Domains 2019 Reflections from Afar

My OPML Domains Project

Not being able to attend Domains 2019 in person, I was bound and determined to attend as much of it as I could manage remotely. A lot of this revolved around following the hashtag for the conference, watching the Virtually Connecting sessions, interacting online, and starting to watch the archived videos after-the-fact. Even with all of this, for a while I had been meaning to flesh out my ability to follow the domains (aka websites) of other attendees and people in the space. Currently the easiest way (for me) to do this is via RSS with a feed reader, so I began collecting feeds of those from the Twitter list of Domains ’17 and Domains ’19 attendees as well as others in the education-related space who tweet about A Domain of One’s Own or IndieWeb. In some sense, I would be doing some additional aggregation work on expanding my blogroll, or, as I call it now, my following page since it’s much too large and diverse to fit into a sidebar on my website.

For some brief background, my following page is built on some old functionality in WordPress core that has since been hidden. I’m using the old Links Manager for collecting links and feeds of people, projects, groups, and institutions. This link manager creates standard OPML files, which WordPress can break up by categories, that can easily be imported/exported into most standard feed readers. Even better, some feed readers like Inoreader, support OPML subscriptions, so one could subscribe to my OPML file, and any time I update it in the future with new subscriptions, your feed reader would automatically update to follow those as well. I use this functionality in my own Inoreader account, so that any new subscriptions I add to my own site are simply synced to my feed reader without needing to be separately added or updated.

The best part of creating such a list and publishing it in a standard format is that you, dear reader, don’t need to spend the several hours I did to find, curate, and compile the list to recreate it for yourself, but you can now download it, modify it if necessary, and have a copy for yourself in just a few minutes. (Toward that end, I’m also happy to update it or make additions if others think it’s missing anyone interesting in the space–feedback, questions, and comments are heartily encouraged.) You can see a human-readable version of the list at this link, or find the computer parse-able/feed reader subscribe-able link here.

To make it explicit, I’ll also note that these lists also help me to keep up with people and changes in the timeframe between conferences.

Anecdotal Domains observations

In executing this OPML project I noticed some interesting things about the Domains community at large (or at least those who are avid enough to travel and attend in person or actively engage online). I’ll lay these out below. Perhaps at a future date, I’ll do a more explicit capture of the data with some analysis.

The largest majority of sites I came across were, unsurprisingly, WordPress-based, which made it much easier to find RSS feeds to read/consume material. I could simply take a domain name and add /feed/ to the end of the URL, and voilà, a relatively quick follow!

There are a lot of people whose sites didn’t have obvious links to their feeds. To me this is a desperate tragedy for the open web. We’re already behind the eight ball compared to social media and corporate controlled sites, why make it harder for people to read/consume our content from our own domains? And as if to add insult to injury, the places on one’s website where an RSS feed link/icon would typically live were instead populated by links to corporate social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. In a few cases I also saw legacy links to Google+ which ended service and disappeared from the web along with a tremendous number of online identities and personal data on April 2, 2019. (Here’s a reminder to remove those if you’ve forgotten.) For those who are also facing this problem, there’s a fantastic service called SubToMe that has a universal follow button that can be installed or which works well with a browser bookmarklet and a wide variety of feed readers.

I was thrilled to see a few people were using interesting alternate content management systems/site generators like WithKnown and Grav. There were  also several people who had branched out to static site generators (sites without a database). This sort of plurality is a great thing for the community and competition in the space for sites, design, user experience, etc. is awesome. It’s thrilling to see people in the Domains space taking advantage of alternate options, experimenting with them, and using them in the wild.

I’ll note that I did see a few poor souls who were using Wix. I know there was at least one warning about Wix at the conference, but in case it wasn’t stated explicitly, Wix does not support exporting data, which makes any potential future migration of sites difficult. Definitely don’t use it for any extended writing, as cutting and pasting more than a few simple static pages becomes onerous. To make matters worse, Wix doesn’t offer any sort of back up service, so if they chose to shut your site off for any reason, you’d be completely out of luck. No back up + no export = I couldn’t recommend using.

