Berg Builds Community

It’s been a week of travel and on-the-ground work at Reclaim’s Headquarters in Fred Vegas, but I would be remiss if I did not share the awesome community portal the folks at Muhlenberg College have built with their Domains instance.

Community site for Berg Builds

It’s a beautiful thing, scores of featured sites  around the community that can be filtered by a few key categories such as research, travel, portfolio, student, staff, faculty, etc. The screenshot above does not capture the long scroll of sites that provides an instant sense of just how much work is happening in the Muhlenberg community, and for me that is everything. I continually return to the idea that these educational publishing platforms are at their core a way to reveal the life of the mind of a community, and Berg Builds has nailed it. From what I understand the great Tim Clarke is behind this project, and he has really done a brilliant job, simple, elegant, and sensitive to the issues that surround be out there in this day and age. 

The opt-in/opt-out form does a nice job of inviting submissions as well as providing a place for users to remove their work if need be. And the blurb introducing the form lays it all out:

We try to keep up with all the great work happening on Berg Builds domains. But sites come and go, people wander, the world forever marches onward. If we’ve missed your site and you would like to be included in this community, please use the opt-in form below and let us know!

Working on the open web adds our voices, knowledge, and experience to the greatest collection of human creativity ever known. But we understand that folks seek visibility of their work on the web in different ways. While we encourage everyone to share their creations within our Berg Builds Community site, we also understand that you may have reasons why this doesn’t feel right. If you would like to have your site removed, please use the opt-out form below and we will honor your request.

I remain a true believer that working on the web can provide a unique space to share our work, and I also believe there is a special place on the web for higher ed given its foundational role in help shaping the internet. That said, we know the other side of that coin all too well these days, which makes the work Muhlenberg is doing to highlight the good work folks are doing all the more special. Opening up the inscrutable black box that is web hosting for discovery and connections is an act filled with hope and promise—it’s hard not to feel inspired.

I am looking forward to a play-by-play of this project, and imagine it’s either already published or on the way. And hey, there may even be a presentation in the works for Domains19—ya never, never know!

Web Hosting vs. Web Publishing


I appreciate NYU Libraries’ straightforward approach to their Domain of One’s Own project, they basically say, we’re hosting …. that’s it. In fact, it’s right in their domain: http://hosting.nyu.edu

So when someone recently asked me for various examples of how schools are approaching Domains, I headed over to NYU’s instance, and I was struck again by their ability to quickly distill what this service is and is not.

The Web Hosting vs. Web Publishing table breaks down the difference between something like a WordPress Multisite instance versus a Domain of One’s Own quite nicely. You could argue the last point about portability given WordPress sites on WPMS are pretty easy to migrate, but regardless it is spot on.

Web Hosting vs. Web Publishing

hosting.nyu.edu wp.nyu.edu
Requires intermediate web publishing skills Great for those new to website development
Backend Server Access via cPanel, SSH, and FTP Simple User Interface
Allows for one-click installs and endless customization of self-hosted WordPress, Scalar, and Omeka Limited to WordPress and NYU-approved themes and plugins
No charge to NYU users and easy to migrate upon graduation No charge to NYU user

I sometimes get defensive when folks I respect bemoan how hard self-hosting remains. I do think the point is a fair one and a Domains roll-out will never (nor was it ever meant to) replace various other university-provided tools that create less friction for publishing—even if some need replacing. But I do think web hosting as a basic utility should have a more prominent place at universities like it does at the NYU Libraries. The way they frame it around research, scholarship, and publishing for the digital era should not seem alien anymore. It should be yet another service universities offer alongside the others because there will increasingly be more and more faculty and students who want and need control over their publishing environments for the academic work they are doing.

Reclaim Today: Why Domains at Plymouth State

Reclaim Today’s latest episode can be found at today.reclaimhosting.com/11. You can also find it embedded below:

This morning Jim and I had the pleasure of continuing conversations from the first Reclaim Roadshow with Katie Martell, Instructional Technology Specialist and driving force for Domain of One’s Own at Plymouth State University. After hearing her present at the workshop, we knew that getting some of her strategies recorded for others was a no-brainer! I definitely recommend giving it a watch/listen when if can spare 25 min. 

