself into the Professional World

Well, #domains17 is done! We’ve wrapped up on Tuesday and are all home by now. I definitely needed a few days to gather my thoughts for this post. I’m so grateful for this chance to experience what the Ed Tech world is like before I even start my job with Reclaim Hosting. It was a great way to meet tons of new people I will interact with. 

wanted to talk a bit about what I wanted to get out of the conference, how the conference actually was, and what I’m doing after it. 

So I knew that Reclaim was planning a conference in OKC back when I was an intern. Lauren would send messages on Slack of updates to her planning and it was very cool to follow how she was planned out the entire thing. I was looking forward to hearing about all the fun once I started at Reclaim. Then about 2 weeks ago, I received an email from Tim asking me if I could come along with them to OKC. I was on board immediately! I definitely didn’t want to miss the chance to get to hang with the full team before I started and to see what the Ed Tech world was all about.

Now flash forward to Saturday. I was so nervous, anxious, but mostly excited. I was nervous because it was my first exposure to a business conference. I was anxious because I really only knew the Reclaim and UMW crew out of the 80 people that attended. But I was mostly excited for this wonderful opportunity to really jump into my career with both feet before it even begins. 

I arrived at the hotel by the early afternoon and met the whole team to get things set up for the conference. Although the conference really started on Monday, we used Saturday and Sunday to get acclimated to the space and have everything ready for when people got in on Sunday. We all got dinner together along with Adam Croom, the University of Oklahoma liaison for the conference. He and Lauren worked closely to plan. It helped to have someone on the ground who knew the surrounding area and was able to provide awesome recommendations. 

Sunday rolled around and it was a great day full of awesome conversations. Lauren and I started the morning by walking to a local coffee shop called Coffee Slingers. And when I say walked, I mean like 30-40 minutes through the city. OKC is a weird mix of open space, but also you get into the city quickly. It was such a nice morning, despite the rain that I totally didn’t mind walking. I enjoyed the time to get to know Lauren a little more than just from our Internet class with Jim in 2014. It was a great girl bonding morning. After the morning, we met for lunch with Jim and Tom Woodward for another meal full of awesome conversation. Tom talked about his work with Georgetown University. He gave a presentation on his work during the conference, you can read that here.  He also took some awesome photos as well. 

This was my first experience with a conference like this where I am actually involved. I’ve been to other conferences before but never on my own and in this capacity with people who are now colleagues.  But honestly, I couldn’t think of a better way to be introduced to the new professional world than through this conference. Jim, Tim, and Lauren both helped make me feel very welcome by introducing me to people and asking me to be involved with a lot of the conference. 

We kicked off the conference with a Domain Fair, where participants had numerous booths talking about the different projects they were working on. It was a great chance for people to catch up. For me, it was a great experience to see for the first time what people were working on. I was also recognized from Twitter which was insane, I hadn’t thought that my profile would be recognizable!

Then it was time for Martha’s Keynote! Martha Burtis was my boss at UMW, the director of the DKC, and I knew she was going to talk at the conference but I had no idea that I was going to see it. It was totally awesome. At UMW, the Domain of One’s Own project has been around for 4 years. I was a student there when the program started and I’ve seen it grow so much over the years. Martha talked about the DoOO program being at a point of “inflection,” as she called it, to shift the focus from getting the program set up, to a point of deeper thinking about what DoOO really is. Martha said

“I want to spend my time here dwelling on the the inextricable, in this case, why we in higher education must teach our communities to grapple with the Web in these deep and discerning ways — how the Web, and our culture, and our systems of education are bound up with each other and why they demand a particular responsibility of us.”

For me, this quote really stuck. I have noticed a lot of times that people don’t really understand how to navigate the web. And not just students I’ve encountered as a DKC tutor either. Other students and friends take the web for granted very often. It’s important that we teach others how to use the web, what the web represents in our society today, and promoting digital citizenship. Martha continued to talk about DoOO and provided some thought-provoking points. Towards the end of her talk, she mentions my name. I was totally surprised!  She talked about my individual study I did last semester and one of the questions I asked, during the interview process, if the web was a concrete space what would it be? Martha put together all of the answers to that question. It was such a cool video, take a look:

She challenged us to think about what the web would look like if it was a concrete space to us. After I interviewed everyone for the project, I had an idea of what everyone else was saying but I never really put it together like the way Martha did. I thought about and thought about it, then, it hit me that the web was a shipping container. You can do a ton of things with shipping containers, build shelters, buildings, and ship things in them. But when I’m talking about the web as a shipping container, I don’t mean just one of them, there are thousands of them around the world. And they can be transported anywhere in the world. There’s not just one item in them either, there can be a bunch of different products in one container. Just like websites, there are tons of different things within a website.

