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 ?

Initial Notes on an API-Driven Community Site for BYU

Last week Tim and I travelled to Brigham Young University to continue conversations started in June around how BYU’s University API initiative, Domain of One’s Own, and an emerging vision of personal APIs might converge. We spent the first part of this most excellent trip over dinner. I mention this because it just so happens David Wiley was in town, and Phil Windley was kind enough to invite him out to dinner with all of us. It was a surreal evening because we spent it talking about the parallel work Reclaim Hosting and Lumen Learning are doing, as well as hearing some fascinating stories from Phil about founding iMall, an early creator of e-commerce tools during the mid 1990s. It was one of those dinner conversations that will stick with me for a while, and it energized me thoroughly.

But the following morning it was time to get down to business,  and we spent most of it getting more insight into how BYU is defining their University API project. What is the University API? Phil Windley lays it out much better than I ever could in this post. But in short, it is the intentional  defining, mapping and abstraction of the various relationships of data resources across an entire institution to enable the BYU community to easily access, share, and re-use information on campus and beyond. It draws to mind the Herculean task of building a subway system in an existing, living city like NYC at the turn of the last century. It’s arduous, painstaking work—but essential to modernize infrastructure. We spent a good part of the morning looking at how they defined a variety of resources, but in the end Tim and I are neither linguists, programmers, or information architects so remaining at the level of JSON bracketed abstraction for too long is always dangerous to productivity.

Luckily, we came with a specific plan, and BYU’s Chief Information Officer Kelly Flanagan is one of those rare gems that can take that abstraction and immediately refine it into a simple problem to solve, “how to we use our APIs to give students the ability to control the personal data in their own domain.”  That’s where we come in (the we is kinda royal here, I’m just the blogger). Over lunch the discussion continued, and Phil, Kelly, and Troy Martin basically told us how excited they were about working with us to try and marry the abstract University API to the specific and personal domain. What’s more, they encouraged us. It’s amazing how generative some genuine interest and encouragement can be. After lunch I prepared for a talk I was giving to the campus community about “Digital Genealogies and Sovereign Source Identity” (more on that in a forthcoming post) and Tim caught some major inspiration.

Over the course of that afternoon and into the early evening Tim and I talked through, worked on, and even began to prototype an API-driven community site. Things fell into place for us. The UMW community site at UMW Domains is more than a year old, and Tim and Martha Burtis put that together in a couple of days with duct tape, FeedWordPress, and three Hail Marys. As we were showing it off to the BYU folks that morning several of the pages and many of the links just didn’t work. Even more of a reason for us to make sense of how we can start to bridge the data we collect and visualize for the community site using API calls. The community site prototype that Martha and Tim built accomplished everything it needed to: it recast web hosting as a fish tank rather than a black box. What we realized that afternoon was that our job now was to re-architect the community site for BYU so that it can provide all the data we get in the UMW Domains site now (recent posts, term, course, department, instructor, status, software, etc.) through API calls.

Tim started playing with the CPanel API immediately, and once he gets going it is a thing of beauty to behold. Upon creation of any new web hosting account on BYU Domains an api subdomain is created, such as This will be the place where we start writing to the personal API.  What’s more, Tim also figured out how to get Known installed by default in the root of every new account for BYU Domains using CPanel’s APIs (not live for everyone just yet). So, when creating a domain on BYU Domains, the first thing a student will see is not CPanel, but a customized interface of Known that will be their personal API of sorts. They can integrate their various social media using Known’s Convoy, quickly post files, but also make some basic calls to CPanel to create subdomains, install applications, etc.

Known becomes the interface for their initial domain experience, with the option of accessing CPanel at anytime. And when they install WordPress in Installatron it will automatically write course, term, software, status, etc. to their personal API file. What’s more, if they are installing WordPress (which a majority will) the JSON-API plugin will automatically activate (at least until it is core) and write information like their recent posts, tags, etc. to their personal API file. So, the student has an API that lists all posts, subdomains, software installed, term(s), instructor(s), department(s), etc. Structured data they can now use to organize their career as a student, and the community can call to frame the experience in aggregate.

