DomainMOD: Getting my domains house in order

I have been having fun watching Tim blog through his recent application experiments on the Reclaim Cloud. What I love is his experiments is they are honest, when he tries out an app he is really not sure if it will run. In fact, I am on the edge of my seat to see if it worked when reading posts like this and this. 🙂 So, inspired by Tim as I often am, I looked through the list of awesome self-hosted apps he linked to in his penultimate post to continue my experimentation in the Cloud. The application I landed on was DomainMOD, which is a tool for managing domains you have registered across different registrars, hosting companies etc. It’s a custom tool for folks like me who have a domain hoarding problem, and it comes at a perfect time given I am continuing to try and get my digital house in order, and with 31 domains registered all over the place, this would be an app I can actually use.

So, the first step was installing, and while it is a pretty straight-forward PHP/MySQL app, I noticed there was a Docker container, so I tried that out and it was dead simple. I spun up a Docker Engine instance in Reclaim Cloud.

After that I created a domainmod directory in the /home directory via command line:

mkdir /home/domainmod

And then from the /home/domainmod directory I ran the following two commands

git clone https://github.com/domainmod/docker.git
docker-compose up -d

And that was it, DomainMOD was up and running and after that I spent the morning adding my domains to the interface so that I could track them more accurately. The app has the option to integrate with the APIs from the various registrars I currently use, i.e. eNom, Logicboxes, and OpenSRS, which is nice. I did a manual import to begin, but I was quickly able to get an overview of all my domains, annual cost, what’s private, where DNS lives, associated registrar, as well as a category (right now I have 3: personal, ds106, and Reclaim).

I am clocking just about $600 a year on domains, which is $50 a month. The custom domains really killed me 🙂 I may have to do some pruning, having all the jimgroom TLDs may not be all that necessary, although the bava.blog, bava.tv and bava.rocks are absolutely essential 🙂 I’ll have to continue to play a bit with DomainMOD given I have a fairly involved blog post where I want to track the registration of each of the domains over the years as a kind of personal history of my personal web since 2003 or so. But until then I am winning on the Cloud!

The .Org Domain Racket

Breaking: Private Equity company acquires .Org registry
Tim pointed me to this article about the .Org registry that reports not long after ICANN lifted price caps on .org domains the Public Interest Registry (which is controlled by the Internet Society) was bought by Ethos Capital, a recently formed private equity firm.* In other words, the .org top-level domain (TLD) is now controlled by a group that can charge as much as it wants, and given it is a private equity firm, chances are it will do just that. Why does this matter to me? Well, .Org domains are one of a few TLDs Reclaim Hosting provides for free as part of our shared hosting accounts, and frankly it’s already more expensive than .com, .net, and .info domains. So, with ICANN’s move to remove price caps it seems the other TLDs will be following suit making it more and more difficult to provide affordable domains and hosting. Ultimately these costs get passed on to consumers given the pricing for domains in general is already quite steep. To give you a sense of this, we pay more than twice as much for domains registrations as we do for servers. In fact, besides payroll domain registrations are our single biggest cost. What’s more, we make next to no money on domains, and the more prices are inflated the harder and harder it is for us to swallow the costs given there’s already so little profit margin. It’s a shame to see ICANN go this route, and it given the news of  cPanel’s being acquired by an equities firm as well over a year ago, it seems the hosting and domain world is being swallowed up by the investment banking world.
  • If you read the above article you get a sense of how incestuous this whole deal seems:
Ethos Capital is a new private equity firm lead by Erik Brooks. Brooks was at Abry Partners until earlier this year. Abry Partners acquired Donuts and installed former ICANN President of Global Domains Akram Atallah in the top spot there. Donuts co-founder Jon Nevett left to be CEO of Public Interest Registry. The other person at Ethos is former ICANN Senior Vice President Abusitta-Ouri.

Reclaiming Wake Forest

I’ve been traveling pretty consistently to colleges, universities, and conferences talking WordPress, WordPress Multiuser (than multisite), ds106, and Domains of One’s Own for around 13 or 14 years now. When I visited Wake Forest University soon after Domains19 last month I wondered how many different university campuses I’ve seen over that time? I’m no Bryan Alexander so it’s not hundreds (or even thousands?) of schools,  but at this point it’s probably approaching 100.* But all this self-congratulatory, thought-leaderish campus tour talk is to say it does not get old for me. I like college campuses a lot. I spent most of my adult life connected with them as either a student or a professional, and at their very best they represent a protected space for free thinking, exploring, and experimenting in a collaborative environment. I understand all too well that’s not the whole picture, but it’s a powerful enough reality to make the inevitable campus politics coupled with trailing edge salaries almost tolerable ?

