Commons in a Box comes to Reclaim Hosting

Commons in a Box comes to Reclaim Hosting

We are excited to announce that we have partnered with the Commons in a Box project to bring an automated installer to the Reclaim Hosting platform. This follows on the heals of their 1.1.0 release which introduced the concept of "packages" that allow for different community types to be automated. As part of that effort a new "OpenLab" package (used by OpenLab at City Tech) is available during install with a focus on teaching and learning.

Commons in a Box comes to Reclaim Hosting

The work to bring CBOX to Reclaim began over a year ago as part of an NEH-funded grant and we couldn't be more excited to make the software available to our community. This installer is not exclusive to our institutional clients, rather all servers will have the ability to quickly install and run Commons in a Box. That being said, we recognize that for many the potential of the software is to build a space for large communities and so we have a focused Managed Hosting option at Reclaim where we can run a dedicated server for your CBOX project including options like single sign-on.

A huge thanks to all the fine folks at the Commons in a Box project for working with us to make this happen!

Honest Pricing for All

Reclaim Hosting recently celebrated it's 5th birthday in late July, and during that 5 years we've only had to increase the cost of an account 1 time as a result of adding WHOIS protection by default to all accounts which came at a cost (which Jim wrote about here). As we've grown we've done our best to increase functionality by adding things like offsite backup servers, plugins that allowed advanced Ruby, Python, and Node.JS support, and free SSL certificates for all accounts via Let's Encrypt. All without doing what is very much the industry norm, which is to monetize all the things, luring people in with loss leaders and then hiding costs behind renewals and basic features. We have also always included a free domain registration with the purchase of a hosting plan making it dead simple and extremely inexpensive to get started with an account. For a student hosting plan this means that half of the cost of an account is subsidized by Reclaim Hosting before things like storage and server costs are even calculated. And that's something we plan to continue to do because remaining inexpensive for students and faculty is a key part of why we do what we do, and we want to build a company that can help folks get started in an honest way with clear pricing.

You were probably reading all of the above waiting for the shoe to drop that we are raising our prices. We're not. What you see at Reclaim Hosting is what you get and for now until our costs rise significantly and force our hand, we have no intention of raising the cost of our hosting plans. However one frustration we've had in the past is that despite our low costs, we are often asked if we have any discounts. Despite absorbing a lot of the cost to keep the student plan low, we do have folks mention they are in education as justification that a $30/year plan should be further discounted. Or a faculty member plans to have a group of students sign up and wants to see if they can get the price lower. I get it, I really do. But the harsh reality is that in a world where the norm is to artificially raise prices higher than they should be and then offer supposed "discounts", we are taking an alternative approach and offering honest pricing for everyone. And that means having to say no to discounts.

For years now we've tried our best to balance the rising cost of registering domains while keeping our prices low and to still occasionally throw out a discount here or there for 10% off. Early on we even allowed folks to set themselves up as "affiliates" and provide codes to others that would give both them a discount and credit back to the person who provided the code. In order to maintain a superior level of service and keep to our honest pricing model we need to deprecate these features.

So at the end of the year we will be terminating and removing any outstanding discount codes that are currently floating around (note that this does not apply to bulk purchases made by groups to waive the cost for their students). We will be closing out the affiliate program and processing any outstanding credit for users that took advantage of it. Going forward we will stick to clear and honest pricing without discounts with the hope of being able to continue providing the best deal in the industry without the upsell or hidden costs. We appreciate the support that the educational community has given us over the years and plan to continue to make our service better while keeping costs low for years to come.

App Release: Big Picture Calling Card

App Release: Big Picture Calling Card

Reclaim Hosting has long been a big fan of the work that Alan Levine is doing with SPLOTs (Smallest Possible learning...object...tools? Who knows what it actually stands for). The idea, born out of the work Alan was doing with Brian Lamb's group at TRU, was to make simple tools built on top of WordPress that solved simple problems. For users in Canada it was especially important that no logins be required. A suite of tools were developed and Alan has gone on to continue maintaining them and even developed additional ones like "Calling Card" themes for personal sites and packaging up the DS106 Assignment Bank and Daily Create into standalone packages.

As Jim wrote about earlier, we had visions of bringing Alan on in a fellowship role to work with us on developing many of these tools into standalone installers in our Reclaim Hosting environment. I'm happy to announce that the first of many goes live today, the Big Picture Calling Card.

