Jitsi on Reclaim Cloud

Zoom’s privacy record has been spotty at best for a while now, but recent news pointing to their shutting down activist’s accounts at the behest of the Chinese government is yet another reason to think twice before using that video conferencing service. As Zoom has taken pole position in the edtech industry along side the learning management system as schools seem unable to imagine teaching asynchronously, the idea of an open source alternative to Zoom seems welcome. BigBlueButton is an existing option that folks at the OpenETC use and seem quite happy with. Another I’ve heard a lot about more recently is Jitsi Meet, and it just so happens that Reclaim Cloud has a one-click installer for Jitsi so I spun one up for myself.

Blurring the background for that 3-D motion effect

Not only is Jitsi encrypted end-to-end, but it is also as intuitive and seamless as Zoom. It allows screen sharing, in-app sharing of YouTube videos, chat, hand raising, and full screen or tile view.

There are also speaker stats for clocking who talked for how long, as well as bandwidth indicators for each participant in order to help identify where any connection issues are originating.

There are also integrations with other applications, such as for communal editing of documents in Etherpad or connecting your Google calendar:

Rooms you create on the fly can quickly be secured by the host with a password to prevent Zoom-bombing, and as host you can set these parameters much like in Zoom.

Over the past two weeks we have used Jitsi internally at Reclaim Hosting and it has been seamless. We’ve had no issues with groups of 7 or 8, and one-click install in Reclaim Cloud can support up to 75 users, but if more spaces are needed the instance can be vertically scaled.*

Also, it is worth noting I was able to map the instance on a custom domain, and I now have yet another tool within the complex of my Domain that I can use as needed. Pretty slick.

One thing that is not possible with Jitsi on Reclaim Cloud just yet is recording the sessions within the instance. That is something we are currently exploring, and once that is possible I will be hard pressed to see the advantages of Zoom over Jitsi in any regard.

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*Jitsi scales resources up and down based on usage (think of scaling light using a light dimmer) which means you only pay for what you use. What’s more, you can also turn off the instance when it’s not in use to save even more on resource usage, which is true of any application on Reclaim Cloud. Even when idle applications like Jitsi use a certain amount of server resources (what are termed Cloudlets), so turning off the instance until next usage is like turning off the lights in a room you won’t be occupying for a while to save energy and money.

Reclaiming Open with WordPress

I woke up to a few tweets about Reclaim Hosting and the #deletefacebook movement. It’s been hard for me to get excited about Facebook either way. I see it as one of the more depressing malls of the web, and I try and stay away as much as possible. And beyond their horrific practices with collecting personal data, I have been equally dismayed over the past several years by their refusal to curtail predatory catfishing when brought to their attention again and again. It seems like expecting anything else from Facebook would be tantamount to expecting that Google’s “Don’t Be Evil” was anything more than a flattering slogan to sell an image.

Skeletor likes to feel evil

And while I tend to agree deleting your account is not necessarily a solution and data collection needs to be regulated more stringently as it soon will be in Europe, a part of me can’t help but think what did we expect? Whether hacked or handed over, did we really doubt that sooner or later we would pay dearly for the “free” services we have gorged ourselves on for more than a decade? I guess that makes the current moment of outrage seem a bit disingenuous, or at least somewhat absurd. In the end, to be a good citizen of the web you have to be willing to take some ownership of your online presence, and that means taking the time and spending a bit of money (although not all that much) to build something on an open platform outside the corporate spaces that have become ubiquitous because we’ve often settled for less when it comes to the open web. WordPress is my drug of choice, and 13 years later it remains a robust open source community that powers near a third of all sites on the web. More than that, it makes me feel like I have far more options through this tool then just about anything else I do online, which in turn allows me to define my presence to a much greater degree, not to mention build course sites, research sites, web services, and more.

So, thanks to the tweets from Laura and Howard this morning, I think this is what my talk for PressEd Conference will be about on Thursday. I have been struggling a bit with that talk given many other folks far smarter than me will have much more interesting things to share when it comes to WordPress in education. So, maybe my 20 tweets or so can be about why using WordPress in education is more relevant than ever given the trappings of a free, but not open, web seem to be coming home to roost presently. And while Facebook is certainly the most deserving of targets for public outrage, chances are they’re not alone in their practices by any stretch of the imagination as Doc Searls blogged about the other day:

What will happen when the Times, the New Yorker and other pubs own up to the simple fact that they are just as guilty as Facebook of leaking its readers’ data to other parties, for—in many if not most cases—God knows what purposes besides “interest-based” advertising? 

It’s invigorating and life-affirming to witness a broad movement of folks around the USA, led by some badass high schoolers, demand sane gun laws simply to ensure their safety at school. Something currently taken for granted here in Italy. That for me seems like a first order need—thinking of sending my kids to an American primary or secondary school only to wonder if they will make it home alive because politicians are in the NRA’s pocket is unconscionable. It’s a movement that is long overdue, and there are certainly many forces that helped give it the head of steam it has presently. I want to think the same could be true for reclaiming a bit of the open web, and would like to believe that the work a whole cadre of open educators have been pushing on for the last 10-15 years would be one practical approach, this is of particular interest to me given the perils of higher ed going down the data extraction in the name of personalization that is being pushed by the folks at EDUCAUSE under the banner of the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE). If we want to look at one space where the outrage around Facebook that might hit even closer to home in the context of education, it could be what companies will be extracting what data in the name of streamlined, integrated personalization environment that the NGDLE promises. Anyway, I’ll save some of this for my Tweetstorm on Thursday ?

