Plugin Review: Ultimate Dashboard

Ok, folks- I’m pretty jazzed about a new plugin that I came across just this afternoon that I really think could change the game for #DoOO SPLOT/Site Template Builders and WordPress Multisite Administrators. My research for something like this began from an email I received from Coventry University asking about the extent that we could generate “getting started” language within new sub-sites of a WordPress Multisite. Coventry Admins were looking for ways in which they could guide beginner users, encourage them to build an “About Me” page as part of a larger Portfolio, and simply offer additional resources as users begin to settle into their new site.

The plugin I found is called Ultimate Dashboard and, as the title suggests, it allows you to customize and simplify your WordPress dashboard. There’s a free and a pro version, and quite a bit can be done with the free version. Check it out:

What I first see when installing WordPress-

What I see after playing with Ultimate Dashboard for a few minutes-

^ To Summarize the above, I was able to:

  • Remove the “Screen Options” and “Help” tabs from top right
  • Add a StateU Support admin page to the left dashboard menu bar and order it in the list
  • Completely remove existing WP Dashboard widgets
  • Create my own WP Dashboard widgets and order them
  • Alter the footer language

I’ll explain the steps I took below, but I was shocked with how simple and intuitive it was. Also, its pretty cool that you’re able to do so much with the free version alone.


How to Remove “Screen Options” and “Help” Tabs

Go to Ultimate Dashboard > Settings and check Remove Help Tab and Remove Screen Options Tab. Done. (On this page I also have the option to rename the Dashboard to something else, but I decided to keep it the same since any and all WordPress documentation will refer to it as a Dashboard.


Add a StateU Support admin page

Go to Ultimate Dashboard > Admin Pages and click Add New. Next you can begin adding in your content like any other WordPress post or page. I’m able to embed videos, add in images, headers, etc. I also set this as a Top Level Menu item, but it can be added as a submenu item to any parent menu item as well. Finally, I assigned it the #2 order so it would show up right underneath the Dashboard in the sidebar. I was able to customize the menu icon as well:


Removing Existing WordPress Dashboard Widgets

Go to Ultimate Dashboard > Settings and check All next to Remove All Widgets. The Pro version of this plugin allows you to easily remove third party plugin widgets (things like Elementor, Google Analytics, WooCommerce, etc) as well. However to work around this I quickly reenabled the ‘Screen Options’ tab, unchecked third party widgets there, and disabled the Screen Options tab again. Ha!


Creating my own Dashboard Widgets

Here’s where it really started getting fun. Ultimate Dashboard allows you to create three different types of Dashboard widgets with the free version: Text, Icon, and HTML. I tested all 3 and they’re beautiful!

Text Widget

Go to Ultimate Dashboard > Add New. Give your Widget a title, choose the Text Widget Type, add in your content and click Update. At the bottom you also have the option to set a fixed height, which may be recommended if you’ve got quite a bit of text.

Icon Widget

Go to Ultimate Dashboard > Add New. Give your Widget a title, choose the Icon Widget Type, and select the icon that you want to use. From there you can add in extra text that will fade in when you hover your mouse over the top right-hand question mark. The bottom field allows you to add a clickthrough URL for the widget. In this case I used a relative WordPress URL that points the user back to their individual ‘Add New Page’ section of the dashboard. (So cool!) Finally, click Update.

On my dashboard I also created another Icon Widget with an external link. So for example if you’ve got a class site or suite of resources that live outside of the WordPress instance that you want to point folks to, this works great.

HTML Widget

The final widget type works well if you quickly want to embed something without messing with formatting. Go to Ultimate Dashboard > Add New. Give your Widget a title, choose the HTML Widget Type, and paste in your HTML code:

The Pro version of this plugin has actual Video and Contact form widget types, but doing this through HTML is another great workaround.


Altering the footer language

Lastly, the Ultimate Dashboard plugin allows you to alter footer language in the dashboard from something like this:

…to this:

To do this, all you’ll need to do is go to Ultimate Dashboard > White Label and add in your own content to the Footer and Version Text fields.