If your account or any of your services are cancelled, it may result in loss of content and data. You are responsible to back up your data and materials. —Wix Terms of Use

I also noticed a few people had generic domain names that they didn’t really own (and not even in the sense of rental ownership). Here I’m talking about domain names of the form username.domainsproject.com. While I’m glad that they have a domain that they can use and generally control, it’s not one that they can truly exert full ownership over. (They just can’t pick it up and take it with them.) Even if they could export/import their data to another service or even a different content management system, all their old links would immediately disappear from the web. In the case of students, while it’s nice that their school may provide this space, it is more problematic for data portability and longevity on the web that they’ll eventually lose that institutional domain name when they graduate. On the other hand, if you have something like yourname.com as your digital home, you can export/import, change content management services, hosting companies, etc. and all your content will still resolve and you’ll be imminently more find-able by your friends and colleagues. This choice is essentially the internet equivalent of changing cellular providers from Sprint to AT&T but taking your phone number with you–you may change providers, but people will still know where to find you without being any the wiser about your service provider changes. I think that for allowing students and faculty the ability to more easily move their content and their sites, Domains projects should require individual custom domains.

If you don’t own/control your physical domain name, you’re prone to lose a lot of value built up in your permalinks. I’m also reminded of here of the situation encountered by faculty who move from one university to another. (Congratulations by the way to Martha Burtis on the pending move to Plymouth State. You’ll notice she won’t face this problem.)  There’s also the situation of Matthew Green, a security researcher at Johns Hopkins whose institutional website was taken down by his university when the National Security Agency flagged an apparent issue. Fortunately in his case, he had his own separate domain name and content on an external server and his institutional account was just a mirrored copy of his own domain.

If you’ve got it, flaunt it.
—Mel Brooks from The Producers (1968), obviously with the it being a referent to A Domain of One’s Own.

Also during my project, I noted that quite a lot of people don’t list their own personal/professional domains within their Twitter or other social media profiles. This seems a glaring omission particularly for at least one whose Twitter bio creatively and proactively claims that they’re an avid proponent of A Domain of One’s Own.

And finally there were a small–but still reasonable–number of people within the community for whom I couldn’t find their domain at all! A small number assuredly are new to the space or exploring it, and so I’d give a pass, but I was honestly shocked that some just didn’t.

(Caveat: I’ll freely admit that the value of Domains is that one has ultimate control including the right not to have or use one or even to have a private, hidden, and completely locked down one, just the way that Dalton chose not to walk in the conformity scene in The Dead Poet’s Society. But even with this in mind, how can we ethically recommend this pathway to students, friends, and colleagues if we’re not willing to participate ourselves?)

Too much Twitter & a challenge for the next Domains Conference

One of the things that shocked me most at a working conference about the idea of A Domain of One’s Own within education where there was more than significant time given to the ideas of privacy, tracking, and surveillance, was the extent that nearly everyone present gave up their identity, authority, and digital autonomy to Twitter, a company which actively represents almost every version of the poor ethics, surveillance, tracking, and design choices we all abhor within the edtech space.

Why weren’t people proactively using their own domains to communicate instead? Why weren’t their notes, observations, highlights, bookmarks, likes, reposts, etc. posted to their own websites? Isn’t that part of what we’re in all this for?!

One of the shining examples from Domains 2019 that I caught as it was occurring was John Stewart’s site where he was aggregating talk titles, abstracts, notes, and other details relevant to himself and his practice. He then published them in the open and syndicated the copies to Twitter where the rest of the conversation seemed to be happening. His living notebook– or digital commmonplace book if you will–is of immense value not only to him, but to all who are able to access it. But you may ask, “Chris, didn’t you notice them on Twitter first?” In fact, I did not! I caught them because I was following the live feed of some of the researchers, educators, and technologists I follow in my feed reader using the OPML files mentioned above. I would submit, especially as a remote participant/follower of the conversation, that his individual posts were worth 50 or more individual tweets. Just the additional context they contained made them proverbially worth their weight in gold.

Perhaps for the next conference, we might build a planet or site that could aggregate all the feeds of people’s domains using their categories/tags or other means to create our own version of the Twitter stream? Alternately, by that time, I suspect that work on some of the new IndieWeb readers will have solidified to allow people to read feeds and interact with that content directly and immediately in much the way Twitter works now except that all the interaction will occur on our own domains.

As educators, one of the most valuable things we can and should do is model appropriate behavior for students. I think it’s high time that when attending a professional conference about A Domain of One’s Own that we all ought to be actively doing it using our own domains. Maybe we could even quit putting our Twitter handles on our slides, and just put our domain names on them instead?

