Is this thing on? (Also: Twitter, Mastodon, and the Fundamentals of DoOO)

via GIPHY

It’s been. . .a while. It would take too long to review everything that’s happened since I posted last, so let’s start with a recent turn of events: the absolute implosion of Twitter. I’ve been on that site for about fifteen years, and for portions of that time, I barely looked at it. At others times it’s been a critical part of my professional work. Given my on-again, off-again relationship with the space, it feels weird to say that the recent events are terribly significant to me, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I feel at a bit of a loss as I watch my community over there fracture.

Personally, I’ve scuttled away to Mastodon and set up a profile there, and I’m just dipping my toe in. (I still can’t figure out how to get my website verified which I find utterly annoying, but whatever.) On the one hand, I find the concept of the federate web very compelling, but I’m also sensitive to the argument that if we all leave Twitter we’re just turning it over to let the most toxic pockets of the internet flourish. Perhaps we need to make a stand:

 I feel that the Twitter icon on city, county, state, and federal agency websites and the fact that they use it as a primary communication channel has elevated the platform to be more than just a private holding. I think that the 450+ million plus users that have adopted Twitter around the globe make the platform more than just a private holding-—it is also ours.

Kin Lane, We Are Strengthening the Toxic Bros Playbook With Our Response to Twitter

I’m also fascinated and troubled by the complexity of a space like Mastodon as a safe refuge for those leaving Twitter, particularly historically marginalized groups and voices. While, in theory, it seems like a federated approach, with individual, granular instances able to offer moderation of postings would be ideal for combatting toxicity and offering safe harbor, in reality, we’re already seeing the approach getting weaponized–this is compounded by the fact that recreating a community in a new space takes a great deal of labor (and is an inherently imperfect practice). The outcome could eventually lead to a lot of lost or fractured communities that had found voice and power within Twitter.

And then there’s the fact that Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko is more than a little problematic. Can a project like this find a way to survive and thrive with that kind of shadow cast across it? Is this, on the whole, the “improvement” we’re looking for?

I don’t know the answer to any of this, and I’m not sure where I’m going to land. I will admit to a somewhat knee-jerk reaction at first when I heard people airing concerns about the complexity of Mastodon and how hard it is to find one’s people here. My first thought was that this is exactly how Twitter was back in 2007. There was no roadmap, and it took a long time to amass something that felt like a community. But, of course, this isn’t 2007. Twitter, as Kin points out, is almost a public utility at this point. Not only have communities amassed and connected there, but people earn their living in that space, some marginalized folks have found safe haven there, and it’s literally become a communication channel for issues of public health, safety, and services. Before we had Twitter, we had no space (online or in person) that provided this mix (and scale) of connection, community, fluidity, and representation, so we had nothing to lose as we figured out how it worked. Now there’s a lot to lose.

While I’m a fan of the way Twitter has allowed me to build professional connections and relationships, I don’t have a huge personal stake in its success or demise. So I’m doing a lot of reading and listening and thinking about what this all means and what comes next (for me, at least).

Wherever I end up, or most of us end up, or all of us end up, I feel pretty strongly that we need to learn a lesson from what’s going on. It was always foolish of us to believe that a business had our best interests at heart, even before Musk took over. And we should examine our relationships with other tech companies through this lens–more carefully than ever. Companies change, new owners arrive, new policies develop, and new business models emerge. Through all of this, the primary concern is always going to be financial, not moral. Values are not going to win the day. So we need to figure out how we either bulwark ourselves in these spaces and fight for our values within them, or we need to choose spaces where we have control over the choice and instantiation of values.

For me, I keep coming back to ownership and control and why it matters. Martin Weller muses that maybe we need to revisit the question of owning our own domains, and I would say there is no maybe about it. But, as always, I think it’s about more than the practicalities of ownership. It’s about wrestling with the beast that is the internet, pushing ourselves to understand its foundations (technical and philosophical), and making intentional choices about where and what we share (and what control we are or are not willing to give up). I’ve said before that Domain of One’s Own was never just about buying domains or building websites. It was always about these deeper considerations.

And, for me, perhaps most importantly we have to figure out how to build literacy and capacity around these considerations at our schools. When I left UMW a few years ago, I came to Plymouth State in part because it was another school with a Domains initiative. The pandemic has complicated the growth of that project in some ways, and I’m troubled to admit that I’ve had less time than I’d like to think about how it exists within the particular context of PSU.

As I watch and wait and ponder what my next steps are within and away from Twitter, I’m thinking hard about how I can use this moment to jumpstart a conversation about what it means to own the Web at my own school. Next semester we are running a module on Tech and Tools within the Design Forward program we’ve been building, and I want to make sure these questions ignite conversation there. Next week, I’m running a workshop on Mastodon and the federated web. And a library colleague and I are planning a program for the spring for faculty along the lines of “Everything You Don’t Know about the Web and Are Afraid to Ask.” (That’s a working title. lol.)

Meanwhile, we’re hearing rumblings that our larger system in New Hampshire is planning a bigger roll-out of Domain of One’s Own across all of our campuses. I’m delighted to hear there is renewed interest; I hope that as this project emerges we can focus not only on the technical infrastructure and possibilities but also on the fundamental questions surrounding what it means to live, work, think, teach, and learn (and create, govern, share, build, research, advocate, rebel) online.

For a while, it felt like I had said everything I had to say about this topic, and maybe it was time to shut up. In some ways, I think that’s still true. But…I think we all need to keep talking, keep teaching, and keep learning. I’m dusting off this site in large part because I need to walk the walk. I need to be sharing and writing and thinking about my work here, in a space that I control.