As a quick background, Plymouth State University began DoOO in early 2017 and has since seen very steady growth in terms of users building and working within Plymouth Create. Roughly 1,000 users to be exact, with no plans of slowing anytime soon. You can find a brief Table of Contents below that provides a summary of what was covered during the 25-min interview:

Table of Contents

0:14 – Backstory
1:04 – How/Why did DoOO begin at Plymouth State?
3:46 – Key Advocates of Domains
5:40 – Sharing work by Cathie LeBlanc
7:15 – “Boots on the Ground”
8:13 – Strategies for Growth
10:05 – Supporting a DoOO Community
13:45 – Support Resources created by student workers
14:55 – Seeing the need for site templates 
17:49 – Additional documentation and examples of student work
20:26 – Migration Strategies & Data Ownership
23:16 – Examples of Student Portfolios
25:17 – Parting Words of Wisdom
27:40 – Start with the Why

Giving user-account access to your developer

Scenario:

When starting a DoOO project, your institution may already have existing sites hosted elsewhere that you want to migrate to Domain of One’s Own. (I recommend reading through the Migrations & Transfers category if you need additional assistance with migration workflows.) Maybe your school has existing WordPress sites with custom themes and plugins, and perhaps you’re working with a developer to move them over to DoOO. The following guide will work for any administrator as well, but in the event that you want to hand out only partial access to the person doing the work, keep reading:

Workflow:

1) Developer is given the user’s cPanel credentials
2) Developer logs in directly to user’s cPanel account at https://cpanel.yourDoOOproject.edu
3) Files are uploaded and the site is set up (via FTP or cPanel)
4) “Import” the site files into Installatron viewer. (We have a guide on this here.)

Details:

1) Individual cPanel credentials for a user can be found in WHMCS > Client Profile > Product/Services tab:

2) Developer logs in at https://cpanel.yourDoOOproject.edu:

3) Developer uploads files in cPanel (left) or SFTP (right):

4. Import WordPress site to Installatron viewer:

Domus vindicare regnum tuum

One of the many cool things I took away from visiting Coventry last week was how they are re-working their support documentation to be more conceptual and visual. A teaching aide that leads you to a particular issue, rather than just a list of how-to articles. It is still a work-in-progress, but Charlie Legge has been doing some awesome work on this project. In particular, I love the choice of metaphor, namely comparing one’s own domain at Coventry to a house. Brilliant, right?! 🙂

This animated visual model of explaining what hosting is and why it matters is pretty awesome. I got a lot of guff about this metaphor back in the day, but I think history is on my side, and it is all but clear that I was right, at least metaphorically 🙂 Rent, lease, own, or squat,  your online data still needs to live somewhere. Thank you, Charlie, vindicare regnum, indeed!

Summer 2018 Check-In

As my first official Account Manager duty, I’ve been sending out the first of many check-in emails to our Domain of One’s Own schools. I feel that it’s important for institutions to hear from Reclaim Hosting more than the occasional support ticket response or invoice reminder email. These check-in emails are separated primarily into two sections: What’s New and Account Analytics.

The What’s New section (which I’ve copied below) will essentially be a newsletter for our DoOO Liaisons to stay up to date on the latest Reclaim Hosting happenings. I’ll be sharing new documentation articles that are produced, new software updates/releases, upcoming events, and internal changes. The Analytics section will look a little different based on each institution, but the general format will include: number of cPanel accounts, number of installs within Installatron, total disk usage on the server, and top 5 high-bandwidth sites. As a side note- I’ve really enjoyed looking at these URLs! This isn’t a feature I check often, but I’m excited to have a reason to continually go back and look at these. It’s been keeping me somewhat in tune with individual projects at schools and I love that.

From there I’ll include suggestions for how a given DoOO school can be using their environment more efficiently. This may mean recommending that they delete Installatron backups, set user quota limits, or add more block storage to their server. Lastly, I’m using this email as a chance to confirm our contact information for Domain of One’s Own team members. We always want to make sure that emails and notifications are going to to the right people, so its good to check on this every now and then!

The goal here is to send this email out at the end of every Fall and Spring semester so folks will be able to track their growth over time. I’ll be keeping track of the data in an excel sheet that I’m sending to institutions so I can reference it in future correspondence.

You can find the newsletter portion below:

What’s New at Reclaim Hosting:

New Documentation. Creating an Account for a User Outside of Your Institution •  Detecting Activity Through Server StatisticsYour List of Installations •  Advanced User Analytics Tracking

Forcing HTTPS. Starting in July, Google Chrome will begin to display more prevalent warnings for sites not running on https. View Reclaim Hosting’s response here.

Node.js. As of June 15, it is now possible to run to build and run Node.JS applications at Reclaim Hosting. Read more about this here. As a small caveat, CloudLinux, which is required to run Node.js, is not currently on all servers. If this is something that you’re interested in running, please contact Reclaim Hosting support.

Digital Ocean Customer Story. Digital Ocean recently published a case study on Reclaim Hosting- feel free to give it a read.

As of Late. If you’re interested in reading more about what Reclaim Hosting has been up to recently, you can read Jim Groom’s blog post, Catching up with Reclaim Hosting.