Of course, I wouldn’t and couldn’t suggest or even ask others to do this if I weren’t willing and able to do it myself.  So as a trial and proof of concept, I’ve actively posted all my interactions related to Domains 2019 that I was interested in to my own website using the tag Domains 2019.  At that URL, you’ll find all the things I liked and bookmarked, as well as the bits of conversation on Twitter and others’ sites that I’ve commented on or replied to. All of it originated on my own domain, and, when it appeared on Twitter, it was syndicated only secondarily so that others would see it since that was where the conversation was generally being aggregated. You can almost go back and recreate my entire Domains 2019 experience in real time by following my posts, notes, and details on my personal website.

So, next time around can we make an attempt to dump Twitter!? The technology for pulling it off certainly already exists, and is reasonably well-supported by WordPress, WithKnown, Grav, and even some of the static site generators I noticed in my brief survey above. (Wix obviously doesn’t even come close…)

I’m more than happy to help people build and flesh out the infrastructure necessary to try to make the jump. Even if just a few of us began doing it, we could serve as that all-important model for others as well as for our students and other constituencies. With a bit of help and effort before the next Domains Conference, I’ll bet we could collectively pull it off. I think many of us are either well- or even over-versed in the toxicities and surveillance underpinnings of social media, learning management systems, and other digital products in the edtech space, but now we ought to attempt a move away from it with an infrastructure that is our own–our Domains.

👓 Why I chose Known over WordPress | Greg McVerry

Read Why I chose Known over WordPress by Greg McVerryGreg McVerry (Quick Thoughts)
Creative Growth 2013 Home show and fashion show (72) flickr photo by origamiguy1971 shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license Plurality stitches a beautiful quilt of complex choices, and each person adds their own unique spin on the  #IndieWeb. As long as you wrap yourself in the warmth of #...

🔖 Humm | Simple self-publishing: a distributed platform for free creative expression

Bookmarked Humm | Simple self-publishing: a distributed platform for free creative expression (Humm)
Simple self-publishing: a distributed platform for free creative expression on Humm…

Looks like an interesting author platform meant that could be used for journalism as well. Has a very IndieWeb flavor.

👓 Launching #IndieWeb Textpattern | Chris McLeod

Read Launching Textpattern by Chris McLeodChris McLeod (Mr.Kapowski)
I noted the other day that Textpattern might be a good fit for some people trying to build their own websites, but that there wasn’t much in the way of resources to get them plugged into the IndieWeb. Well, I went and started to do something about that. TextPattern is a site where I will...

This is awesome news. I’ve started a stub page on the IndieWeb wiki that hopefully folks will be able to add to in the future.

Perhaps the quickest start for getting Webmention working is to use Webmention.io and have people add the appropriate headers. Then you can build or set up methods to either show that data directly or build a full endpoint.

Good luck!

👓 Textpattern | Mr.Kapowski

Read Textpattern by Chris McLeodChris McLeod (Mr.Kapowski)
Once upon a time I was heavily involved with the Textpattern community, but I haven’t used or kept track of TXP for several years now. It randomly popped into my head over lunch that Textpattern originally had an ethos which aligned really well with IndieWeb ideals. It had a plugin system for exte...

This looks like a cool little project.

📑 What the earliest fragments of English reveal | BBC

Annotated What the earliest fragments of English reveal by Cameron Laux (bbc.com)
If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.  

So sad to see that they’ve abrogated their responsibility for comments on their site to Twitter and Facebook

👓 In the Shadow of the CMS | The Nation

Read In the Shadow of the CMS by Kyle ChaykaKyle Chayka (The Nation)
How content-management systems will shape the future of media businesses big and small. 

With all these self-made CMSes for distributing journalism, why not go a half step further and create a full-on network of hosted and managed IndieWeb websites? These could be for both their journalists to use (the way many do with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram) in their research as well as for their own users which could also incidentally use them to interact with the paper itself as well as their surrounding communities?

For a low cost per month, it could be an interesting side business, or even be bundled with paid subscriptions?

Reply to More thoughts about Micro.blog as an indie social network by Paul Jacobson

Replied to More thoughts about Micro.blog as an indie social network by Paul Jacobson (Paul Jacobson)
Brad Enslen is doing some great work over at Micro.blog, spreading the word about this innovative service. He published a post titled “The Case for Moving Your Social Network to Micro.blog…

Paul, I like how you’re questioning what is going on with micro.blog and what it is. The toughest part about it is that it is being sold by many different people in many different ways and it’s something slightly different depending on who you are and what you’re coming to it with. It’s all a question of framing.