Fact is, every time I visit a campus part of me is transported back to the moment I was a freshman stepping foot on George Mason’s campus for the first time in 1989. With that experience came a sense of  personal independence and the promise of possibility that has been hard to reproduce in other experiences I’ve had since. I was there to learn—whatever the hell that meant to me then. It’s a feeling that I often get when stepping onto a new college campus, and that was definitely the case at Wake Forest University last month. It’s a gorgeous 350 acre campus north of Winston-Salem’s Old Town. The university re-located there from the town of Wake Forest  (near Raleigh, North Carolina) after the Reynolds family (of the  RJ Reynolds Tobacco fortune) donated the land in the 1950s. In fact, pretty much everything surrounding the campus is part of the Reynolda Historic District, and we were lucky enough to stay at Graylyn, a Norman Revival style mansion on 85 acres replete with outdoor (and indoor) pools, a farm complex, the garage guest house, and the main manor house. The place was nothing short of insane, making my transition from Europe that much easier ?

Staying at hotels on the National Register of Historic Places certainly adds to the overall experience. What’s more, my daughter Tess was traveling with me on this trip and she will never take my complaining about travel seriously after that. 

“But godspeed the punchline, Jimmy, you started this post with an actual point, didn’t you?” You are probably thinking. And, to be clear, I did have something I wanted to share, and while I feel your pain it’s probably not as acute as yours. Wake Forest, thanks to championing of Dr. Carrie Johnston, has been working on rolling out Domain of One’s Own across campus. They have been quite thoughtful and thorough about the rollout, and this trip was an opportunity to meet with the various parties involved for a hands-on for system admins, as well as some practical examples of possibilities. Lauren Brumfield and I have done a few of these, and I really think we have a pretty good rhythm at this point. In fact, after this workshop I realized Lauren is probably more on her game during these workshops than I am, between her confidence presenting, expansive knowledge of all elements of a Domains setup (no small thing), and her growing ability to read the room and make the necessary adjustments she has far exceeded the skills of her, admittedly limited, docent. 

Before day 1 got started we got to meet Carrie who was waiting for us at Lauren’s reserved parking spot (they most have sensed what I just articulated finally) and I became an immediate fan. Carrie came to Wake Forest after doing a Digital Humanities post-doc at Bucknell University. It’s at Bucknell that she first started exploring hosting for DH projects through Reclaim Hosting, and when she got her position as Digital Humanities Research Designer at Wake Forest that she started to push for a digital home for a variety of web-based projects. And, filed under it’s a small world, the CIO of Wake Forest is Mur Muchane, who was previously at Davidson College and also came to visit UMW’s Convergence Center when I was working there in 2015.  Mur is awesome, and it was immediately obvious he is a strong advocate for the digital work happening on campus. It was an absolute joy to chat with a CIO that so deeply understands and so willing to respond to the diverse technological needs of any campus community trying to imagine teaching, learning, and scholarship in the digital age. 

So, with Mur being the start of our first day at Wake Forest I already got the sense this was a school with support and resources for the digital work already happening. That was cemented when I realized the workshop would have well over 25 people attending both days. I don’t think we’ve ever had this kind of turn out, and when we did the introductions that morning I realized that their were 14 Instructional Technologists on campus, all of whom have extensive experience running faculty sites through cPanel. It’s as if I was in heaven. Wake Forest has been providing much of the resources we package through Domain of One’s Own, and in many ways we are simply a solution to integrate automation of accounts, single sign-on, and get the servers off-campus. It was really a heartening to see that the work we are doing at Reclaim is truly based in the work Instructional Technologists have been doing for years to provide alternative online publishing platforms for their community. Much of the morning was focused on migrating the accounts from their existing cPanel accounts to their Domains instance, a.k.a Wake Sites, which will be dead simple thanks to cPanel’s transfer tool. The afternoon was a deep-dive into managing WHM (the cPanel server) and WHMCS (the client manager software for the cPanel server). It was an intense, but rewarding, first day.