The next morning we did a demo for Troy, and I think we realized that Known provides a crucial bridge for the personal API vision here. If Known is the default interface for BYU Domains, it already has an API baked in, and it integrates students’ various social media sites from around the web. Known is the layer we build the API calls to CPanel through a simplified dashboard, as well as double down on integrating a contextualized reader into Known that enables the community to start following other people’s work based on structured relationships. Think a Tumblr like interface for all posts for a certain course that can be organized into columns á la Tweetdeck. Or all posts across a department, faculty member, Twitter, Facebook, etc. The community site as imagined through Known with a contextualized reader that enables you to personalize the way you experience the flow of data.

How can we do this? Well, by partnering with Ben Werdmuller and Erin Jo Richey of Known who will be working with us to design the interface and API hooks for BYU’s community portal. I am hopeful that this will be the groundwork for establishing an entirely new interface for personal web hosting across all the institutional sites using Reclaim Hosting (as well as a long-term relationship between Known and Reclaim!). It is really exciting stuff, and if it pans out the way we’re imagining, it marks a pretty dramatic shift in making web hosting, managing your personal data, and structuring your online existence that much more integrated. I can’t even begin to tell you how lucky we are to have the good folks at BYU’s Office of Information Technology pushing us to innovate wildly. They are remarkably open and willing to help us experiment along these lines, without ever shutting down the conversation in regards to what could go wrong, or what might or might not be kosher. They are in fully exploratory mode right alongside of us, and they have swung the doors wide open for us to see what’s possible. It’s like a whole new level of access for making web hosting and personal name spaces part of the “integrated domain” of higher ed in all the augmented-human-intellect-beauty such an Engelbartian turn of phrase draws to mind!

The Un-education of a Technologist: From EDUPUNK to ds106

Below are the slides and a transcript of the text I planned to follow when I delivered my talk this morning at the EDEN Annual Conference in Barcelona. That said, I didn’t keep to the script because I get too excited and just ran with things. Let this be the record of what I wanted to say, not what I said

Into the Maelstrom

“Amidst the tumult, the academy appears oddly complacent. Open source technology, open access publication, open education have all had their successes, but none of these movements could fairly be described as having transformed practice. Models of publishing, reviewing and assessing research have not fundamentally changed. Innovation in teaching is at the margins, the essential structures of curriculum and assessment wholly unchanged. Educational technology, far from revolutionizing practice, seems primarily dedicated to perpetuating it: ‘clickers’ provide a sheen of interactivity in the cavernous lecture hall; ‘learning management systems’ promise to protect its users from the raging uncertainties of the digital chaos.” –


This was the opening paragraph of an article Brian Lamb and I wrote for the Universities and Knowledge Societies Journal (RUSC) of the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya in April of 2009. We wrote most of it in late 2008, early 2009 and as the abstract notes in RUSC:

Two educational technologists and webloggers present a series of vignettes, contemplating the effects of modern networked communication on their practice. Recognizing their inability to construct a synthetic theory amidst the maelstrom, they curate a collection of observations and manifestos emphasizing themes of personal publishing, spontaneous collaborations, learning on the open web, and syndication.

The line “recognizing their inability to construct a synthetic theory amidst the maelstrom” is maybe one of my all time favorite research article abstracts ever Thank you RUSC! But one of the things that’s interesting as I return to this article almost seven years later (what is that in Web 2.0 tech years?) is how so many of the curated vignettes around personal spaces, the open web, spontaneous connections, distributed collaborations, and syndication still remain core to a vision of what a revolutionary publishing and pedagogical practice might look like on the web.

What’s more, I’m an optimist. I think we are getting closer and closer to realizing that vision, and thanks to folks like Audrey Watters we may even be getting somewhere with a more “synthetic theory amidst the maelstrom,” i.e. the ahistorical, techno-solutionism undergirding Silicon Valley is launching a full frontal assault on the education sector.