The Pro version of the plugin way more customization options to allow you to brand the dashboard even further, which may be worth it for a large WordPress Multisite. But for admins that are looking to simplify the WordPress dashboard or offer guidance to new users in a Site Template, the free version may be all you need.


If anyone ends up using this plugin, please let me know! I’d be curious to see how you adopt it for your community.

What to Consider When Organizing Faculty Sites and Coursework in cPanel

I get asked all the time how to best organize work, specifically for Faculty course sites, within cPanel.

Should Faculty put everything in one cPanel, or multiple, separate cPanels? Should they use single application installs or a multisite? Should they use subdomains or subfolders?

My small preface here is that there’s no one “right” way to do all of the above. At the end of the day it really comes down to user preference and what you as the administrator are approving and supporting. This post also doesn’t claim to list all options, but simply the ones that have worked well in my experience:

One cPanel vs. Multiple cPanels

^screenshot pulled from my Multiple cPanels Guide

First and foremost, Domain of One’s Own is priced on a per cPanel basis. In an entry-level package, an institution is given up to 500 cPanels on their server. Those cPanels can be owned by 500 users or by 50 users, and will ultimately be determined by DoOO admins as to whether or not they want end users to have the option of owning more than one cPanel account.

Nine times out of 10 I’ll say that the majority of work can be done within a single cPanel account (with perhaps a bump in storage quota & site resources as needed). cPanel allows for an unlimited number of sites/domains/applications to be added to a single dashboard, which means that a Faculty member could be managing multiple projects, course sites, etc. within their one account.

One exception to the above might be if a Faculty member is the liaison for an institutional club, organization, or event that changes ownership quite frequently. For example: it would be a real pain for the Professor X to leave the university, take their personal portfolio with them, and accidentally remove the website for the school newspaper. In these instances where it is crucial for coursework and personal work to remain completely separate a club or event, a separate cPanel account does make sense.

Single Application Installs or a Multisite?

Again, this really comes down to user preference and the project in mind. There are some obvious benefits to a WordPress Multisite over single WordPress installs– the main one being that management happens within a single application dashboard. If you want to install new themes, update software, configure site settings, etc. you’d really only be doing it once with the knowledge that your work is applied to multiple locations.

Multisites are also great for maintaining previous course sites. For example: Professor X might want to install a WordPress Multisite for their Photography 101 class on professorX.stateu.org/photo101, and then have subsites for each semester:

professorX.stateu.org/photo101/spring19
professorX.stateu.org/photo101/fall19
professorX.stateu.org/photo101/spring20
professorX.stateu.org/photo101/fall20

In the above example, Professor X might not be concerned with having separate site designs for each semester, but still wants to keep an archive of previous student work.

Even still, I tend to find myself working with applications as single installs as I need them since I don’t usually have the foresight to think through future projects and set up a multisite in advance. (Now it is possible to convert a single WordPress install to a WordPress Multisite after the fact, but the process is not simple.) I also personally like having separate dashboards for each project because I like keeping projects completely separate, even if it means a little more management on my end. Not entirely rational but there you have it.

There’s plenty of reading out there on the pros & cons of each, so I definitely recommend doing your homework when trying to nail down what will work for you.

Extra Reading:
• WordPress Multisite vs a Single Site vs Multiple Websites [Infographic]
WordPress Multisite vs. A Management Tool: Which Do You Need?
Managing Multiple Sites: WordPress Multisite vs Separate Installations

Subdomains vs. Subfolders

Subfolder examples:
• professorX.stateu.org/portfolio
• professorX.stateu.org/blog

Subdomain examples:
portfolio.professorX.stateu.org
blog.professorX.stateu.org

With this one I won’t try to recreate what was already brilliantly said by Tim in this guide, but I will reiterate the following:

Subdomains are generally a cleaner, more elegant solution to organizing your site. You’re less likely to get conflicts or errors. However, when using subdomains there is an extra step involved: you must first create the subdomains before you can install anything on them.