Big Picture is a theme developed by Alan and based off of an HTML5UP theme of the same name. It's a single page landing site that works well for personal sites as well as small projects where you may want all the information on a single page. Now, installing a theme isn't necessarily hard, and Alan has done a lot of work documenting both in his Github repository as well as on his blog how to get up and running. But for users brand new to WordPress even the act of installing themes, activating plugins, and configuring settings in Customizer can be a hell of a learning curve (a great learning opportunity in my opinion, but a curve nonetheless). In the same way that creating an installer for Omeka has opened the doors for many more folks to work with that software we have seen time and again how building applications for our environment can simply the amount of onboarding necessary to build out amazing stuff.

Big Picture Calling Card is rolling out to servers over the next 24 hours for all Reclaim Hosting users and available directly in Installatron. And the great news is that this is the first of many SPLOT-based applications that we will be making available including additional calling card themes as well functional applications like the TRU Writer and TRU Collector.

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!

The Next App: Nextcloud

The Next App: Nextcloud

You may have noticed in my last blog post a bit of a tease in that I've become a bit more comfortable recently with building installers. Of course not every application is going to be compatible with a cPanel environment or work well in the context of automating the install, but when possible we want to continue to build out a rich and robust library of applications for our users beyond just what is offered stock by Installatron.

Our newest installer is for Nextcloud, which is an app with a pretty interesting history. Nextcloud is an open source storage program that acts very much as a replacement for Dropbox and services like it. They have applications for desktop and mobile and you can keep your files in sync. They also have a variety of applications that can be run from inside the program. It is a fork of the ownCloud software created by the original developer of ownCloud and many programmers that were working for the company in 2016. There was some disagreement in ownership and the direction of the software and so being that it was open source they decided to start anew under a new name. Installatron has offered ownCloud for awhile now stock and it is still a supported application being developed with regular updates. I can't answer for you whether ownCloud or Nextcloud is a better direction, but I can say after playing around with Nextcloud it is a really slick experience.

The Next App: Nextcloud

Look for Nextcloud to be available on all servers on Reclaim Hosting in the next 24-48 hours. If you have a burning desire for another application that is not currently available as an installer, I would love for you to post in the Feature Requests category of our community forums. I'm an active participant there and use that as a way to gauge interest for what to work on next.

RSS is Not Dead: FreshRSS in Installatron

RSS is Not Dead: FreshRSS in Installatron

It all begins with a tweet (pay not attention to the fact I'm no longer on Twitter)

NewsBlur unfortunately is indeed not compatible in a shared hosting environment, great hosted service though so check them out! However instead of just letting Mark down I wanted to at least find an alternative. I personally love TinyTinyRSS but my needs are pretty simple, I have a Google Reader skin (because nostalgia) and I can j/k my way back and forth through articles with the keyboard. But in my search for options out there I stumbled on FreshRSS and the demo looked really interesting. If nothing else it's a fresh coat of paint for a self-hosted reader. And the site proudly proclaims it's open source nature. Given it was compatible with cPanel I wanted to see if I could get an installer going for it.

RSS is Not Dead: FreshRSS in Installatron

I have to say I'm starting to get into a bit of a groove building installers. While the announcements have not been too frequent on that regard, that will be changing in a big way in the coming months as we push out potentially 7 more apps to our environment by the end of the year. Our goal is to really make Reclaim Hosting not just an environment but also a library for educational tools. 4 hours later I've got a working installer and I'm publishing it out today.

RSS is Not Dead: FreshRSS in Installatron

FreshRSS is first and foremost a free and open source RSS aggregator. In my testing it's fast, mobile responsive, and pretty easy on the eyes. You can import an OPML of all your feeds to get started on the right foot and it's even got bookmarklets to interact with. Lots of cool stuff here and if you're not already on the RSS train or you're looking for a new ride, this might be it. It was published today on all Reclaim Hosting servers and should propagate within the next 24-48 hours.

Got an app you wish we supported? The Feature Requests category of our community forums is a great place to make your voice heard! I read and respond to every one.

Catching Up With Reclaim Hosting

I have been trying to capture as much of my latest stint back at Reclaim Hosting’s HQ as possible given it was so awesome. Everything from the Reclaim Video Grand Opening and Summer Movie Nights to a special visit from Michael Branson Smith to Centipede to the day-today video store awesomeness. That said, I have written little to nothing about the Reclaim Hosting core crew, although I imagine the goodness is everywhere apparent in my previous posts. But I imagine spelling that out a bit is never a bad thing. 