In fact, the vignettes we list in that paper are the building blocks of this talk which loosely traces the work I‘ve been doing since writing that paper in December of 2008.

The vignette about “A Space of One’s Own” is a take on a “Domain of One’s Own,” an idea we have been playing with at UMW since 2007 or 2008. Give every student and faculty member their own domain and web hosting, and make them the “sysadmin of their own education,” to quote Gardner Campbell. The idea of building a university’s technical framework around personal cyber infrastructures was really radical just seven years ago, and arguably still is. But we have evidence that is possible, and can be the basis of an entire curriculum around web literacy and fluency.

The over-wrought section on revolutionary syndication buses was the basis of how we would build the Digital Storytelling course at UMW ds106 (#4life). A course that built on the idea of a personal cyberinfrastructre by giving all students their own domain and web hosting, but re-wired the course space as something that bring all that work back together. But not as an example of a creepy treehouse like Facebook or your favorite LMS, but as a distributed network that modeled itself on the web.

And ds106 reinforced, at least for me, two other vignettes from that paper, namely “serendipitous collaboration chains” and “spontaneous connections.” As we noted Stephen Downes note:  “Who cares if a few universities exchange learning content among themselves (not that this really happens a lot anyway)?” The more interesting models is how various individuals and groups forge entirely new collaborations and spontaneous connections that form networks above and beyond the institutional vision of “sharing.” This is where MOOCs began to fall down as a centralized approach to sharing that strayed away from anything resembling the web.

Speaking of MOOCs, our vignette about Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) may be one of the very first articles in an academic journal that says the “M” word. This was almost 3 years before the hype, and the logic undergirding MOOCs as they were laid out here was rather different. it wasn’t about marketing, colonial education, or efficiencies, it was about trying to understand how pedagogies of and for the web can be radically different.


This was all written and imagined during a moment when EDUPUNK was still a thing. Less than a year earlier Brian Lamb and I had began to articulate our dissatisfaction with how LMS companies like BlackBoard were making claims about being open and innovative when they had done nothing more than start to integrate a few basic practices that were predominant on the web rather badly into their LMS. It was insult to injury, because that company had done little to nothing in terms of innovating on their product for years. Again, with stridency and righteousness:

…if we reduce the conversation to technology, and not really think hard about technology as an instantiation of capital’s will to power, than anything resembling an EdTech movement towards a vision of liberation and relevance is lost. For within those ideas is not a technology, but a group of people, who argue, disagree, and bicker, but also believe that education is fundamentally about the exchange of ideas and possibilities of thinking the world anew again and again, it is not about a corporate mandate to compete—however inanely or nefariously—for market share and/or power. I don’t believe in technology, I believe in people.

-From “The Glass Bees” on bavatuesdays

The only moment either of us presented on EDUPUNK was when Brian Lamb delivered a really compelling talk of these very ideas back in 2010 right here in Barcelona at Zemos98.

EDUPUNK also became a victim of its own very mild success as an idea, and was soon a logic exercised when it comes to neocon logic of dismantling higher ed. Stuff I was very uncomfortable with, and ultimately had to right my Dear John letter in 2011 to an idea I was really smitten with:


But EDUPUNK and I never really split, we just changed its name to ds106. In the Spring of 2011 ds106 provided a beautiful the moment when so many of the ideas Brian and I were trying to wrap our heads around (personal spaces, spontaneous connections, serendipitous collaborations, syndication hubs, MOOCs, etc.) came together. But not so much as a synthetic theory, but as a practical application of how teaching and learning can be part and parcel of the web. How we can “descend into the Maelstrom” by studying the action of the whirlpool and cooperating with it—the quote from Malcolm McLuhan quoting Edgar Allen Poe that Brian Lamb used to frame the whole idea of working within the chaos.