Conflict Example for Subfolders:
Professor X installs a WordPress instance on professorX.stateu.org, and then creates a page that sits at /blog. Fine. But then Professor X could technically go and install another WordPress instance on the subfolder called professorX.stateu.org/blog. Yikes. Now Professor X has two separate application installs and both are using /blog. #conflict. If that second WordPress instance was installed on the subdomain blog.professorX.stateu.org, all issues would have been avoided.

Hoping this overview helps clarify some of the options out there for site organization, but I’d be interested to hear in the comments if there’s something working for you that I didn’t mention above!

Onboarding for DoOO

One of my responsibilities as Account Manager for Reclaim Hosting is to constantly be questioning how we can make the overall customer experience better for our Managed Hosting and DoOO schools. My natural thought process here has been to break the ‘customer experience’ down into phases, and then evaluate those phases. More or less, here’s the general experience: 1. initial contact, 2. interest follow up, 3. contract commitment, 4. setup and onboarding, 5. post onboarding follow up, 6. regular check-ins, 7. ongoing support, 8. contract renewal, 9. repeat 6, 7, & 8.

As Reclaim has grown, we’ve done quite a bit of work to organize and streamline phases 1-3. We’ve created a Sales channel in Zendesk that all leads are funneled through, integrated the use of SuiteCRM, and Jim and I meet once a week to make sure we’re on the same page about the status of all accounts.

When I moved into the Account Manager position, one of my first ideas was to rethink how we handle phases 5 & 6, which at the time felt almost nonexistent. We now set reminders to check in with accounts a few weeks after they receive initial training, and we also send out semesterly newsletters that are specific to each school to help prompt regular communication. These newsletters not only share the latest happenings at Reclaim, but they also share specific statistics about the project server (like # of accounts, disk quota, bandwidth, etc.)

Phase 7, ongoing support, has always been top-notch, and I think phase 8, contract renewal, has been a natural symptom of that. Even still, we’ve just brought on Judith, our new Customer Support Manager, to help us stay organized and manage that growth. We’re also in the process of hiring two part-time employees to take on support during off-hours.

I write all this to say that its now time to turn to Phase 4, the training, which is arguably the most important step. “Teaching to fish,” as they say, will ultimately set a solid foundation for thoughtful check-ins, decreased # of support tickets, and a longer project timeline. The training phase can obviously vary depending on the given project, but the initial onboarding for Domain of One’s Own is more or less the same.

Up until now, when new DoOO schools have entered Phase 4, either Jim or I will hop on a call with the new administrators and take them on a walkthrough of their new DoOO system. We give them the ‘keys to the kingdom’, so to speak, but so much ground is covered in that initial meeting that you can kind of sense eyes glazing over. What’s more, the new admins haven’t had a chance to roll up their sleeves and dig in, so they don’t have any questions and discussion can end rather quickly. As a result, we end up repeating a lot of that initial training in a follow up meeting a few weeks later. This ends up making more work on our end, and ultimately drags out the training for the new admins.

Enter new onboarding video, Introduction to Domain of One’s Own:

The idea here that this video will replace that first introductory training meeting. New DoOO schools can view this at their leisure (and then rewind, pause, and view again) before meeting with Jim or myself. My hope is now when we do meet, new DoOO admins will have the basics down pat and we can get to the good stuff like SPLOTs, email templates, migration strategies, etc., as well as any questions that come up from watching the video. I’ll also be sending this overview to DoOO schools that might need a refresher (perhaps they’ve hired a new team member, for instance), or potential DoOO schools that want an in-depth look beyond stateu.org.

^summary page on the DoOO Onboarding video

This video has been a long time coming (it was recorded back at the beginning of February) but it feels good to finally take this step. Next on my list is thinking about how this information, the metaphorical ‘keys’, are delivered to a new DoOO team. I’ve got the DoOO Admin landing page in my back pocket, but now with the onboarding video, system credentials, and initial strategies to send, I want to do this in a clean, thoughtful way that won’t get lost in an email. I’m currently looking at Dropbox’s Showcase amongst other ideas, but will welcome any recommendations!