I thought this example is perfect for what the web represents in my life. My dad works on ships, piloting them from the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay up to Baltimore Harbor in Maryland. He travels on all types of ships, car, container, and tanker ships. So I thought to illustrate my example of the web as a concrete space, I would use some of the photos he’s taken from the ships perspective:

Panorama Shot my Dad Took

 

I took this in London when studying abroad.

Another photograph my dad took while on a ship

After Martha’s keynote, the group broke into sessions for the remainder of the conference. This was another great opportunity to see what others are working on. This was very new to me, which was very exciting. But there was a chance for me to step out of my comfort zone as well. I’m used to being behind the scenes of events not presenting in front of other people. During a few of the sessions, I was introducing the speaker. It may seem like a small thing introducing someone but for me, especially since I’m so new to the field, it was pretty daunting. Luckily I got to introduce some of the UMW DTLT crew, so that took a little bit of the nerves away.

The first talk I introduced was Sean Morris and Jesse Stommel’s “If bell hooks made a Learning Management System (LMS).” Their talk was awesome, diving into the question: If bell hooks Made an LMS: Grades, Radical Openness, and Domain of One’s Own. Here are a few quotes from the talk:

I also introduced Jordan Noyes and Lora Taub who examined archiving protests. This was something that I’ve never really thought about. I haven’t participated in a protest before, but after their talk, I was intrigued. So I’ve set this as a new goal, start archiving protests, or participating for that matter.

One of the other talks I went to was from Jess Reingold and Jenna Azar. Jenna is an Instructional Designer at Muhlenberg College, who also runs the Digital Learning Lab, which is just like the DKC. She brought her son along, Jarrett. Jarrett is a Digital Learning Assistant and helps students with their digital projects. It was really interesting to see how the Digital Learning Lab is run as compared to the DKC, and really cool to see the concept that the DKC started to continue to grow.

Jess talked about her time as an Instructional Technology Specialist at UMW. It was really interesting to see that perspective. Here are some quotes:

Overall this trip was one of the best things I could have done to kick off my career. It still hasn’t hit me that I start at Reclaim Hosting this week. I feel refreshed, excited, and motivated to get a start and jump into my work at Reclaim. Thank you, Tim, Jim, and Lauren for this opportunity!

Free SSL Certificates Now Available

I know a number of folks who have shared my excitement at seeing support for the Let’s Encrypt project grow as the timeline towards a public beta inched closer and closer. Let’s Encrypt is a new certificate authority backed by a wide variety of sponsored organizations including big names like Mozilla, Google, the EFF, and Facebook. Their mission is to help secure the web by offering freely available TLS certificates. But why is this important?

Having an SSL certificate has been a traditionally cumbersome process of creating signing requests, storing private keys, verifying authority through domain records, and configuring Apache accordingly (not to mention there was typically a cost involved to this). There are a variety of reasons to do it that go well beyond getting a green padlock in your browser. When you login to website and interact with them over standard HTTP that traffic is easily monitored by others on your network. With our goal of helping users reclaim their digital identity and build out a space on the web, it only makes sense to provide the necessary tools to allow them to do that securely. In addition browsers have begun proposing plans to deprecate standard HTTP and display warnings in the browser.

Let’s Encrypt opened their public beta this past December and we’re pleased to finally announce a working solution that gives everyone immediate availability to install these certificates completely free of charge directly from their cPanel. All Reclaim Hosting customers will find a Let’s Encrypt icon under the Security section of cPanel. Receiving and installing a certificate is as easy as the click of a button. During the beta period certificates expire after 90 days, however using our tool certificates will automatically renew for you in the background every 60 days ensuring you never have to worry about an expired certificate again. You can read more about the process at http://docs.reclaimhosting.com/miscellaneous/installing-free-ssl-certificates.

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Providing secure spaces to host your content is at the core of Reclaim Hosting’s mission and we believe this integration with Let’s Encrypt goes a long way towards a more secure and safe environment for us all.