Upcoming Event. Reclaim Hosting will be hosting another Workshop of One’s Own for Domain of One’s Own Administrators this Fall on November 1-2. Seating is limited. More information & registration details can be found here.

cPanel Minimalism

We recently migrated UNLV’s faculty websites to a Domain of One’s Own environment. I learned a lot during that migration which in turn helped motivate me to finally clean up the bavatuesdays multi-network site I’ve been putting off for over a year. Well, dabbling a bit every morning last week and yesterday, that is officially done. All sites on the bavatuesdays domain have been migrated and archived—I can take a short break before going after the jimgroom.net network. 

In the mean time I have been working on a talk for OER18 wherein Tim and I will be talking about hosting beyond the LAMP environment. Applications that run in other server environments that require Node.js, Ruby, etc. would be nice to offer, but integrating them into cPanel is not necessarily easy. I played with hosting Jekyl from a Reclaim account, but that does require a bit more command line work—which is often a non-starter. But alternatives to cPanel such as Cloudron that allow you to spin up containers that seamlessly manage the application’s server requirements, so all you are doing is choosing a domain to run it on. But we have also been playing with integrating SPLOTs more seamlessly into Reclaim’s offering, so there are several options, rather than any one way forward. Not to mention, cPanel and CLoudLinux are both working to make it easier to run Node.js and Ruby apps in their environment, so it may not necessarily be beyond LAMP at all—but rather within or alongside.

All of this brings me back to UNLV’s Faculty Sites, which have really paired down cPanel to the absolute minimum: WordPress, the file manager, and backups. That’s it. Minimalist, faculty can choose between WordPress or a DIY old school HTML site using the file manager to upload files (or FTP). It does kind of beg the question that I hear all too often about it being overwhelming, or there is too much to learn. No, it’s pretty much your own instance of WordPress, and those little files known as HTML (and a few links) that made the web possible. So, the future is as much within a LAMP environment, as it is beyond LAMP. 

Documentation April

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve made it my mission to build on, add to, and update documentation articles at Reclaim Hosting. This was inspired after our last Workshop of One’s Own event when attendees asked what other schools had done to tweak and add to their DoOO projects. How were schools changing their homepage? How were they handling community support? How were they handling graduating students and their data?

I created a new category on the Workshop of One’s Own Documentation called Customizing your DoOO. This topic is still very much a work in progress, but my goal is to make this a full list of everything that can be safely done or added to a DoOO instance without fear of “breaking the system”. It will include everything from different pages and elements that we can add to a DoOO system, to editing a Domain of One’s Own WordPress theme.

One of the most common “extras” that DoOO schools ask for is the Templated Community Documentation. These are articles written specifically for the students and faculty using Domain of One’s Own. They were written originally by the OU Create team, and were later shared and expanded at other schools. So when new schools start a DoOO Pilot and ask for this documentation, we would copy from one of these existing schools to the new school. This was hardly a bad system, but it’s always bothered me a little bit that we were handing off documentation with another school’s logo on it. It just doesn’t scream “here’s your fresh copy”.

And since every DoOO Project looks a little different, the documentation will look a little different as well. For instance, we have some schools that buy top-level domains for all users and give them access to everything that the default cPanel provides. By contrast, other Domain of One’s Own schools only support WordPress, and have stripped the cPanel down to the very basics. So what may be true for one school may not be true for another. In addition, Reclaim underwent a pricing change a couple of years ago for shared hosting plans & top-level domains to accommodate for ID Protect. What’s more, when software upgrades take place, screenshots need to be updated. And plugins that were relevant 2-3 years ago may now be abandoned by their developers.

I mention all of the above to show that there are clearly a ton of outliers that can lead to a miscommunication and/or change in documentation. So it was time that Reclaim Hosting took ownership of the existing documentation to create a centralized hub of always correct, always up-to-date information. That way any school writing their own docs can always look back at this resource and pull articles that are relevant to their specific projects.

For instance, the team at emerson.build wrote a great article on getting up and running with the Neatline plugin in an Omeka instance. We get questions about this plugin all the time at Reclaim Hosting, so I’m thrilled for finding it! But it also helped reiterate this very real theme surrounding documentation: we need to do more sharing as a Domain of One’s Own community, and Reclaim Hosting needs to help facilitate that. I’m sure there are plenty of schools that would benefit from that Neatline article as I have, so now they can find that article, along with a compiled list of others on State University’s new documentation site: stateu.org/docs

Which brings me to my next point: If you’ve written documentation for your DoOO community, you may receive an email from me in the next couple of weeks asking for permission to add your article to the main hub. You’ve been warned. :) Alternatively, if you’ve written articles that you think would be a good addition to this main list, please contact me!

And while I’m on the subject of creating documentation, I can’t write this post without mentioning the recent work that Chris, Reclaim’s intern, has been doing for the Reclaim Youtube Channel. We’ve been working together on prioritizing videos that Reclaim needs in terms of tutorials, and he’s created some really great stuff so far. (Examples: Easy Site Cloning with Installatron, Backup Tools, & Adding WordPress Themes and Plugins)

His most recent tutorial, and easily my favorite video so far, is Understanding FTP, Part 1. (Part 2 will be on troubleshooting FTP!)