OER19 Notes, Thoughts, and Reflections

At the airport, on the way to OER19 in Galway, Ireland

I’m sitting in my home office, staring down at my little, blue notebook full of OER19 scribbles, and a bit in disbelief that the two-day conference has already come and gone. Last week I had the pleasure of returning to OER for the second time to participate in conversations surrounding this year’s theme: Recentering Open. I was also there to help represent Reclaim Hosting with Jim and Meredith, and I will speak more about that in a later blog post, as I really want to take the time now to spell out the various moments, phrases, images, and discussions that have continued to resonate with me over the last few days.

Getting seated on the morning of Day One

Naturally, I will start at the beginning. I really, really admired the way that the Co-Chairs, ALT Team, and NUI Galway framed the opening of the conference. Laura Czerniewicz told us to “…think beyond the easy optimism of open education,” which I thought was wildly refreshing. A representative from NUI Galway spoke about campus and conference values and pointed specifically to Respect, Expertise, Accessibility, and Sustainability. I was just recently nudged to include a Code of Conduct on the Domains 19 website, so having these values reiterated first thing at OER19 was a great way of tying into a personal lesson of mine. Finally, we were encouraged to step beyond our normal cohort of peers and attend sessions that we might not have considered otherwise. (Spoiler alert: I did this, and it paid off.)

“When hosts and guests meet face to face each must decide in that moral moment who he or she will be in relationship to the other.” – Arthur Frank, 2009

My slightly disorganized thoughts/notes from Kate Bowles’ Keynote, A Quilt of Stars: Time, Work and Open Pedagogy:

  • The expanding university means we must constantly perform a forensic analysis of the ‘closed university’.
  • Who writes the resources, and who receives them?
  • OER is currently a northern hemisphere movement- though efforts like Virtually Connecting are helping
  • I need to read The Ladybird Book of the Night Sky
  • The expanding university ‘experts’ communicate using Trade Data— “we are ‘ripe for growth'”
    • Uses trends and charts, which doesn’t capture all open practices
  • Open practice without Ethic of Care becomes an unfair absorption of time
  • Optimism is a discipline, not an emotion.

Feeling charged up from the keynote lecture, I attended the Amaz-Zine workshop hosted by Amy Burvall and Bryan Mathers on the communicative power of creating and sharing zines. After seeing a few examples, we learned how to fold a single piece of paper into a little 8-page booklet that would become our zine, and then began creating on the spot. You can see mine below: (P.S. We were also taught that zine art is a no judgment zone for artistic capabilities so I’ll let that extend to my readership as well, LOL.)

Later that afternoon I listened to Claire McAvinia speak about learning spaces in 2019, and her reflection on design and the use of physical learning spaces impacting how we learn. Does a more open learning space translate into more open practices?

Image via

She referenced this image from the 14th century by Laurentius de Voltolina and argued that our learning spaces still look very similar today compared to the above portrayal. Claire shared that this says something about the way that we’re teaching, and that we need to leave the age of ‘information poverty‘, in which the teacher has all of the information and the students have to ask for it.

While I no longer find myself personally working and learning in a classroom on a daily basis, I am always strategizing with instructional designers and campus administrators that want to think through learning spaces on their own campuses for peer-to-peer tutoring. I found the presentation fascinating for that reason.

Bonnie Stewart, Lawrie Phipps, and Dave Cormier spoke about a pro-social / pro-societal web in which they questioned the ‘pervasive surveillance and predatory practices’ that are normalized during our interactions with technology. They focused on the question, “Open for whom?” and ended with the argument that open is not the same as inclusion.

