Blogging at Scale with Google Sheets

When you go directly from several weeks of work travel into the beginning of the semester rush at Reclaim Hosting, the bava.blog necessarily gets neglected. But that changes now!

Back on August 22nd Tim and I sat down with John Stewart to talk about his ingenius work to use Google Sheets to enable near on 1000 students in University of Oklahoma’s biggest lecture classroom to blog at scale. Pretty brilliant to use Google Sheets as a kind of  WordPress Multisite stand-in wherein Google manages scaling the infrastructure for you. In this, the 8th episode of Reclaim Today, we discuss this experiment in detail, and I was really enthusiastic because it felt like a really creative and useful way to imagine getting a class using a simple form to blog up and running with very little financial overhead. Fast cheap, and out-of-control: edtech at its best.

You can read the first and second of the three post series John promised, and the video was recorded on location at Reclaim Video and comes in at a very manageable 23 minutes with a couple of the best looking ed-techs this side of proprietary. Here is the synopsis in case you need a more objective reason to watch:

Jim and Tim sit down with John Stewart of the University of Oklahoma to discuss a recent solution he blogged about in which he’s using Google Spreadsheets and APIs to drive a fast and scalable blogging infrastructure to support a course with 1,000 students.

And if you come away with nothing else, it should be mad kudos for John Stewart for a really creative, relatively light-weight  solution to a potentially expensive and resource intensive problem, the term innovation gets thrown around way too loosely but it makes resonates for me in this case.

The Life and Death of the Blog

On the heels of a transatlantic journey I sat down with Tim Owens to discuss the fate of academic blogging in the wake of Harvard University’s  announcement of their shuttering their blogging system. This is our seventh episode of Reclaim Today, so we are start to track some mileage with this. The discussion was far-ranging, and I really do enjoy chatting with Tim about this stuff, but I think my “hot take” was that the shutting down of Harvard Blogs is less about the death of academic blogging platforms as it is the passage of the idea of blogging from the margin to the center. The idea that fueled the vision of the blog in the early aughts has come to how we expect the web to work now:reverse chronological, stream-driven, news-based, etc. And with WordPress driving 30% of websites, I think there is more than enough data to support this claim.

But some of the interesting questions Harvard’s statement about the closing of the system brings up a range of topics around archiving this work, the role of academic blogs in forging digital identities, questions of ownership and copyright, etc. We covered a bunch of these and more, and it made for yet another top quality production from the amazing folks at Reclaim Hosting, namely me.

Reclaim’s Dedicated to Virtual Infrastructure

Tim and I did a Reclaim Today show to celebrate the fact our infrastructure is now entirely hosted on virtual servers, and predominantly Digital Ocean at this point. We talked a bit about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going in terms of infrastructure, and I love the idea of capturing some of this more formally as it happens. The final to dedicated server migrations this weekend (Joy Division and Beat Happening) turned out to be more cumbersome than we imagined, but that’s behind us and we are now closer than ever to the Lawnmower Man infrastructure we’ve been dreaming of! I guess the next step is serverless, to quote an awesome post by Tony Hirst—want to get him on an episode of Reclaim Today this week to talk about BinderHub and more. So, it feels to me that Reclaim Today is kinda finding it stride, and like anything it’s all about laying the bricks and doing the work.

Zeit Here, Zeit Now: Watching the WWW Wake Up to Container Hosting

It was a pretty busy week at Reclaim Hosting, and I am up early on a Saturday morning working on the final migrations of our shared hosting infrastructure to Digital Ocean. Bye, bye ReliableSite! It has been a very productive summer when it comes to infrastructure, and folks are still reclaiming and domaining so no complaints from the bava. We also continue to make headway on Reclaim Today, our live video show highlighting stuff we’re interested in, working  on, dreaming about, etc. Yesterday’s episode was a 25 minute discussion about Now (which I keep calling Zeit Now because the domain is zeit.co/now) which is a hosting environment that makes it dead simple to host Docker containers on the web. We used the episode as an occasion to work through Now, and talk about our own dreams for container-based hosting at Reclaim. I discovered Now thanks to the following Tweet from ed-tech’s mole from the future, Tony Hirst:

I then played with it briefly, but was fumbling around with Docker on my desktop and ran into issues get a Shiny server running. I abandoned the project, but this episode allowed me to get a clearer understanding of what Now can do, how it differs from Cloudron, and what it could mean from faculty, researchers, edtech, and students who want to spin up container -based apps on the quick.  I also liked this episode a lot because I think it encapsulates pretty well how Tim and I have been working together these last 7 or 8 years. It’s been such a fun and funny relationship in so many ways, and capturing some of that on Reclaim Today seems to be just one of many reasons it feels so good.

Today

Today

I recently got back from a lovely weeklong vacation in Myrtle Beach where amongst all the relaxing I got nostalgic while showing some old DTLT Today videos to a friend. Right on the heels of that I read Jim's post about Reclaim's 5 year anniversary and while doing some digging in my Twitter archive (I'm no longer on Twitter but have a full archive of my stuff here) I found that Jim and I must have put out an episode the day we went public with the idea of Reclaim Hosting narrating our thoughts on the formation of it. Luckily Jim is the best kind of pack rat and had a copy since the original post I wrote had a broken embed from a media server that no longer exists at UMW and I was able to get it back online. Seriously, if you're a Reclaim fan and have some time to spare check this out:

It never ceases to amaze me when I go back to watch these videos how they become a time capsule of a particular moment. I cherish every one we did because just like blogging it helps me understand not just the relationships and the interactions I've been privileged to have in my career but also the political, commercial, and cultural changes that were influencing the work we were doing as a group. So needless to say the bug was starting to bite hard and I know better than to fight that feeling.

So yesterday after floating the idea to Jim and thinking it really could happen I rearranged some furniture in our back office and spent the evening developing an opening sequence (I'm such a god damn sucker for branding, I can't help it!). In an homage to DTLT Today we are calling it Reclaim Today and we recorded our first episode today in meta fashion talking about why we're doing this and what our goals are for the podcast.

As a geeky colophon to that I wanted to write a bit about the technical aspects of building both the opener and how we're currently managing the podcast as a distributed company with half of the team of 4 remote.

For the opener sequence like many video projects I started by checking out what was available on Videohive. I have an Adobe Suite license and I've played with After Effects with a few other projects so I find these templates a great way to get something professional up real quick. I also found a decent audio track on Audiojungle (same marketplace, part of the Envato network). So for ~$35 and a few hours time finding images and editing text I had the pieces I needed to build the video you see at the top of this post.

For the actual recording we leaned towards Google Hangouts on Air, which you can setup to livestream but also record straight to YouTube. Hangouts are awesome in that it's dead simple to act as a standalone switcher between folks, people can share their screens, and no one has to "control the feed" as it were. Hangouts suck in that sometimes you might want that control. Great example was that I had to download the YouTube video, insert our intro video and outro, and reupload as a new video because apparently you can't play videos within a Hangout. The quality also leaves a bit to be desired. So we'll see if we stay with that or move towards something like Wirecast which we used extensively at UMW for a variety of projects including DTLT Today and it was very powerful but a complex and expensive piece of software (and we talk a bit about this conundrum on the first episode).

Another nice piece of the setup I got working was that we had a mobile TV cart on one end of the room with a long HDMI cable to a standalone mac mini that was driving the hangout. The mini had a Yeti mic and Logitech HD webcam connected to it and we ran a long audio cable from the Yeti behind the couch with a splitter so Meredith and I could both hear everything without any echo. It ended up being a pretty nice solution allowing us to look right into the camera while interacting directly with the screen behind it and managing audio in a way that allowed for now echoing. I do want to start breaking out the audio in a separate recording so we're not left with the compressed stuff Hangouts gives us for the final recording (thinking about Audio Hijack Pro for that).

So anyways, we're having a blast and we've launched this thing. As the kids say these days, like and subscribe for more!