I might suggest that you’re framing in an odd way, particularly given what I think you’d ultimately like to see on the web which you mention in your closing paragraphs.

To put things somewhat in “Automattic” terms, micro.blog is almost just like WordPress.com in that it’s a hosted content management system with a somewhat both open and closed community attached to it. If you’ve got a WordPress.com account you can easily post replies and likes on other blogs within the WordPress.com ecosystem and WordPress.com also has a slick feed reader you can use to easily subscribe to content (and even more easily subscribe if you’re within that WordPres.com community).

Just like WordPress.com, micro.blog-based sites (if you’re using their CMS) provide you with a physical website that includes RSS feeds and most of the other typical website functionality, so in fact, if you’ve got a micro.blog-based site, you’re fully on the web. If you’d like you can take your domain, export your content and move to WordPress, Drupal, SquareSpace, or any other CMS out there.

The real difference between micro.blog and WordPress.com happens in that micro.blog sends webmentions to provide their commenting functionality (though their websites don’t receive webmentions in a standalone way technically and in fact they don’t even allow manual comments as micro.blog-based websites don’t have traditional commenting functionality (yet?).) Micro.blog also supports Micropub natively, so users can use many of the micropub apps for posting to their sites as well.

Now where things get a bit wonky is that the micro.blog feed reader will let you subscribe to other m.b. users (and recently ActivityPub accounts like those on Mastodon) which is why it feels like a Twitter or Facebook replacement. But the difference is that while it feels like you’re in yet-another-silo like Twitter or Facebook, over on the side, you’ve got a traditional free standing website!

Incidentally micro.blog also uses their feed reader as a side method for displaying the replies of others to your posts within the ecosystem. If you have a non-micro.blog website that feeds into the system (like you and I–and incidentally Brad too–do with WordPress) then micro.blog sends webmentions to those sites so that they don’t necessarily need to be “within the community” to interact with it.

In summation, I might suggest that while some people might be framing micro.blog as a replacement for Facebook or Twitter, the better framing is that micro.blog is really what you were hoping it might be. It is a traditional web host with its own custom content management system that supports web standards and newer technologies like Webmention, Micropub, WebSub, and pieces of Microsub. Or similarly and more succinctly, Micro.blog is a turnkey IndieWeb CMS that allows users to have a website without needing to manage anything on the back end.

Now that we’ve re-framed it to look like what you had hoped for, let’s see if we can talk Manton into open sourcing it all! Then Automattic might have some more competition. 😉

👓 5 CMS tools for indie bloggers | Indie Digital Media

Read 5 CMS tools for indie bloggers by Richard MacManus (Indie Digital Media)
This is a golden age for indie digital media creators, who have more content creation options than ever in 2019. In fact, there are arguably too many tools to chose from. That’s why I’m going to regularly examine the tools of digital media creation here on IDM - for everything…

👓 The year you actually start to like your CMS | Nieman Journalism Lab | Eric Ulken

Read The year you actually start to like your CMS by Eric UlkenEric Ulken (Nieman Lab)
"If we do it right, users benefit from a feedback loop that helps make our work more valuable and relevant to them. And no journalist ever again has to wear their clunky CMS as a badge of honor."

Without saying it directly, there’s a very IndieWeb flavor to this piece. I’d love to see more journalists and technologists who are working in journalism contributing to improving the web.  The Nieman Lab’s collection of Predictions for Journalism in 2019 also has some other IndieWeb-centric articles for those who might be interested.

Eric Ulken, product director for newsroom tools at the USA TODAY NETWORK, has a great list of UI elements in the article that many journalists, newsrooms, and even average people would love to see built into content management systems. I hope that as people build and iterate that they write about their experiences and open source pieces so others can use and leverage them.

Personally, I think that W3C specs like Webmention, Micropub, and Microsub can help change the tide in the coming year.