Lastly, I really enjoyed hearing from the folks at CUNY about their OER initiatives with Commons in a Box and Manifold. There was so much packed into the hour-long presentation, but my notes are as follows:

  • ZTC (Zero Textbook Cost) doesn’t automatically translate to OER, but it is a step in the right direction
  • Faculty have ‘Platform Fatigue’– being aware of this is important when extracting and unbundling data to create open experiences
  • Labor Problems (with Adjuncts, specifically): technologists invest time into adjunct training when there is no guarantee of contract renewal– this ties in with Bowles’ Ethic of Care
  • CUNY’s Commons in a Box OpenLab install sits on openlab.citytech.cuny.edu
    • Ability to clone Faculty Courses within the install for others to use- similar to cloning site templates/SPLOTs
    • Easily view Courses, Projects, Clubs, & Portfolios- a great solution potentially for schools wanting a Community Site
  • Manifold is an open publishing platform for the web that allows the publication of digital books
On our walk to the OER19 Venue in Galway

To say the least, I left OER19 feeling inspired by the conversations and new perspectives I was able to listen to and be apart of last week. I am very appreciative of the key values and themes that the OER19 Team made so readily apparent in every aspect of those two days, and it is my hope to extend them through Domains19 and beyond. Thanks for an awesome conference, OER19. I can’t wait for next year!

WP Last Login & Admin Columns

Note: this post really only pertains to anyone interested in tracking the signup date / last login activity for their users within a WordPress dashboard. Yep– I’m looking at you, DoOO Admins.

A few weeks ago (I’m clearly behind on blogging) I was asked by a DoOO admin at Georgetown if there was an easy way to see, side by side, both the date that the user signed up alongside the most recent time they’ve logged in. This sort of activity can be helpful for tracking account usage, which in turn can help distinguish which accounts can be cleaned off the server over time.

My solution for the administrator was hardly groundbreaking, but it works, so I wanted to share:

• Firstly, make sure that the WP Last Login Plugin is installed. This will add an extra column to the users overview with the date of the last login for each user.
• In order to get the Latest Activity Column sitting side by side with the signup date column, I installed the Admin Columns plugin.
• From there, head to the Admin Columns settings and drag & drop the different columns into place, or make your own custom view:

Click update and that’s pretty much it!

The only caveat here (again, for DoOO schools) is that the WP Last Login plugin will not track the activity for users that are logging into their cPanel and/or installed applications directly. Meaning, that if a user logs in via SSO at the DoOO Homepage, like stateu.org for example, you’re good. But if the user logs into their cPanel at the designated port (mydomain.com:2083) or directly to a dashboard on their cPanel (mydomain.com/wp-admin), then WP Last Login will not catch it.

So while this solution isn’t perfect, it does at least provide a starting point for account cleanup. Off the bat, I can already see two accounts that are worth investigating:

Anyone have any other tips/tricks for DoOO account maintenance? I’d love to hear either below in the comments or on the DoOO Community Forums.

February List: Handy Tools & Applications

Every now and then I’ll come across an insanely cool application or digital tool that makes life just a little easier. I thought I’d put a list together of my favorites and share below:

Note-Taking

1. Bear

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of note-taking tools out there, but this one is something special. First of all, Bear works and syncs between all various devices, so you can have your notes with you wherever you go. This editor is dead simple to use, clean and organized.

Why I’m converting: I’ve used Apple’s Notes feature for the longest time, used Evernote for a while too, and even have various jots down on my TextEditor, TextMate. I’m slowly finding myself more often opening Bear to take notes during meetings, track to-do lists, etc. because it’s quick and customizable. There’s no toolbar at the top, so adding checkboxes, for example, is done with a quick hyphen space maneuver. I can also change fonts, add tags to my notes, type in Markdown, and enter into Dark Mode. It handles everything that a normal notetaker does, but its the little things that make the biggest difference.


Editor/ Terminal/ FTP

2. Codeanywhere

Is it a Code Editor? Remote FTP Client? Terminal Console? Collaboration Editor? Let me just save you the guesswork and tell you CodeEditor is all of the above. I haven’t tested out every single feature yet, but my experience with it so far has been seamless and intuitive.

From a support standpoint, I could see this tool being really handy for FTP. For a user that’s never heard of S/FTP, telling them in a support ticket that they need to install a Client on their computer in order to connect is honestly kind of off-putting. FTP already has a laundry list of steps needed to create a successful connection, so being able to take away even just one of those steps is awesome.

