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Reclaiming WordPress Multisite

Lauren Brumfield already announced that we’re officially rolling out WordPress Multisite (WPMS) hosting at Reclaim. What’s more, she created an online calculator that provides transparent pricing going forward, which is a big part of why we’re finally announcing something we have done for years. While we’ve been pretty laser-focused on shared hosting and Domain of One’s Own for the last four years, we’ve still picked up more than a few WPMS instances. In fact, we jumped in at the deep-end of the pool when we started hosting the colossus that is VCU’s Rampages. As a result Tim was able to really fine-tune high demand WPMS environments like Rampages, and we’re in a situation where we can comfortably manage just about anything out there in higher ed.

It’s fun for me because I cut my teeth on WordPress Multiuser (even before it was multisite), and when Tim came onboard at UMW the first thing we asked him was how he felt about managing UMW Blogs. The rest is Reclaim history, he proved an insanely quick study and went from UMW Blogs to Hippie Hosting to Domain of One’s Own to Reclaim Hosting in two short years. That’s a resume!

back to the future, we really weren’t comfortable with announcing WPMS at Reclaim too early because we were experimenting with different setups across various data centers like AWS, Linode, and Digital Ocean, so things were always custom based on several factors which meant the pricing varied. But when Digital Ocean recently announced their new plans and pricing model, we were sure we had a solid setup through Digital Ocean that would allow us to stabilize our WPMS offerings as well as making them extremely competitive when it comes to pricing.

Before we could announce anything we had to reach out to all existing customers we and let them know of the new setup, for many of them this meant a significant savings. Once took care of that, we figured it was high time to officially announce that we are in the WPMS hosting business. So if you have a WPMS site you want to offload to external hosting, let’s talk. Pricing is simple: server, backups, and software licensing (Bitninja, cPanel, etc) at cost, whereas our monthly maintenance and management fees starts at $250 per month. This model finally allows us to decouple server and software costs from management demands, and establishes a baseline for what our time is worth to ensure you get the service we’re known for. It also makes clear that what you pay us for is not the hardware or software, but the peace of mind that tried and true experts are on the job. I mean let’s be honest here, this isn’t some hack outfit working from a ramshackle UMW office in duPont Hall trying to duct tape together some kind of chitty-chitty-bang-bang syndication solution, we’re professionals—and for that you must pay!

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Set UMW Blogs Right to Ludicrous Speed

UMW Blogs was feeling its age this Spring (it officially turned ten this month—crazy!) and we got a few reports from the folks at DTLT that performance was increasingly becoming an issue. Since 2014 the site had been hosted on AWS (Tim wrote-up the details of that move here) with a distributed setup storing uploads on S3, the databases on RDS, and running core files through an EC2 instance. That was a huge jump for us back then into the Cloud, and the performance jump was significant. AWS has proven quite stable over the last two years, but it’s never been cheap—running UMW Blogs back then cost $500+ a month, and I’m sure the prices haven’t dropped significantly since.

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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!

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Decentering Syndication or, a Push Away from RSS

Yesterday Steve Covello tweeted a post at wpmu.org my way.

I was prepared  to read about a premium suite of plugins that I could buy for the privilege, but was pleasantly surprised to find Chris Knowles’s post “How to Publish to Multiple WordPress Sites from a Single Install” to be a thoughtful, clear, and  beautifully documented articulation of how the spoke/hub model for pushing content from one site out to another works more generally in Content Management Systems, but for the purposes of his example in WordPress in particular.

452_oseAt first I was interested in this post to start showing faculty and students alike how they can use their WordPress sites to push content out to a number of different social media services like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc., but still keep their own version of everything they publish. That, for example, is one relatively simple and powerful reason to use such a spoke and hub model, you are the hub that pushes content out to the various spaces around the web you want it to appear.