Some things your tools will soon do for you — if they don’t already:

  • Automatically find and link relevant background material.
  • Suggest topics and contextualize newly created content as part of a bigger story arc, when relevant.
  • Show which topics, story forms and content types, in the aggregate, are resonating with priority audience segments and help you take action based on that info.
  • Dynamically alert you when there’s potential for promoting your work on other platforms and help you prioritize those efforts.
  • Keep track of the things you’ve published, show you how they’re doing with key audiences and suggest follow-up opportunities.
  • Call out popular evergreen content that could use freshening.
  • Run headline tests and other content experiments directly from the authoring and curation environment.
  • Identify missed opportunities and help you find out where your content fell flat with readers.
  • Enable the creation of mobile-first multimedia narratives and other non-text story forms.
  • Help you productively interact with your audiences and help them inform your coverage.
  • Calculate — at the staff, team and individual level — effort spent on things that don’t serve audiences well (thereby helping you devote more time to the things that do).
  • Elevate your phone from in-the-field last resort to full-fledged content creation and management tool, because the best device is the one you have with you.

Highlights, Quotes, Annotations, & Marginalia

Today’s leading-edge content tools are integrated context, collaboration and insight machines. We’re moving from unidirectional publishing of articles to organizing all our work and closing the feedback loop with our customers. I call this “full-stack publishing”.  

This sounds a little bit like what the IndieWeb is building for itself!

December 21, 2018 at 08:02PM

And while content analytics tools (e.g., Chartbeat, Parsely, Content Insights) and feedback platforms (e.g., Hearken, GroundSource) have thankfully helped close the gap, the core content management experience remains, for most of us, little improved when it comes to including the audience in the process.  

December 21, 2018 at 08:00PM

Reply to Blog Engines and Indieweb Controlling Upstream by Brad Enslen

Replied to Blog Engines and Indieweb Controlling Upstream by Brad EnslenBrad Enslen (Brad Enslen)
All this WordPress 5.0 Gutenberg stuff got me thinking.  With WordPress it seems like the Indieweb starts making serious and cool progress and the WordPress people come along and knock the game board and pieces off the table.  And it sounds like the disruption from WordPress is going to continue f...

Brad, I like and agree with your general thoughts, but I think that looking at the long term broader picture, most of what you’re describing is covered under the umbrella principle of plurality. For things to grow and thrive, we all need plurality to flourish. As a result there are several hundred projects within the broader IndieWeb which are growing and thriving. It seems far slower because a large number of the projects are single-maintainer single-user ones which are being built for personal use.

It’s nice that there are mass-scale projects like WordPress, WithKnown, Get Perch, Grav, Drupal, and a few others which have one or more “IndieWeb-centric” developers working on them that allow those without the coding skills to jump in and enjoy the additional freedom and functionality. The occasional drawback is that those big-hearted developers also fit into the broader fabric of those massively distributed projects and sometimes their voices aren’t as well heard, if at all.

I’m aware of the disruption of the Gutenberg Editor within WordPress v5.0 and how it applies to those using IndieWeb technology on WordPress. I’m sure it will eventually get sorted out in a reasonable fashion. Sadly, throwing out the baby out with the bathwater as it comes to WordPress and IndieWeb may not be the best solution for many people and may actually be a painful detriment to several hundreds.

While it would be interesting to see a larger group of developers converge on building an open and broadly used IndieWeb system as you suggest, it takes a massive amount of work and community collaboration to get such a thing moving. I think this bears out if you look at the lay of the land as it already exists. Just think of the time effort and energy that the core IndieWeb community puts into the tremendous amount of resources that exist today.

Looking back on the past 4+ years of IndieWeb within the WordPress community, I’m really amazed to see exactly how far things have come and where things currently stand. There used to be a dozen or more pieces that required custom code, duct tape, and baling wire to get things working. Now it’s a handful of relatively stable and well set up pieces that—particularly for me—really makes WordPress deliver as an open source content management system and next generation social medial platform that aims to democratize publishing. In terms of building for the future, I suspect that helping to bring new people into the fold (users, developers, designers, etc.) will increase and improve the experience overall. To some degree, I feel like we’re just getting started on what is possible and recruiting new users and help will be the best thing for improving things moving forward. IndieWeb integration into large-scale projects like WordPress, Drupal, etc. are very likely to be the place that these ideas are likely to gain a foothold in the mainstream and change the tide of how the internet works.

While it may seem daunting at times, in addition to the heroic (part-time, it needs to be noted) developers like Mathias Pfefferle, David Shanske, Micah Cambre, Michael Bishop, Ashton McAllan, Jack Jamieson,  Ryan Barrett, Peter MolnarAmanda Rush; enthusiastic supporters like you, Greg McVerry, Aaron Davis, Manton Reece; and literally hundreds of others (apologies to those I’ve missed by name) who are using and living with these tools on a daily basis, there are also quieter allies like Brandon Kraft, Ryan Boren, Jeremy Herve and even Matt himself, even if he’s not directly aware of it, who are contributing in their own ways as well. Given the immense value of what IndieWeb brings to the web, I can’t imagine that they won’t ultimately win out.