Installing and Customizing a Scalable WordPress Multisite with Linode’s StackScripts

I’ve been on a server admin crash course over the last 8 months or so, and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying myself. I have been fortunate to have the most patient and generous teacher I’ve ever studied under: the great Tim Owens. I truly have a deep respect for how much he has taught himself over the last 4 years, and trying to catch up with him gives me an even deeper appreciation of his mad skills. One of the turning points for Reclaim Hosting this semester has been taking on large-scale WordPress Multisite instances for institutions. We jumped in with both feet when we took over the hosting of VCU’s Ram Pages—a beast I have written about recently. Tim did a brilliant job scaling this extremely resource intensive WordPress Multisite, and I was eager to try my hand at the setup. Luckily Reclaim has no shortage of opportunities, and recently the University of North Carolina, Asheville was interested in experimenting with a pilot of WordPress Multisite, so I got my chance to work through the setup with a brand new install. Continue reading "Installing and Customizing a Scalable WordPress Multisite with Linode’s StackScripts"

TIny Tiny RSS

ttrs-300x300It’s taken me more than six months to resurrect my RSS reader (pathetic, I know), but I’ve finally imported my forlorn collection of feeds into the open source application Tiny Tiny RSS. I went with this application based on a recommendation from Joss Winn a while back.  It also made sense given UMW has rolled out Domain of One’s Own this year—an initiative that offers the entire campus community their own domain, hosting, and one-click installations from a vast selection of open source applications—amongst which is Tiny Tiny RSS. A little bit of practicing what we preach is always good. More than anything, however, my six month hiatus from reading the web via RSS has reminded me just how invaluable it is to the work I do. A fact that has actually re-inspired my evangelical impulse to push faculty, students, and staff to get on the RSS bus. I mean, how can I resist it’s value when one of the first posts that showed up in my reader was this Rankin Bass animated mashup of John Carpenter’s The Thing (care of Bryan Alexander’s ever inglorious Infocult).

It just feels like I am on the web again.

My RSS Reader Tiny Tiny RSS

A few things about Tiny Tiny RSS. It has a pretty solid collection of plugins with a small, but fairly active, development community. Some of the plugins are packaged with the application, but there are also a fair number that aren’t. The Google Reader Importer plugin is included, you just have to activate it. Given I was moving my archive from Google Reader, this was the first plugin I used. I also had a couple of hundred posts starred in Google Reader that didn’t come over with the import, so I used this hack to the Google Reader importer plugin to preserve the favorited posts as well.

One of the things I noticed right away was that videos don’t embed in Tiny Tiny RSS out-of-the-box. The Videoframes plugin fixes this by enabling embedded videos from a wide range of sites (YouTube, Daily Motion, Vimeo, etc.), but you have to add it via FTP. This one should be baked in.

Screen Shot 2014-01-05 at 6.20.58 PM

Also, there are a wide range of plugins for sharing posts in your reader out to Twitter, Google+, Tumblr, etc. The plugin for Twitter worked fine, but the plugin for sharing on Tumblr is throwing an error with the latest version, so I might have to jump on the forum.

But that’s kinda what I like about Tiny Tiny RSS, it reminds me a bit of the early days of hacking around WordPress. I have to work a bit to customize it for my needs—that said it’s very mature application as is—which helps me understand how it works. I can start trying to trouble shoot some plguins, and even become part of a community around the application to figure it out. I don’t need to be a programmer, I just need to articulate the issue and be patient and willing. What’s more, I can bring what I learn back to the UMW community and beyond.

I initially installed Tiny Tiny RSS in the rss.murderinc.biz to give it a test drive. I originally wanted to install it at rss.jimgroom.com, but I didn’t realize I hadn’t set jimgroom.com as an add-on domain at UMW Domains yet. So, when Tim Owens informed me I could add jimgroom.com as an add-on domain to UMW Domains, I wanted to move everything I setup at rss.murderinc.biz to rss.jimgroom.com. Thanks to Installatron, the one-click application  installer we have running on both UMW Domains and Reclaim Hosting, it was a cinch. You click on the Clone button for the particular application you installed, and point rss.murderinc.biz to the new subdomain rss.jimgroom.net and alle ist gut! Making sure things are relatively simple as you try and bring an entire campus up to speed on installing and managing their own applciations on their own domain (and subdomains) is absolutely crucial.

And what’s available for the UMW community through UMW Domains is also available to anyone who is interested in this experiment outside of UMW at Reclaim Hosting. It’s just another venue through which we can spread the love of what’s possible in one’s own space. Along these lines, I was excited to discover (through Brian Lamb’s most recent post) that there’s a broader sense the web’s not dead yet. And there are a list of excellent reasons why staking your own space on the web that you build, maintain, and future-proof independent of third-party sites (though not necessarily at the exlusion of them) might make good sense. I was never under the delusion that a certain group in edtech was alone in this push, but I admittedly live in my own bubble (if and when I am hooked into my feed reader :) )—so it’s nice to read a broader frame for such an approach.