But I am getting ahead of myself, what is ds106? Digital Storytelling (also affectionately known as ds106) is an open, online course that happens at various times throughout the year at the University of Mary Washington and elsewhere… but you can join in whenever you like and leave whenever you need. This course is free to anyone who wants to take it, and the only requirements are a real computer, a hardy internet connection, preferably a domain of your own and some commodity web hosting, and all the creativity you can muster.

ds106 opened up questions about infrastructure, architecture, student agency, pedagogy, and much more all at once. It wasn’t just about technology, it was about how the technology affords new ways for us to collaborate, share, and learn with and from one another.

One of its many great moments of this experiment came during the summer of 2011, during what is now referred to as the “Summer of Oblivion.”

“The idea was to have a daily radio/TV broadcast by Dr. Brian Oblivion (featured in the animate gif above), a character from David Cronenberg’s Videodrome who only ever appears as a mediated pedagogical presence on TV. The idea was to update this for 2011, and have this be an online, mediated pedagogical appearance only on the web. Effectively I took on an alternative teaching identity. I wanted to push myself in this course to not only experiment with and challenge some of the ideas we have about the role of the professor, online learning, and mediated communication…if I am not pushing myself to explore and be consumed by this media then it would run counter to the whole reason for the course in the first place. So, there it is, ds106: The Summer of Oblivion—but this analyzing is paralyzing, let’s play this dang thing!” from

And it looked something like this the first few days:

The course ran as an alternative reality in some ways, what Ray Land calls a “pedagogy of uncertainty.” By the end of the first week Dr. Oblivion went missing, the TA (jim Groom) came in and became a tyrant banishing students, and the class started to rebel. It was magic. Here is one of the student created videos about the upheaval of course power:

The idea of the class was about sense-making online, taking control of your digital presence, and imbuing a broader range of digital literacies and fluencies across tools, but more importantly managing one’s presence online.

Domain of One’s Own

This gave way to the Domain of One’s Own initiative at UMW that provides every student and faculty member their own domain and web hosting, providing a platform for a broader, institutional wide digital fluency toolkit, not to mention a sandbox for broader web-based exploration for everyone.

This took on a whole different level of thinking when I met up with Audrey Watters and Kin Lane at the Reclaim Hackathon at MIT sponsored by the DML. The ideas there continue to drive the work at UMW and beyond. Thinking in more focused ways about how we provide students and faculty a technical and curricular framework that provides more control over personal data. Ideas of University and personal APIs, virtualized server infrastructure, Docker, and much more. This is the beginning of what has become my new focus—Reclaiming. It’s also why I started with the demo. Based on the work we’ve done at UMW, my partner Tim Owens and I are working on a model that provides individuals, courses, departments, and/or universities with cheap, virtualized infrastructure to run this locally.  A way of decentralizing IT and edtech support. That’s Reclaim Hosting, and that’s the future!

Reclaim the Web with Reclaim Hosting

Image credit: "No Dash for Gas"

Image credit: “No Dash for Gas”

Yesterday Tim Owens finished up the “10 Reasons to Reclaim” series on the Reclaim Hosting blog. Granted I’m biased, but I think what he’s laying down in that series—especially the #1 reason to Reclaim—is arguably the most innovative infrastructural work happening in edtech. Why? Well, he’s taken what we’ve learned helping schools get up and running with their Domain of One’s Own projects and made it dead simple and dirt cheap for any school—no matter how big or small, rich or poor—to get up and running.

For $199 a month a department, school, or university can start exploring what it would mean to give faculty, staff, and students a domain of their own with web hosting. While this price doesn’t include a unique domain like (though that could be easily arranged), it does provide a subdomain on any given top level domain, such as, that has access to a cPanel interface with the ability to install applications, map a domain, create an email, etc. You can get a trial account to see exactly what I’m talking about here:

How could schools not afford to experiment with this? I think the innovation here is four-fold:

  • It’s an excellent platform for controlling one’s own data and identity
  • It meets a growing need for digital projects, courses, and portfolios
  • It’s eminently affordable
  • It can be seamlessly integrated into a school’s authentication system making it dead simple to rollout

Don’t believe me? Try get up and running with your own subdomain here, and tell me you can’t see faculty, staff, and students doing this?