Day 2 started with me giving a talk about some practical examples of Domains and various uses, as well as the philosophy behind the approach that seemed to be fairly well received. My point has not really changed in 13 years, given faculty and students a space on the web to fashion their online identity using relevant tools, and sites they create should be managed and controlled by them and ultimately portable. After that we had Martha Burtis, Lauren Heywood, and Alan Levine  join us remotely to talk about SPLOTs.

They killed it, and the discussion provided the framework for the rest of the day, which was to highlight the power of creating application-based templates through Installatron, and playing with what that looks like with the various SPLOTs we’ve already integrated in Wake Sites, such as TRU Collector, TRU Writer, various portfolio templates, and more. 

The workshop was really heartening for me because sometimes even I sometimes wonder if Domains is the best way at some of these things. And while there are always better ways, my trip to Wake Forest reminded me that the infrastructure Reclaim is providing and supporting is fundamental to framing a digital transformation on campus that is premised on equipping people to both understand and take more direct ownership of the work they publish on the web. A welcome reminder, and a special thank you to Carrie Johnston for making it happened, bringing us there, and being awesome.


*If I ever have the time and headspace I’m gonna try and piece that list together.

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!

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!

SPLOTting a Path to Coventry

I spent most of last week working from the UK. Coming off vacation I was back on the road, and a couple of days in London was a nice transition back. In fact, I even got to see Phantom Thread in 70 MM at the BFI IMAX theater.

And the next day I was able to catch part of a retrospective of Italian filmmaker Marco Bellocchio’s work—most of which was new to me. I got to see his very first film, Fists in the Pocket (I pugni in tasca), and I was really impressed. The whole film was funded by his family and I believe shot on location at a relatives home, and it’s quite gorgeous—an impressive debut. The story focuses on a young man who is losing his mind, and the ways in which he rationalizes his increasingly psychopathic behavior for the “good of the family.” It reads as a full-frontal attack on middle-class, catholic values of Italy in the 60s, and uses a dysfunctional family as the vehicle. I must say the decaying mountain villa they live in felt oddly familiar ? I like Criterion’s encapsulation of the film:

Fists in the Pocket was a gleaming ice pick in the eye of bourgeois family values and Catholic morality, a truly unique work that continues to rank as one of the great achievements of Italian cinema.

But it wasn’t all films and culture, I was working most of the time in preparation for a two-day workshop at Coventry University wherein I would be both exploring the Coventry Domains platform with technologists that support different schools/departments from around the university, as well as a deep-dive into the administration of Domains with the three-person crew at the Disruptive Media Learning Lab (DMLL), namely Daniel Villar-Onrubio, Lauren Heywood, and Charlie Legge. As often happens with workshops like this, I often get more out of it than I give. As we were talking through cPanel, various application, and more, the conversation turned to SPLOTs given Daniel and Lauren have been doing an unbelievable job of promoting these small, focused teaching tools. What’s more, Coventry is the first school that has made SPLOTs available as part of their general Domain of One’s Own offering.

Daniel shared a couple of examples with me on how they’re using both the Image Collector and the Media Collector SPLOTs on one of their projects which provide excellent examples of how powerful these tools can be. The Open Web for Learning and Teaching Expertise Hub (OWLTEH) is a resource they are building for teaching and learning with the open web, and they are using both the Image Collector and the Media Collector as part of this site. The Image Collector in this case takes on the role of a catalogue of open tools faculty and students can use, it’s a resource that not only anyone can use-but also anyone can add to:

The other tool is the Media Collector, which is a similar, but in this instance it aggregates videos from a variety of sources (YouTube, Vimeo, Internet Archive, etc.) all in one place:

A slick tool that can not only collect and display, but also allow for communities to create and submit from anywhere—a quick and easy video aggregator for a course if you will.
And then there are the portfolio-based SPLOTs that are being used extensively to get graduate students up and running with a quick professional profile. There was continued interest in the various flavors of SPLOTs for this (Big Picture Calling Card, Dimension Calling Card (pictured above), and Highlights Calling Card) and one of the first of these will most definitely be Reclaim’s initial offering of a stand-alone SPLOT with it’s very own application installer independent of WordPress—though still built on it. 