I was actually made aware of this tool by a professor in a support ticket asking if his students could use CodeAnywhere with their Reclaim Hosting accounts. (The answer is yes.) But with the collaborative elements and remote features, I can easily see where this could be helpful in a classroom environment, too.


Calendar

3. Timepage

Timepage is a Calendar assistant built by Moleskine. I’ve had it installed on my phone for the last month or so and am really loving it. This app unlike any other calendar out there in terms of user experience, customizable features, integrations, and overall design. The above screenshots don’t really do it justice.

I also love the heads up it gives me for each day on my iPhone summary page (when you swipe all the way to the left). It integrates & syncs beautifully with my desktop calendar in Spark, which I also use quite frequently when I’m on my computer and working through my inbox. Timepage also connects with my contacts, maps, and applications like Weather and Uber. I definitely recommend checking itout and playing around with it yourself!


Screencast

4. Loom

Loom is a free Screen & Video Recorder that’s built straight in your browser. Again– there are plenty of these sorts of tools out there, but it was a game changer for me to learn that Loom integrates directly with Slack, an internal messaging tool that Reclaim Hosting basically runs on.

Not only can I publish recordings and create public links to share, but I can also share directly in Slack from the Loom window to a specific channel or conversation. Works like a charm! I also have the option of organizing my videos into different folders within the Loom dashboard. For instance, I have a folder called ‘support scenarios’ where I filter recordings that I’ve created to send to folks in support tickets or DoOO admins.

Google Forms to Slack with Webhooks

BACKSTORY
Occasionally Reclaim Hosting customers will ask for a new hosting account that, for one reason or another, needs to be created manually by a member of RH support. In order to create an account, our system requires a bit of contact information about the user: Name, Email address, Physical Address, and Phone Number. Now we could ask the user to submit this information to us via a support ticket, but in our eyes, it was a little cleaner/more secure to have them fill out a simple Google Form. This has worked well for us, except support members weren’t given any notice when the form was completed. Email notifications are an option, sure, but for a team that has one eye on Slack and one eye on support at any given time, a ping to an inbox somewhere can get lost quickly. So I decided the other day, after watching Tim play around with Slack Webhooks, that I would create one for this simple Google Form. Now when our new customers fill out the form per our request, a notification is sent to our #support channel with the appropriate information. For example:

GETTING STARTED – SLACK PREP

The guides I referenced for this are here & here.

Create a Slack App by going here.

^Give your “App” a name and choose the slack account that you want to add it to. Click Create App.

^Select Incoming Webhooks and then make the toggle in the top right-hand corner is turned ON so Incoming Webhooks is activated. Once activating, the page will refresh- click the button called Add New Webhook to Workspace:

Now choose the channel where you want the content to pull into:

^Click Authorize. You’ll be redirected back to your App Settings, where you should see a new Webhook URL that looks something like the following:

^Keep this page nearby as we will need that Webhook URL soon.

Google Forms

Start by opening the spreadsheet associated with your Google Form. In the menu, click on Tools > Script Editor:

A new window will open. Paste the code found here into the Script Editor.

Next, paste that Webhook URL that you copied from earlier next to:

var slackIncomingWebhookUrl = 'yourWebhookURL.com';

You’ll also want to add the Slack channel that you’re using right beneath it:

var postChannel = "#YourPublicChannel";

^Keep in mind that if the Channel is public, at the # pound sign before it. If the channel is private, leave the # out. Finally, click save.

Initialize and Test

In the Google Form Script Editor, click Initialize in the menu dropdown, and then click the Run:

You’ll be prompted about permission requests. Click Agree.

Lastly, do a test submission on your Google Form. If everything works as planned, you should receive the notification and associated data in your designated Slack channel.

Summer Cleanup: CRM

Reclaim Hosting summers have historically been our slower time of the year. This has allowed us to put some much-needed brain power towards special projects, personal growth, and organization of internal operations. While this summer has hardly felt slow, I think we’re all habitually using this time to reevaluate our responsibilities and how we communicate to make sure that Reclaim Hosting is still successfully functioning as a single unit.