What excites me most about this whole thing is that Tim has formalized and scaled a vision we’ve had for a while at UMW. Finding ways to share the innovation we’ve been working on with as many people as possible. We did it with UMW Blogs back in 2008, but that was a one-off approach that we couldn’t support and sustain beyond one school. Reclaim Hosting is for real, with the recent ten reasons series we’re doubling down on just how serious we are about making the work we do accessible to just about anyone.

This marks a highpoint for the edtech work I’ve been part of over the last decade. Rather than just bemoaning existing possibilities or pointing out the limits of the existing infrastructure (something I’m certainly guilty of), Reclaim marks an intervention into technical reality behind it. We’re offering something we believe in, we can scale, and we want to support. We’re making it easier and cheaper for colleges and universities to enable their communities to invest in the open web again.  It’s time to reclaim the power of the web with (or without) Reclaim Hosting. We’ve just made it easier. Can you dig it?

I knew that you could.

Reclaiming Innovation

Screen Shot 2014-06-03 at 5.12.26 PM

Click image to go to article

Yesterday the online version of the EDUCAUSE Review article Brian Lamb and I co-authored went live on the web. I’m really blown away by how much time and energy the good folks at EDUCAUSE Review spent on the web presentation. It looks amazing, and I have to acknowledge right up front that ER editor, Teddy Diggs, was nothing short of amazing throughout the entire process. I had a lot of fun writing this article, and it’s really rewarding to see it both online and in print. It represents yet another proud moment within an  on-going intellectuall (and degenerate) collaboration I’ve had with Brian for going on eight years.

More selfishly, this article helped me both crystallize and abstract a series of ideas around Domain of One’s Own that needed to be generalized beyond UMW. Originally the idea behind this article was to write a piece about Domain of One’s Own touting its awesomeness (and it is!). But when I started talking  it over with Brian it quickly became apparent that a broader rumination on the state of innovation and technology in higher education would get at some of the deeper underlying issues that Domain of One’s Own addresses. What exactly do we mean when we say innovation? What is this disruption we keep talking about? What is the state of innovation in higher ed when it comes to IT infrastructure? How have we fared in terms of providing spaces for our intellectual communiities to explore the possibilities of the the radical “disruptor” know as the web? Is empowerment a part of innovation?

The article is an attempt to answer just those questions, and I think it helped me re-focus some of the reasons why I think Domain of One’s Own, and the Reclaim Your Domain movement more generally, remains my chosen future. The online piece provides a series of extras, such as clips of a conversation between Brian and I embedded in the article about the process. Also, there are a series of examples of schools like UMW, UBC, and various CUNY colleges that are enacting the values at the heart of building a technological infrastructure for teaching and learning around people. In addition, for the online version I spent many hours alongside Andy Rush interviewing staff, faculty, and students at UMW to explain what exactly Domain of One’s Own means to our campus. The following 12 minute video, embedded below, is the result of that exploration.

And if that’s not enough, Brian and Jon Fulton were, as luck would have it, able to sit down with both Audrey Watters and Kin Lane at Thompson River University to discuss what exactly this whole “reclaim” thing is all about. I think they both lay out a brilliant frame for what this might mean on a personal level.

I’d like to think their vision is complemented by Domain of One’s Own at UMW, suggesting that such an ethos can work on several levels: personal, professional, institutional, etc. There’s a spectrum to reclaim. It’s not a reaction; it’s a proactive move to start demanding we have more control over who we are in cyberspace. For UMW, reclaim is about factoring the importance of taking ownership of your information into the work you do not only as a student, but as a citizen.

Brian and I fashioned this piece as a re-visiting of the “Nevermind the EDUPUNKs” article we wrote for EDUCAUSE Review in 2010. Four years on I remain confident that empowering individuals to reclaim their work online is not just an idea, but an infrastructure that folks can and will actually work towards impelementing. If we think that teaching and learning in the 21st century needs to deeply interrogate the role of the web in education, and that’s becoming readily apparent, then I can’t imagine how the vision of the student, faculty, and staff member as various nodes within a broader learning network framed by the course or the unviersity or the world at lerge can’t be anything but imminent. Here’s to hoping.