I wrote less than a year ago about our intention to build capacity at Reclaim, and I think this year we have definitely done that and more. We are a tight, streamlined crew of four, and while we could probably afford to grow over the coming year, we are holding off for the time being. We are all but done with our infrastructure migration to Digital Ocean—which has taken a fair amount of energy over the last year or so—and once we are finished that will be a major undertaking behind us. More than anything, Lauren and Meredith have been crucial to our steady growth and success, and we all agree it’s time for them to take on more responsibility and grow according to our needs. We did our yearly review while I was back, and it was a very good experience. We don’t pull any punches, we try and be honest about what is and isn’t working, and I think that helps everyone know where they are at and what we need to be doing. It also helps that everyone starts from a basic level of intense badassery.

Tim and I run a pretty casual office environment overall, but there are extremely high expectations of support and responsiveness that has really set us apart, and it’s clear that everyone at Reclaim takes pride in that fact—not to mention how much the Reclaim Faithful appreciate it. That is not going away, but we did realize we might be able to organize that process a bit better, so we’ll be experimenting with that over the next few months.

Lauren has also been instrumental in thinking through how we can better attend to our Domain of One’s Own schools’ needs. She and I will be dividing up the account management and I’m really looking forward to this because I have no doubt our the schools that run their hosting infrastructure through Reclaim will be the better for it. Lauren already talked about our clean-up and streamlining of this process, and there will be much more to come.

We also had the opportunity to dream about next steps for Reclaim Hosting’s Domain of One’s Own offering. Our vision is to free up Tim as much as possible to pursue a quite compelling vision he has mapped out for what the next generation of Domain of One’s Own might look like, and given the various requests we have been getting from schools over the last year, I think he may be on to something truly groundbreaking. It’s too early to over promise, but Domains 2.0 might be a bit deal on the ed-tech internet 🙂

Also, the co-working space Reclaim Hosting works from and operates, CoWork, has been taking off as of late (another post I am piggy-backing on from Lauren). It was pretty packed during my time back, and folks are renting the various available spaces on the regular. It is rewarding to see CoWork begin to live up to its potential, and I think we may even consider overhauling the last untouched area of the space as a kind of all-purpose incubator space that might second as a TV studio for a project I have burning a hole in my cerebellum.

In short, things have been super solid at Reclaim Hosting more generally. It’s like running DTLT without all the meetings and institutional bullshit—I love it. Reclaim Hosting is now a team that I would put up against the best of ed-tech groups. We still have some growing to do, but our core is super tight, and we are #4life! I could not be happier with the chance Tim and I took on venturing out 3 years ago, and so much of that has to do with the slow, steady building of a group based the basics: above-and-beyond support of and for faculty and students who need help exploring the web. 

Node.JS comes to Reclaim Hosting

Node.JS comes to Reclaim Hosting

I'm very excited to announce that starting today it is now possible to build and run Node.JS applications on Reclaim Hosting. Similar to the Python and Ruby features that make running Django and Jekyll possible, Node.JS is a third party plugin integrated into the Software area of cPanel. We have the latest versions of Node 6.x, 8.x, and 9.x available to build on and creating a node application gives you shell access to npm to integrate packages. Through the use of Passenger, applications can be built and run directly over Apache allowing you to run your application proxied to a top level domain or subdomain without port numbers.

Node.JS comes to Reclaim Hosting

This integration is very much developer-focused given the strong push by many to move beyond a basic LAMP stack and we're excited to make these tools possible. We have put together a tutorial on using this system to build a Ghost blog on your domain which can be accessed here. I should caution that not all Node applications will work in this environment, many of which also require things like Redis, MongoDB, etc which are not (yet) available within cPanel. But for developers looking to learn how to build and run server-side Javascript this is an excellent way to do that on a domain of your own.

*Node.JS support is available to all shared hosting plans as well as Domain of One's Own servers that currently utilize Cloudlinux. If you are a program manager and would like access to this, please reach out to discuss adding this feature.

A Personal Private CRM

A Personal Private CRM

Last month I forgot to call my dad on his birthday. It's certainly not the first time I have forgotten something important. I'm not wired in the necessary way to piece together all the important bits of information that would make me "thoughtful". Maybe that's a red herring and I'm just not a thoughtful person, but I'd like to think that's not the case and life just gets in the way like I'm sure many reading this can sympathize.

Today I came across a really interesting application called Monica and while I'm certainly reticent throw software at all my problems, I can't deny the possibility that having a smartphone or email or even shudder Facebook has helped me stay in touch with people. Monica bills itself as a "Personal Relationship Manager" and if you're familiar with the CRM acronym (Customer Relationship Manager) in the context of running a business, you can start to see where this could be useful. In Monica, you can add family, friends, and others you meet in your walks in life along with any information you have on them. Monica will remind you when birthdays are coming up or other important events. If you saved gift ideas for them it would have those. You can see relationship connections to know who is married to whom. If you were really masochistic you could log all your interactions with all of these people there (spoiler alert: I won't be doing anything quite that crazy).