Part of this process for Jim and myself has included a deep clean and organization of our client relationship manager, SuiteCRM. I have a couple of blog posts where I talk about manually installing this software, and then transitioning it and away from Asana. But I wanted to write a follow-up post today to summarize the work we’ve been doing over the last couple of weeks as we’ve had a chance to really settle into it and make it our own.

Jim and I met last week to chat about upcoming account renewals and make sure we were on the same page with regards to the status of our DoOO accounts, WPMS instances, and bulk shared hosting customers. This quickly turned into a conversation about how and, more importantly, when we’re communicating with our schools. Do schools hear from us enough? Do they feel supported? Are we in touch with all of the individual projects going on? Are we sending our renewal invoices out early enough? And what’s more, after a school gets their DoOO server, what next? I think most would say that our customer service is pretty awesome when someone submits a support ticket, but should that be the only time schools are hearing from us? When they have a question? What about the other way around? Relationships are a two-way street, no doubt, and our aim over the coming months will be to make sure we’re being intentional about meeting our end of the bargain. </tangent>

Back to CRM. So on the theme of being efficient and intentional, Jim and I have been streamlining our CRM “process”. Sounds simple enough, but with CRM’s many functions & the several steps it takes for a school to go from inquiry phase to launching phase, this really does require a little organization:

General inquiries are known as Leads. This is the Q&A phase. If a lead never amounts to anything, its active status is changed to recycled. (Note: We don’t delete anything! This is important in case the lead comes back- we have a little history to reference.) At the point that we have a signed Institutional Agreement, the school is converted to an Account in CRM. Within each Account profile, we now keep the following data:

Right at the top of the account page, we have a summary view with clickable links to various other tools, renewal date, and contact address.

Next, we have a panel that keeps track of all server history. This can be helpful for a myriad of support-related questions, but also helps us understand an account’s change & growth.

Our contacts panel is super helpful for keeping track of who handles what. A given institution could easily have a contact for the head of the project, a supervisor that oversees, along with someone in the purchasing department, and someone in the IT department. Multiply 4+ times however many accounts we have and suddenly this panel is pure gold. While I’d like to think that I have a good handle on names, this is always nice to double check before making a mistake.

Finally, the last panel that we take advantage of is for keeping a record of documents. This is pretty self-explanatory, but I love that it gives an overview of when files were added, what kind of file it is, and who put it there. That way if any questions that come up, we can always download and reference these documents.

So that’s a little peek at how we’re staying on top of things! I’m looking forward to refining this process and putting in action over the coming months. Perhaps I’ll write a post here soon detailing our renewal reminder process and how we integrate other tools like Asana and Google Calendar.

Cleaning up Domains 17 with Sitesucker

It’s hardly news at this point, but Reclaim Hosting isn’t doing a Domains conference this year. We loved Domains 17 (and are currently mulling over a Domains 19) but we deemed 2018 as a gap year a couple months back. This has meant that the conference website, domains.reclaimhosting.com, was just sort of sitting there with content that is now close to a year old. I was also growing rather tired of logging in every now and then and making sure all plugins, themes, and softwares were up to date. What’s even more, the Domains17 site was sitting on domains.reclaimhosting.com, meaning if we were having a Domains19, things would obviously need to be shuffled around.

On an unrelated (or is it?) note, I’m headed to California in a couple of weeks to take part in Stanford University’s Preservation Workshop to chat about archiving digital projects and possible strategic partnerships with preservationists and technologists. So to say the least, I’ve had archiving on the brain over the last week or so. As part of my preparation for the workshop, I’ve been wanting to play around with and explore some of the digital archiving tools that are already out there. Though I’ve recommended SiteSucker to many Reclaim users in the past, I’ve never given myself the chance to play it. So between this workshop and the Domains17 site, I thought there would be no better time than the present to get going:

I started first by making the subdomain, domains17.reclaimhosting.com, and then added it as an AddOn domain to the cPanel account where the current conference site resided.

^I then cloned the original conference website from domains.reclaimhosting.com to domains17.reclaimhosting.com using this method.