Myths of the Web Hosting Industry: 24/7 Support

If you’ve been with us for any length of time you’ll start to recognize that we do things a little differently around here. It’s not just that Reclaim Hosting “feels” like a different kind of company, in fact it becomes pretty obvious when comparing with our services and features with others. And that’s not to imply that we come out on top with every feature! (I’d be surprised if we did, we’re a year and a half old with zero investors growing this community in a much different way). I’ve avoided the “comparison chart” complex for awhile although I think it could be useful to see how we shape up to others and I’ll put something like that together soon. But an interaction I had today with a customer prompted me to start writing about some of the more common features of other web hosting providers that you think you want, and yet you don’t because they’re a myth. Let’s talk about “24/7 support”.

I helped a customer today with their site that had been dealing with error messages for a month. It shocked me someone would put up with issues for a month without sending me an email or anything so I questioned why he waited so long and begged him not to do so in the future (we resolved the issue in 20 minutes!). His response was this:

The reason I didn’t contact you so far, to be honest, is because I guess I am not used to this kind of quick and awesome response! I have my personal site with [company name that totally doesn’t rhyme with SnowCaddy removed]….when I call the company directly, their employees only sound like they are trained to replace problem-solving with fake courtesy (“I apologize” is the most common line) from a rule book 🙂 Other companies were even worse in my previous experiences.

You see, 24/7 support is a bit like a 24/7 drive through McDonalds. Yes, you can eat at 3 in the morning, if you’re willing to order from a menu of about 5 different foods that have all likely been sitting way too long under a heater. I’ve even had companies that promised 24/7 support and then after hours I very clearly got nothing more than an automated “Thanks for contacting us, we’ll reply shortly” response that went hours without response. Funny how those 24 hours quickly start to look like normal business hours with a combination of automation or outsourced undertrained support personnel the rest of the time. You deserve better, we all do. Here’s a screenshot of a report from a support product you may have noticed us using in the past month that helps us respond in a more casual form than a ticketing system:

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The myth of 24/7 support is that it’s rarely 24/7 and quite often an extremely sub-par form of “support”. Yet with Reclaim Hosting what you get is so much better. Instead of promises of getting “some kind of response” any hour of the day, those numbers speak for themselves. Particularly because in almost all cases you’re not just getting a random support technician who know’s nothing about your account, you’re talking to me, the same guy that keeps the servers humming and helps you think through that choice of plugins for the course you’re teaching. With Reclaim Hosting you get fast, personalized, support from a real person who isn’t going to throw a canned set of responses back at you.

Ready to stop struggling on your own and get real help building a presence on the web? Join us and let’s continue to build something that defies the norms of this broken industry together.

Rethinking Forum Software

Some of my worst memories of poorly-designed online courses bring me back to the awful discussion boards of the standard LMS. The instructor, in a feeble attempt at building community with the tools they had, would ask you to go in and introduce yourself, which meant you had to pretend to be interacting with everyone else in there and care that they like Indian food and hot yoga. Later we’d be asked to respond to articles with our thoughts in a new thread, maybe even comment on others. Everything was extremely linear, the editing tools offered little beyond the ability to style some of the text, and if you were a part of a large class, the threads quickly become overwhelming and as a student you just picked something near the top of the pile rather than attempt to wade deeper into the mess. Open source forum software was often only a small step up from that experience. The ability to subscribe to threads, better layouts, and plugin architecture of software like PhpBB and Vanilla Forums is certainly welcome, but ultimately it still felt like we were stuck in the 90s and hadn’t really rethought what a “discussion board” could actually be. This weekend I got a chance to setup Discourse and play with it, and I’m convinced we might finally have an answer to that.

Discourse is an open source project led by Jeff Atwood who runs Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange Network. The website makes their mission very clear: they want to rethink what a discussion forum could be and they’ve built something from the ground up to do that. The long list of features is impressive: Image handling by drag + drop, endless scrolling instead of awkward paginated threads, @user mentioning within threads, the ability to respond to a thread while continuing to read further down, replying to a topic as a new thread, realtime updates, link expansion for many popular websites, oEmbed and oAuth, and the list continues to go on. Suffice it to say, it’s extremely modern software in look and feel and it’s designed really well.

I had heard a bit about Discourse but not looked into it much further until I was approached by Jim and Howard Rheingold to see if I could help them use it for Howard’s Social Media Issues course this fall through Reclaim Hosting. The trickiness of this request was that Discourse does not run in a shared hosting environment, in fact it doesn’t use a LAMP stack at all. It’s a Rails app that uses PostgreSQL for the database and while they don’t care what OS it’s run on, most instructions for installation pointed at Ubuntu. Discourse also has some pretty hefty minimum specs for the server with at least 1GB of memory so it was virtually impossible that I’d be running this on the same server that Reclaim uses to host our users. It’s worrisome for me that this seems to be the direction of most software out there. LAMP software seems to be limited by the capabilities of the platform and progressive developers are moving to newer methods that use Rails, Node JS, and other technologies that offer better security and performance, but at the cost of losing out on the ability to do things like “One Click Installs” within shared hosting environments. I worry that choice limits adoption to those that can afford hosted solutions or the technical chops to setup their own server, but I’m also optimistic and hopeful that there will be better technologies and ways of getting at this problem in the coming years that will continue to push things forward for everyone, not just sysadmins and customers with deep pockets.