Neither Locked Out Nor Locked In

I want to make sure before I begin that I extend my thanks to both Reclaim Hosting and the University of Oklahoma for organizing this event and for including me in it. Domain of One’s Own is a project that has consumed a large amount of my professional life for the last four or five years (and a large part of my heart and imagination for probably another 5 years before that), and building it back in the day with Jim and Tim at UMW was truly one of the most rewarding professional experiences I can ever hope to have. Moreover, seeing it flourish and grow and develop at institutions like the University of Oklahoma under the leadership of people like Adam Croom has been fascinating and humbling and richly instructive. I learn much more from DoOO and all of you who are involved in it than I can ever hope to contribute back to it.

Continue reading Neither Locked Out Nor Locked In

Messy & Chaotic Learning: A Domains Presentation at Keene State College

The following is the text of a presentation I gave at Keene State College on March 31st, 2017. 

When I was asked to come speak at Keene it was due, in part, to a presentation I gave last summer at Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute at Mary Washington. My presentation was titled Making & Breaking: Rethinking the Web in Higher Education, and the purpose of that talk was to disentangle a bit of the history of the Web within colleges and universities. My thesis was that we in higher education have spent far too long avoiding larger conversations about the Web: what it means to our culture and communities; how it’s re-shaping our social and political landscapes; how it’s altering the work of our individual disciplines; and, on a whole, what role schools of higher education should be playing in helping our citizenry understand all of these factors. Continue reading Messy & Chaotic Learning: A Domains Presentation at Keene State College

Looking (again) to Domain of One’s Own

When I moved into my new position at UMW a year and a half ago, directing the Digital Knowledge Center, I knew that while I was moving out of faculty development  and instructional technology that I would still be working with our Domain of One’s Own project. However, I wasn’t exactly sure what my role in that project would continue to be on a day-to-day basis. A year after the start of the new position, in summer 2015, the Center was actually moved out from under the Division of Teaching and Learning Technologies, moving me further away, organizationally, from the base of operations of DoOO within DTLT. On top of that, a wholesale turnover of my colleagues in DTLT from summer 2015 to summer 2016 has meant that many things have been in flux around here, generally, and, specifically, that’s meant a new consideration of how Domains fits into the work of our larger unit (Teaching, Technology, and Innovation led by Jeff McClurken) as well as how it integrates with my own particular position at the University.

Continue reading Looking (again) to Domain of One’s Own

Imperfect Offerings

Next week, I’m headed to Coventry University with Jesse Stommel to participate in Expo 16: University Remixed hosted by the Disruptive Media Learning Lab. For the last six weeks or so, Jesse and I had been regularly talking with the folks at DMLL about the event and planning how we could most meaningfully contribute to their program. The event is designed to bring together people to talk about the future of higher education, with a few featured voices as well as opportunities for the participants to work together on creative responses to a set of critical questions around the topic.

Continue reading Imperfect Offerings

Refactoring Domain of One’s Own (and everything else)

It’s been over a year since I wrote in this space. There are lots of reasons for that. Most significantly, the last 12 months have seen enormous change in the division that I’ve worked in here at UMW, Teaching and Learning Technologies. If you follow me on social media, you know all about the changes. Suffice it to say, I spent the first part of this period of change largely grieving the departure of many people who I consider friends in addition to treasured colleagues. Luckily, I’ve spent the second half of this transition welcoming a new group of wonderful people to the University. Change is hard and sucks; change is good and valuable.

Continue reading Refactoring Domain of One’s Own (and everything else)

Why Every EdTech Group Needs a DKC

The Digital Knowledge Center has now existed at UMW for about four months, and it’s kept me pretty busy. As a result,  I’ve been pretty rotten about posting updates about its progress. Over break, I worked on a status report, and I’ll be trying to share some of the data and numbers from our first (half) semester of being open soon.

Today though, I’m trying to tackle a topic that I’ve been mulling over more or less since the Center opened: Why I think every edtech group should have a student support organization like the DKC.

Continue reading Why Every EdTech Group Needs a DKC

UMW’s New Digital Knowledge Center (and my new job)

It’s been months since I’ve posted anything on this site, but this time I can honestly say I think I have a pretty good excuse.

Photo Credit: Andy Rush
The one-of-a-kind ITCC Photo Credit: Andy Rush

This summer, DTLT relocated to a brand-new building, UMW’s Information & Technology Convergence Center. I attended my first meeting about this building in spring of 2008, so it’s fair to say that the opening of this space has been a LONG time coming.

Continue reading UMW’s New Digital Knowledge Center (and my new job)

Remote Comments Plugin (a FWP “AddOn”)

A long time ago, I blogged about some code I had written for ds106 that made it possible to show how many comments had been left on a post that was being syndicated (via FeedWordPress) from elsewhere. The code was pretty simple — it was based on the fact that some feeds (including ones originating from WordPress) pass a parameter called “wfw:commentRSS” which contains the RSS feed of the comments on an individual post. FWP stores this as a custom field for each syndicated post. So, it’s pretty easy to grab that RSS feed URL, fetch the feed, and then count the number of items in it.

When I came up with this technique back in 2011 I implemented it by editing the theme for ds106. Eventually, however, we removed the code. I seem to remember we thought it was impacting performance on the site. Depending on how many posts were displayed on the home page, that was a lot of RSS retrieval that needed to be done before the page could be displayed.

This week, Jim asked me if I could put the code on the site being used for the (awesome, new) Digital Scholars Initiative at UMW. I went ahead and did it, and in doing so I thought perhaps it was time to return to this code and see if I could improve it. Continue reading Remote Comments Plugin (a FWP “AddOn”)

tales of swimming upstream