Installing WordPress Multisite and Using FeedWordPress

Yesterday I sat down with UBC Philosophy faculty and ds106 rockstar Christina Hendricks to record a walk-through of how to install and manage WordPress Multisite using the script-installer Installatron. Additionally, we covered the following:

  • How to manage your multisite account, with a special focus on the  level of abstraction from the site to the network
  • How to export and import a WordPress site
  • How to use the syndication plugin FeedWordPress

The more I work with faculty and students on managing their own web hosting and domain, the more I am convinced it’s not only manageable for just about anyone, but it’s near on getting dead simple. This is by no means to suggest Christina isn’t tech savvy—quite the opposite! However, she’s represents a demographic of faculty who’ve been rocking open source applications like WordPress for teaching and leanring on amazing platforms like UBC Blogs or UMW Blogs  for a while now. Given that, they’ve come to the point where they want to start managing some of their own sites, and exploring beyond the confines of these systems. That’s awesome because in my mind that’s why we started platforms like this in the first palce, so folks would start to move beyond them.

Nonethless, I emphasize some of her sites above because Christina is not planning on exporting and managing all of her numerous course sites on her own domain. Rather, she’s bringing in a few sites that make sense to be on her own domain: her blog, her portfolio site, her ds106 tumblr, etc. It’s not all or nothing, rather the two systems working brilliantly together, and the above video is a testament to how awesome open publishing platforms like UBC Blogs and UMW Blogs can be when faculty (or students, staff, etc.) can export their work from a university’s platform and seamlessly import that work into their own domain. THAT’S PROGRESS, KIDS!

In effect, by setting up her own WordPress multisite she is able to move from the concept of a site to that of a network of sites that she manages and controls. It’s weird for me, but I just really wrapped my head around this idea of the personal network while talking to Christina over the last couple of days. The WordPress Multisite network nomenclature gets at the idea that you, by way of your domain, become a multichanneled space for publishing, sharing, syndicating, aggregating, etc. As Andy Rush has noted before, a “Network of One’s Own!” And that’s exactly what Christina is demonstrating in this walk-through.

If you are interested in how to install your own WordPress Multisite (via Installatron, which you can get through Reclaim Hosting :) ), manage WordPress  Multisite, export/import WP, oand/or use FeedWordPress this video might prove very useful. I am hoping Christina and I can get together again and do a few more about managing your own domain and demonstrating that managing your own oiece of a server has never been simpler!

Has the Time Arrived for Hosted Lifebits?

I’m a big fan of Kin Lane‘s for many reasons: he’s west coast cool, he’s passionate about what he believes in, he’s a technical wizard, and he wraps that all up with some intense creativity and vision. What one might call the complete package. He’s ramping up his Reclaim efforts currently, and we got to spend some time together at the Emory Domain Incubator to start imagining what that might look like more broadly.

One of the ideas he was toying around with I really loved came as a response to the presentation  Tim Owens and Martha Burtis gave about their work setting up the Domain of One’s Own environment at UMW. They talked about hacking the management and billing software WHMCS to hide all traces of money from all students, staff and faculty using the service. This makes sense because none of them pay anything to get a domain and web hosting. So much of WHMCS  is defined around domains costs, billing notices, overdue warnings, etc.  The software is designed for folks who want to resell domains and hosting so this makes sense, no one really buys that software in order to give products away :) So as Tim and Martha quickly learned, erasing any mention of money from this application for UMW Domains was hard—the transactional logic is written into its DNA.

What Kin suggested during their session is that perhaps the WHMCS layer needs to function more as an educational/social experience that explains how domains and web hosting works, helps people understand how to think like the web in a contextual manner, and links a community together. I love this idea, and it’s funny that an article Kin linked to on Twitter just over an hour ago in Wired about the Indie Box project gets at some of this in there reference to an open source application marketplace on these personal servers. But two of the issues I see with that project are a) you have to pay $500 for your own server, and b) you have to manage your own server.