Anyways, I fired up a virtual private server at Digital Ocean (a company I already use for other pieces of Reclaim Hosting and love!) and within 60 seconds I had the server I needed to get started. After a weekend of trial and error I got it up and running and started to really play with it. Their homepage lists many of the greatest features that I also briefly mentioned earlier, but there are a lot of smaller things that really impress me about Discourse. One is that almost always when I googled for an issue I was having, I found a thread on their forum where the developers were actively trying to fix the issue for the user, and in many cases rolling in fixes to the code and releasing them just weeks later. There’s something really encouraging about seeing someone post an issue about wanting better privacy options and instead of responding with “Yeah, we’ll see what we can go” there’s a lively thread about use-cases and what people would want to see ending with the developers posting that they’ve merged code into the source that offers exactly what the user wanted. I also stumbled upon a really great feature of Discourse: Multisite is built in. That means I can use the same server I setup for Howard to create a second install as a sandbox without having to setup a second server (I will probably have to upgrade the specs of the existing one I’d imagine as more forums require more memory).

To that end I’ve decided to focus on using Discourse as a community space for Reclaim Hosting. If you’re at all curious about playing with the software I’d encourage you to head over to http://community.reclaimhosting.com and give it a try. It’s still very much a beta product and this install is probably not fully-configured since I just fired it up last night, but I think you’ll start to see why I’m pretty pleased with it and why I think it could be a big deal for managing communities as well as providing better online discussion spaces going forward.

It’s Not About the Launch

The past week has been a bit of a whirlwind as Jim and I revealed our plans for Reclaim Hosting with a semi-official launch date of August 15th. We’ve had responses from both public and private institutions, over 50 individuals from as close as George Mason University to as far as Australia and Argentina. At this point a conservative estimate of numbers looks like several thousand people will be a part of this pilot this Fall. That is insane. Awesome, and unnerving to say the least. But these day’s I’m taking comfort in the idea of a pilot and the realization that, in the same way that Rome wasn’t built in a day, the massive launch is completely overrated.

Do you remember what YouTube or Facebook looked like when it first launched? Probably not unless you were one of the cool kids with early access. Luckily thanks to the national treasure that is the Internet Archive we can take a peek at some screenshots of what some of these very popular websites with slick interfaces looked like around day one. Here’s YouTube:

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Twitter:

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And even the not-so-old Tumblr:

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And you can imagine that the featuresets of these particular sites pale in comparison to the long list of reasons most people probably love them today. In fact some things, like the community around these sites, has as much to do with their popularity as any particular feature or look to the site.

When I posted about Reclaim Hosting to my personal Facebook account, a friend (who does some freelance web design work) commented on the lackluster theme. He’s probably right that the site could be more flashy, but that comes at the expense of what’s really important. If I spend all my time making a website that looks flashy and fancy with rotating graphics, parallax scrolling, CSS3, HTML5, JQuery, and all the other latest acronyms, but we don’t invest in community we’re lost. This is about more than just a big fancy launch. The idea of a pilot is that we build it as we go, which is a model that DTLT has successfully used for many years to great effect. The benefit of course is that you get to help us build this. Our decisions aren’t made in a boardroom by a group of investors, they’re made when you sign up and give us feedback.

So screw the launch and let’s just start doing and making awesome stuff. We’ll build the plane as we fly it and you can help me steer.

Reclaim Hosting

It’s been an exciting past few days as Jim and I launched Reclaim Hosting and began building out the system to support the signups. We sat down today to talk about a bit more about it, including some of the software we’re using, as well as talking more about the idea of Distributed EdTech (#dedtech) and the ability for a community to pool their resources around complex topics and systems like this. It’s also been a blast to just get in front of the camera, fire up the livestream, and start doing DTLT Today again. I think it’s going to be one of many avenues we use going forward not only to narrate our process on the work we’re doing, but also to server as a way to provide professional development for this pilot in the next 6 months.

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 https://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.