After confirming that the site was completely up to date and loading securely on the new domain, I opened up the SiteSucker MacOS app that I had previously downloaded. (It’s $4.99 in the App Store, fyi. Kind of a bummer, but I imagine if you do some serious archiving you’d make your money back rather quickly with the amount of time you save. It’s lightning fast.)

^Screenshot of what the SiteSucker window looked like while it was working.

I simply entered the URL and pressed enter. Within two minutes it was done! I pressed the folder icon (top bar, middle) and could immediately see all the WordPress site files that had been translated to Static HTML. Once having the files on my local hard drive, I closed out of SiteSucker and opened up my FTP client. (My personal favorite is Cyberduck.)

I navigated to the domains17.reclaimhosting.com directory, removed the existing cloned WordPress files, and uploaded my new static HTML files.

I refreshed my browser and boom! The site now loads beautifully (and quickly!) over HTML only. I had an issue with one of my visual builder buttons still linking back to the old domain, but that was an easy fix. I used Chrome’s inspect feature to figure out where the link was located in the code and then used the command+find tool to fix it in my File Manager.

As my final step of maintenance cleaning, I created a redirect so that all visits to domains.reclaimhosting.com be redirected to domains17.reclaimhosting.com for time being. This way I can begin to alter the content that currently sits at domains.reclaimhosting.com, while simultaneously familiarizing visitors with the new domain.

From start to finish, this took less than ten minutes complete.  Not a bad for a little afternoon project. I’m excited to continue playing around with Sitesucker, but very impressed so far.

Reclaim Video Inventory

Over the last couple of days, I’ve taken a break from my Documentation April to categorize Reclaim Video’s ever-growing collection of VHS, Betamax, and Laserdisc. I feel like every couple of days (if not every day) we’re receiving a package in the mail enclosing one or two new VHS tapes from Jim’s wishlist. They’re always so fun to open, but then they inevitably pile up on the front desk until one of us as a moment to add them to our excel sheet. Oh yeah, we have been using excel to keep track of what we had, but Reclaim Video has quickly outgrown it. The excel list was hard to look at, hard to search through, and staying organized was virtually impossible.

What’s more, last week we received two (yes, two!) VHS donations from folks in the Fredericksburg community. Suddenly we were faced with a dilemma: how would we add these tapes to our collection without losing track of who donated what? Especially once duplicates of films are involved.. it was just getting complicated. We decided stickers on the tapes themselves was not an option, so a digital log of some sort was needed.

Enter Libib.com!

Tim found this Cloud Cataloging tool that’s made to keep track of books, movies, video games and more. I began playing around with the online version and the iPhone app and was immediately sold. The free version is perfect for anyone looking to log their personal collections, and we’ve made great use out of it for Reclaim Video so far. I imagine we’ll end up upgrading the pro version ($5/mo) to take advantage of its loaning features. We are a rental store, of course.

My favorite part of the app, without a doubt, has been the Barcode scanning feature. I’ve been able to easily scan hundreds of tapes and archive them on our new collection site, inventory.reclaimvideo.com. Movies that are recognized in the database are then automatically displayed with a ton of helpful metadata.

^Example of the metadata pulled. In addition, viewers are then able to leave reviews & I can easily keep track of how many copies are available. I wish more of the metadata was available on the public-facing site, but I’m imagining that’s part of the pro version.

In addition, we can now easily add donations & and organizing them using Tags. It’s beautiful! ^ Collections are organized by “libraries”, so Reclaim Video has three libraries: VHS, Betamax, and Laserdisc.

^Full row of 007 Betamax

Just today I finally finished logging all the Betamax & VHS currently available at Reclaim Video. I took advantage of the opportunity to organize the tapes as well, so the right half of the room is VHS, and the left is Betamax.

^The forward-facing inventory site.

I’m excited to expand this over time– not only tweet-length messages to the right sidebar, but more laserdisc logging coming soon! It’s also nice to be able to send interested Reclaim Video renters somewhere to say, “hey, this is what’s currently in stock!”