Don’t get me wrong, the vision behind this project is awesome, and I’m a big fan. I’m just wondering  if the hosted part of our identities on the web doesn’t still make some sense. You can still move your life bits to open source applications on a solid web host, and you can still have a marketplace for open source applications, Installatron is a pretty solid example of this. Kin has talked about building a marketplace of APIs that pull your contributions from various third-party, NSA-friendly platforms into your own server—but do you want to opt out all together? Maybe, but managing a server under your desk was never much fun, and I can’t imagine it will be that much better now.

So, thinking about this the idea Jon Udell was exploring in 2007 about hosted lifebits might be a conversation we’re ready to have more broadly currently given that the NSA is scanning our emails and Google and Facebook are hoarding our data. I think many of us would be willing to pay for hosted services that enable us to store and share our various digital lifebits,  providing access and privacy as needed. In many ways Kin’s idea of the re-imagined layer for domain and hosting management might consider what this might look like as a way at this issue. What if people created API tools you could pay a nominal fee for to ensure you could regularly archive your tweets, Flickr images, Facebook updates, etc? What if you could go beyond that an ensure some consistency of your online environments in terms of links, media, etc? Engineering an open web can only happen when each of us starts reclaiming some of the fundamental pieces of our personal digital archives, which does not necessarily mean taking on the role of full blown server admin. Collaborative labor collectives can be useful in some scenarios :)

This is one of the things I really want to start thinking about in relationship to Reclaim Your Domain. How can I start reclaiming my various online spaces that I’ve been living in for the last decade or more to go through the process of consolidating and ensuring a future for these conversations within and beyond the moment.

Egypt Calling or, Why Open Rules

Maha Bali BlogI had been procrastinating a bit on the “Reclaim Your Domain” workshop I’ll be running in just about an hour’s time at the Sloan-C Emerging Technologies Conference.  This is the first time I’ve workshopped what we’re doing at UMW with Domain of One’s Own, and thanks to the service Tim Owens and I started, appropriately named Reclaim Hosting, it’s been pretty cool. I already talked about the setup of the workshop here.

You see the workshop will also include virtual participants, In fact, there will be folks joining in as far away as Egypt as I learned on Twitter.

So I wanted to be sure I had documentation and a platform that would enable the virtual folks to particpate seamlessly.

As a result I learned how awesome Maha Bali is (I was originally referring to her as Bali because of her domain, I suck). Two days ago Tim and I got the site up and running (admittedly later than promised) and thanks to Maha, who was kind enough to offer testing rom afar, I think it might actually work.

But more than testing out the site, and test it out she did, she also wrote a post on her sandbox domain at calling out some key questions I need to address more broadly as part of the Reclaim push:

I feel there is an assumption here that people taking this workshop already buy into the idea of “owning” or “reclaiming” one’s own domain. I am not clear on all the arguments for that yet (need to read and discuss some more) but I definitely do feel like my online presence is distributed and I would like to have it all in one place under my control. I just don’t know if that will complicate my life more than I need

This is the real question I need to get at whether or not the platofrm works. I assume folks see the value, and I forget that I have to try and make this whole thing relevant to someone who isn’t necessarily an edtech fanatic like me. I need to step back a bit and start thinking about what a domain and web hosting has offered me on personal, professional and practical levels as an educator, edtech, father, and more generally a person online in the 21st century.

This was truly invaluable feedback, but I am not surpised because Maha seems ot be a truly cool person who embodies the spirit of open collaboration and is a welcome reminder that these networks lead us to real people. This is what happens when you openly and actively engage people online. Openness is like the force in Star Wars: “a river from which many can drink.” But Maha says all this much better on her blog, which may even be hosted on her own domaina nd web hosting with a shiny new domain sometime soon :)

Over 1000 Reclaims

Image courtesy of Conejo Through the Lens, Thousand Oaks Library.