 

You can find these video tutorials on Youtube, of course, but also embedded in their corresponding written articles on Reclaim Hosting’s main documentation site.

Colgate University Training

How is it already the end of November..? I wanted to set aside time this morning to write about my experience at Colgate University a few weeks back before I turn around and it’s suddenly 2018! After the Reclaim trip to NYC, Jim and I traveled to Hamilton, NY for a two-day training session with members of the Learning and Applied Innovation Team and IT Department. But before getting into the content summary– you can’t talk about Colgate without first mentioning the campus. There’s a reason it makes the list of most beautiful college campuses in the states; it really is stunning. My photos throughout this post will hardly do it justice, but I’m including them anyway. 🙂

On day one, Jim and I met early with folks over coffee & bagels. Jim then began the first block by speaking on how DoOO came to be and how it has transformed over the last few years. I’ve heard this talk a handful of times now, so I was able to see past the initial content and focus on how I would approach a similar talk with my own twist. I’ve been shadowing Jim over the last year or so with the idea that I’ll eventually be able to give these talks & trainings on my own, so it felt good to find the headspace to think through some of that.

Next, Jim and I moved into an overview of the Domain of One’s Own platform, bringing everyone up to speed on how WHM, WHMCS, and WordPress work together. Jim gave an introduction to the system, separating out the ‘need to know’ items from the ‘you’ll never really use this’ functions. From there I gave a more detailed outline of WHMCS & WHM and began to walk through the platforms in depth before lunch. We picked up where we left off after grabbing a bite to eat with more hands-on practice in WHM/WHMCS. Similar to one of my sessions during Workshop of One’s Own, we worked through common support troubleshooting fixes, user FAQ’s, and approaching support tickets. We also talked through setting up site syndication, domain transfers and even touched briefly on SPLOTs. And just like that, day one had come and gone.

We spent the bulk of day two feeling out the needs and curiosities of those in the room, focusing heavily that morning on relevant ways to use WordPress, Omeka, Scalar & Drupal. It was cool to watch the team brainstorm and think through ways that their community could take advantage of these tools. I love using slavery.georgetown.edu as an example of an integrated domain for this sort of discussion. Georgetown takes a controversial topic and faces it head-on using WordPress for the main domain and Omeka for the archive. They also embed a historical timeline using Timeline JS, so that’s always a great piece to show as well. We also used Keys to Directing as a great Scalar example, Making Modern America for an Omeka Archival site, and Andréa Levi Smith’s course website for showing how DoOO can be used in the classroom.

Andréa’s site was a great segway into where we spent the majority of our time that afternoon: SPLOTs! Her site was built off a template created by Alan Levine called SPLOTPoint. I wrote more about the excitement of the Colgate Team + SPLOTs here, but it was fun to feed off their ideas and play around with these templates in real time. And as Jim discusses here, we found that one of our most valuable moments of the workshop was narrating our thought process of familiarizing ourselves with these templates on the spot. I had never worked directly with the templates that Alan had created, so I was the perfect guinea pig. 🙂

left: SPLOTPoint template; right: Big Picture Calling Card template

I installed the SPLOTPoint template on the big screen (on this example domain) while everyone followed along on their own computers. After tweaking settings and customizing that for a few minutes, we moved onto another SPLOT created by Alan called Big Picture Calling Card (on this example domain). I was asked to narrate my thought process for finding settings/making customizations on the theme & template which led to an hour-long discussion on the future and potential of Domains at Colgate.

This trip was valuable to me personally for many reasons. I felt more confident during the technical training portions of the workshop, compared to scenarios where I’ve shadowed Jim in the past. I also felt capable of carrying my own weight and truly tag-teaming the workshop with Jim, as opposed to interjecting every now and again. Jim also offered his critiques, strategies, and advice for talking at great lengths about Domain of One’s Own (a skill he, no doubt, naturally found) so that was immensely helpful as well. And lastly, I discovered a passion for SPLOTs. I was able to see the true potential of installatron templates during the discussions over those two days, and am very much looking forward to their future in Domain of One’s Own and beyond.

Workshop Clip: DNS

Clip from my session on DNS during day one of Reclaim’s Administrator Workshop. During the 45-min talk, we covered DNS basics, types of DNS records and how to edit them, handy DNS tools & strategies, and frequently asked questions.

If you missed the workshop clip on Supporting DoOO, you can find that here.

Documentation guides that I wrote for this talk are linked below:

DNS Full Category
DNS Summary
Handy DNS Tools
DNS Frequently Asked Questions
Editing DNS Records in cPanel
Editing DNS Records in WHM