Best of all Monica is open source so I was able to install it on my own domain and start playing with it. All the data is private to me and not shared with any other social media platforms. Like any relationship manager, you likely get out of it what you put in so I will have to regularly add information to find real use there. But even if it's nothing more than birthdays that could be useful to someone like me. I hope to see more integrations to take advantages of the platforms like Facebook that already have a lot of information to avoid all the tedious data entry and perhaps better notification options beyond getting emails. But the core idea that I have space on my domain where I can keep track of the relationships in my life is interesting to me and gets at the heart of what I think it means to have a domain of your own. It's not all WordPress blogs out there.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

One of the biggest challenges for folks new to building a website with WordPress is that it feels very much like writing/blogging software out of the box. Yes, you can create pages, but as soon as you want to structure information in columns or do anything more complex than images and text you will quickly find you need to find a theme or a handful of plugins to get the job done (and if you don't know what you don't know, that's a huge hurdle). "Site Builder" plugins are becoming more and more popular and you even see more themes integrating them into their frameworks these days. Some are pretty good, some suck really badly. One I really like and wanted to demonstrate as a way to quickly get up and running with a WordPress site is Elementor which is both free (there's a Pro version that has more features I'll discuss in a bit) and incredibly user-friendly with a lot of great options.

Rather than just talk about the various features let's go through the process of building out a demo site to see what Elementor has to offer. To start we'll fire up a WordPress install on Reclaim Hosting. Nothing too crazy, you're typical TwentyEighteen theme with the big ass succulent.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Since this isn't going to be a blog I'm going to go to Settings > Reading and change the homepage to be the About page that WordPress creates by default.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Then let's install the Elementor plugin to really get to the fun stuff.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

If we were to look at our site at this point nothing much has changed. We have the About page showing by default on the homepage. Let's click that Edit Page button to start making some changes.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

In addition to your standard Post/Page editor functions we see a big Edit with Elementor button at the top. But before we hit that I want to also draw your attention to the Page Templates in the righthand sidebar. Elementor offers templates to go full width instead of being limited to the layout of the theme we're working with (if you look above at the previous screenshot all the content is pushed to the right which we don't want). They also have a Canvas option which is awesome because it essentially nukes the whole theme content and gives us an empty workspace to build from. I'll be using that so I select it and click Update.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Now let's hit that Edit with Elementor button and start building out the site. You'll see we're taken to an interface that looks a lot more like the WordPress Customizer than the traditional page editor. We can add and edit items via the lefthand sidebar and interact directly with them on the site on the righthand preview seeing the site exactly as it will look to visitors.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

WordPress added some demo content to the About page that I don't need so I highlight over that and click the X to remove that text block.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Now below that we can add a new section for content. Let's start by looking at the template options Elementor comes with which is a great way to kickstart building a site rather than starting from scratch. Click Add Template and you're taken to a library of different full page layouts complete with demo content to choose from. Fair warning here, you will find templates that are "Pro Only" meaning this is where you'd need a paid version of the plugin to use those (and hey, if you like the plugin maybe it's worth throwing some money at the developers!), but there are a lot of great free options.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

I chose a simple "About Page" template and now my editor interface has a variety of content that I can start modifying to put in my own information.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

You'll find you can simply click in the various boxes and edit text directly as well as modify things in more detail using the lefthand sidebar which dynamically changes when an element of the site is selected.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Elementor also has options in the lower left to see how the site will display on tablets and mobile devices.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Going back quickly to the same area where we added Templates you'll notice there's a tab for Blocks as well. Templates are full page designs whereas Blocks are just small snippets of content (an FAQ section, a Call to Action, etc).

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

You can also build from scratch and add specific elements to your page to build out your own layout. You would create a new section which it lets you choose how many columns you'd like.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

Then you can drag elements from the left sidebar over and Elementor has a large library of widgets to choose from with everything from Text, Images, Videos, Maps, Buttons as well as dynamic content like Blog Posts or Tags and Categories from your site.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

When you drag an item out to a block you can then edit the content of that element in the sidebar.

Site Building with WordPress and Elementor

There is quite a bit more to Elementor but that covers the basics of the plugin and how you can use it with WordPress to quickly build out dynamic responsive websites that feel less like a blog and more like a full-fledged website. If you start on WordPress and immediately feel out of your element at getting what is in your head on the screen I'd encourage you to give this method a shot.