But I want to return to the Image Collector SPLOT for a moment, just to highlight how these “tiny teaching tools” can really serve some interesting use cases. The above example for OpenMed is a straight up image collector that allows folks from the OpenMed project (which is project focused on creating open resources for various Mediterranean universities) to share photos, which comes in useful given there are numerous schools from across the Middle East and North Africa that are participating. Yet, Lauren showed another example of this same tool being used by an art professor for a project called WordBox.


What is WordBox? Well, it…

… is an activity to support participants to practice searching for discipline specific key terms, definitions and associated words. Submissions to the glossary space include commentary on how the definition was sourced and any benefits or negatives of using particular online spaces to source information. The idea is to learn from one another’s search practices and share experience.

So, a tool to define various key terms in the field highlighting process and sharing results in the form of a glossary. It’s a single assignment that becomes a long-standing resource, and it underscores brilliantly a focused application of SPLOTs, with added bonus of students not needing to login, leave personal data, or learn WordPress to simply share an image, some text, and a link.

Continued excitement around SPLOTs is timely given the day before heading to Coventry, Tim and I spoke with Alan Levine about starting to roll SPLOTs out as stand-alone application installers. Big Picture Calling Card will be the first, but hopefully more will follow given Tim is on an Installatron application installation roll. One of the big benefits of stand-alone apps is all updates Alan makes to the SPLOTs will get rolled out to users, through the current WordPress installation of SPLOTs there is no way to incorporate updates. Another thing we are working on is more documentation and examples, which hopefully this post will provide some fodder for ?

But when it comes to SPLOTs right now, nobody does it better than Coventry, they are an inspiration and everyone participating in the workshop could see the immediate value of having such tools in your back pocket as an educational technologist. 

There Will Be No Domains 18

It occurred to us at Reclaim Hosting that if we were going to run a Domains 18 conference, we would have to start the planning now. Fact is, we really don’t think there is a need for another conference right now. We want to avoid running the conference every year as if it is an inevitable necessity given the simple fact it’s not. Domains 17 was awesome and I believe meaningful for those whom attended, but 4 months later I’m not sure running another conference would add that much to what has already been done and said. Maybe there will be a Domains 19, I don’t know. But for right now it is enough to say there will be no Domains 18, and that’s a good thing.

Multiple Hosting Accounts made easy for Domains

One of the things Tim has been working on lately that has me excited is deeper API integration between WordPress and cPanel. This Spring we migrated and are now hosting Princeton’s cPanel offerings. Additionally, Tim has been working on some custom integrations for their existing setup. They have 3 cPanel instances that provided their community members with a personal account, department account, and/or dev account.

Continue reading “Multiple Hosting Accounts made easy for Domains”

Muhlenberg College: The ‘Berg Builds

This post has sat in draft for almost three weeks while I finished traveling and decompressing from a month on the road. Like Cogdog, I have been a tired blogger these days, but unlike Alan I haven’t always been able to push through it. But maybe that’s not all bad, because during that down time there have been a number of other posts about the event at Muhlenberg by the people who are making it happen! Blogging is everything, indeed!  I would encourage you to check those posts out, and thankfully Lora Taub-Pervizpour provided an awesome round-up post with links to many of them.

Continue reading “Muhlenberg College: The ‘Berg Builds”

Opening Pandora’s Box at Coventry

Yesterday I spoke with a faculty cohort at Coventry University about creating their own portfolios. This group was part of the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice in Higher Education (or PgCert) course led by Martin Jenkins. PgCert provides professional development for faculty and staff, and this cohort will be building out a portfolio as part of the process. This is exciting because it builds on what Chris Long calls “online scholarly presence,” which provided a great frame for my discussion. Not sure it was recorded, but I’ve included the slides below that link to the various resources I discussed during the short presentation if you’re interested.

This was also exciting because it’s the precursor to a longer trip I’ll be taking to Coventry next week to talk to a number of staff, faculty, and students about opening up the Pandora’s Box that is Domain of One’s Own on their campus. I’m not saying they’re going to be running the very first Domains project in the UK at Coventry University through the Disruptive Media Learning Lab….at least I’m not saying that just yet. Who knows, there may even be a 90s computer lab/living room in our future!