Today Reclaim Hosting went over the 1000 reclaimers mark. That’s right, in the last six months more than 1000 people choose to explore reclaiming their online presence through a system that Tim “the Wizard” Owens built into one hell of a hosting service. We’ve kept it as cheap as possible without running at a loss, while at the same time providing top-notch hosting and support to K-12 and higher education institutions all over North America.

Given how successful and rewarding the first six months have been, we’re committing to run the service beyond the initial year-long pilot. Over the next few weeks we’ll be introducing a set of affordable packages for both individuals and institutions so that anyone can get up and running on Reclaim Hosting in no time.

It’s been a lot of fun dreaming  alongside Tim about the possibilities of Reclaim Hosting. We’re committed to the vision of using this service to enagage and foster the discourse of personal empowerment and community development through education when in comes to all things online. That’s what Reclaim Hosting is, and that’s what it will be.

We’ve got the hosting and support parts down pretty well. So now we’re starting to develop out ideas and possibilities for incorporating a robust community presence that will help transform what is now a series of one-off sites into a “neighborhood” of educators and students exploring and interrogating their online presence together.

What’s more, we are still hoping to team up with Audrey Watters and Kin Lane to start realizing the vision behind “Reclaim Your Domain” as an extension of the Reclaim Hosting environment. Not just commodity hosting, but a space to synch, archive, and own your social presence around the web, while at the same time developing crucial web literacy skills. I’m very much looking forward to travelling to Atlanta in less than two weeks to the rescheduled Domain Incubator so that we can continue to push the reclaim education agenda forward :)

Reclaim Workshop

I was invited to give a talk at the Sloan-Consortium’s 7th Annual Emerging Technologies for Online Learning. I’ll be talking about Domain of One’s Own, Reclaim Hosting, web thinking,  and some of the amazing possibilities we’re starting to see emerge as a result of the work we’ve done thus far. In fact, Jon Udell’s recent post about names and meaning when it comes to URLs ties nicely into the idea Martha Burtis had regarding naming your own domain as a metaphysical endeavor. This semester is going to be all Domain all the time, and for that I’m very excited. I’ll be giving a playful, experimental version of this talk in Atlanta for the Domain Incubator at Emory University in just over a week. And while the two presentations will be distinct talks, I have an idea of trying to incorporate revanchist 1980s NYC b-movie themes into both—but we’ll see if that works. Actually, it doesn’t really matter what I talk about because the real gold for the Domain Incubator conference, as Tim Owens just announced, will be the open and forkable documentation on Github that will narrate how the entire Domain of One’s Own project has been setup, run, and maintained.

Anyway, the good folks organizing the Sloan conference also gave me the opportunity to run a workshop. I jumped at the chance because I want to see if I can’t get a roomful of folks not only up and running on Reclaim Hosting , but also comfortable with manging their own slice of a web server and various applications in two or three hours. I think I can, and this workshop is going to be the test. Anyway, below is the description I submitted, and I would love any feedback. Would your sign-up for this workshop if you read the description? Does this sound like something a faculty member, technologist, or adminsitrator might even be interested in? I want to start getting at the idea that setting up your own domain and web host is not jsut abut a protfolio (though it’s that too) , but it’s a portal into a broader approach to thinking like the web at the personal, communal, and institution scale.

This workshop will provide attendees a focused session to get up and running with  your own domain name and web hosting account. By the end of this session you will have gotten the following:

  • Your own domain name (i.e.
  • Your own web hsoting account (with instruction of how to manage it)
  • Instructions for installing at least one open source application on your web server (such as WordPress, Omeka, etc.)
  • Instructions for publishing original content to your space.

Sounds crazy, right? But it’s not, taking control of your online presence and managing your own domain and web space has never been easier. The goal of this workshop is to provide faculty, technologists, and administrators a hands-on overview of how the web works from the inside-out. In a moment when everyone is talking about controlling your data, learning to code, and web literacy—a sandbox space like this is invaluable for taking the first steps in truly interrogating how to think like the web.