But as we got talking in DTLT about this model at 9:30 this morning, it started to get much more interesting. In particular, the plugin that is pushing ones posts, images, videos, etc. in WordPress to all these different sites (what I’ll affectionately called “the pusher”) is Push Syndication  Syndicate out [Update: Tim and Martha tried Push Syndication but couldn;t get it to work so went with a similar plugin Syndicate Out]. One way to think about this plugin is it is does the absolute opposite thing then FeedWordPress, rather then pulling RSS feeds in, it uses XML-RPC to  push content out. So, as Marx did to Hegel, DTLT is doing to distributed course blogs—we’re standing syndication on its head :) Rather than insisting on making the course the hub as has been the case with ds106 (and scores of courses sites on UMW Blogs over the years), why not decentralize the syndication and allow each of the sites to push their content to the hub. Same effect, jut a different approach.

But why? What are the benefits? 1)  it is techncially inline with the ethos of giving the students more control over their work; they can control the syndication in this regard because “the pusher” plugin is installed on their blog. 2) It is far simpler than FeedWordPress for faculty to get up and running with—you don’t have to ask faculty to load in tens of feed URLs for the syndication engine to work. 3) It’s immediate, with XML-RPC, there is no wait for the post to show up. Publishing on the course hub is immediate. 4) It allows for both students and faculty alike to become a hub or a spoke. When I was at the Reclaim Open hackathon at the MIT Media Lab in April Kin Lane was conceptualizing the Reclaim Your Domain around this idea. 5) Less load on the server CPU pulling 100s feeds as weas the case in ds106, in this model you decenter that to a distributd push. 6) The whole process can be automated to some great degree on both the Reclaim Hosting and the Domain of One’s Own server thanks to Installatron. Tim Owens did a mock-up of what this might look like for students and faculty alike.



When going through the process of installing a WordPress site in Installatron (pictured above), we can actually build in a dropdown list of courses that you want to publish to from your own site. Martha Burtis, who has been working on the idea of packaging WordPress plugins suites  in Installatron already, is seeing if we can’t get the Syndicate Out plugin to not only get automatically installed and activiated on the student (or spoke) blog, but also identify the hub it will be publishing to based on the dropdown selction. If a student or faculty member choses to create a course on the fly by selecting that option and then naming it accordingly, it will immediately populate in the dropdown along with  a unique identifier. Instantaneously it will allow others to subscribe to it seamlessly. All of this with no mention of RSS! EDUGLU heresy, and I love it!

Thinking out loud here, what Howard Rheingold labored through for his Social Media Issues site, which admittedly is awesome, could be accomplished at the server level with next to no overhead. This is the in-a-box that we actually need to make synidcation course practical in highered. It is a bit hazy here for me (as much of it is right now), but I  think we can manage copy all the login information from the student blogs into the hub at the level of Installatron by grabbing their username and password and copying them to the hub database.  In other words, every student and faculty in such an environment becomes a spoke and/or hub, the idea of the motherblog becomes deprecated  and we start to move toward a more decentered approach wherein each learner can control what syndicates where.

And this is just the beginning, this model would also allow students with a Domain of One’s Own blog at UMW to use the Syndicate Out plugin to seamlessly send their posts out to any UMW Blogs blog they’re an author of. We tried it out today, and it’s absolutely seamless. You can see the spoke post here and the hub republishing on jimgroom.umwblogs.org here. So cool.

We still have a lot to figure out with all this, but as we were talking about it today we started recognizing the fact that Domain of One’s Own has already given way to Reclaim Hosting, Installatron plugins and theme packages, and now a whole new way of approaching spoke/hub syndication models for courses. And I firmly believe this is just the beginning of a whole new level of re-conceptualization, experimentation, and innovation—we’re just now realizing that Domain of One’s Own is more than just giving everyone a domain, WordPress blog, portfolio site, etc.— it’s quickly beginning to feel like a  paradigm shift for what’s possible when it comes to digital publishing at UMW and beyond. It’s actually kinda hard to explain just how exciting it is to go to work these days—my head is constantly buzzing, it’s almost hard to think, no less concentrate, on anything else. DTLT is in the zone right now….