If it helps, some of the current IndieWeb issues pale in comparison to some of the accessibility problems that Gutenberg has neglected within the WordPress community. Fortunately those a11ys are sticking with the greater fight to make things better not only for themselves, but for the broader community and the world. I suggest that, like them, we all suit up and continue the good fight.

Of course part of the genius of how IndieWeb is structured: anyone is free to start writing code, make better UI, and create something of their own. Even then they benefit from a huge amount of shared work, resources, and simple standards that are already out there. 

👓 Blog Engines and Indieweb Controlling Upstream | Brad Enslen

Read Blog Engines and Indieweb Controlling Upstream by Brad EnslenBrad Enslen (Brad Enslen)

All this WordPress 5.0 Gutenberg stuff got me thinking.  With WordPress it seems like the Indieweb starts making serious and cool progress and the WordPress people come along and knock the game board and pieces off the table.  And it sounds like the disruption from WordPress is going to continue for a couple of years.

Why not take a page out of Apple’s playbook and take control higher up in the food chain? Why not come out with an Indieweb compatible blog engine of our own?  Either fork an existing open source project or build new?  This does not mean you have to make it exclusive but make it the way the Indieweb wants the Indieweb elven magic to function.  Also put in the standard blogging features most people expect.  Why keep trying to adapt the Indieweb stuff to blog or CMS platforms that are at best indifferent, never designed for or just that don’t want to play ball?

This isn’t a slam on the coders who are working so hard to make everything work on WordPress, I’m just asking if maybe it’s not time to find better terrain to fight from.

If the Indieweb really wants widespread adoption they need to come out with a turnkey solution.  It would act as a solution for many and a proof of concept for others to emulate. Something that can be put in hosting C-panels for one touch install. Something that just works, is easy to move to and move away from. Something supported, active, growing with enough polish that it inspires confidence in the user.

I’d really like to hear serious discussion on this.

👓 Bookmark: Migrate your WordPress site to ClassicPress – ClassicPress | Brad Enslen

Read Bookmark: Migrate your WordPress site to ClassicPress – ClassicPress by Brad Brad (Brad Enslen)
Migrating your WordPress website to ClassicPress is easy and only takes a few minutes. Follow the simple steps below to get started: Bookmark: Migrate your WordPress site to ClassicPress – ClassicPress The folks at Classic Press have created an easy migration plugin that works with WordPress 5.0.?...

👓 Welcome to Dreamwidth, Tumblr folks! | DreamWidth

Read Welcome to Dreamwidth, Tumblr folks! (dw-news.dreamwidth.org)

With the new update to Tumblr's community guidelines announcing that they will no longer permit adult content on their site, we'd like to take a moment to reassure all y'all that we have your backs. With a very few exceptions (such as spam and the like), if it's legal under US law, it's okay to post here. We're 100% user-supported, with no advertisers and no venture capitalists to please, and that means we're here for you, not for shady conglomerates that buy up your data and use it in nefarious ways. 

Reply to Don’t let your online strategy become a conversation about which LMS to use by Tannis Morgan

Replied to Don’t let your online strategy become a conversation about which LMS to use by Tannis MorganTannis Morgan (Explorations in the EdTech World)
Here’s the short of it. LMS’s do some things really well and are not going to go away. We still use an LMS at our institution, and while I would really like the vendor to invest some of our hard earned license fees into making it a more user friendly tool, we still need an LMS. However, I’ve tried really hard to make sure our online strategy does not start and finish with the LMS, and yes, it is an ongoing battle.

This article presents an excellent point. I also see a lot of what I would call IndieWeb philosophy bubbling up within this argument, and perhaps the edtech space could benefit from some of their ideas, set up, and design?  If you like, we could take the analogy IndieWeb:Social Silos::Educational Technology:Learning Management Systems and extend it.

Much like the demise of the innovation on the web and within the blogosphere as the result of the commodification of social media by silo corporations like Facebook, Twitter, and others around 2006, the technology space in education has become too addicted to corporate products and services. Many of these services cover some broad functionality, but they have generally either slowed down or quit innovating, quit competing with each other, are often charging exorbitant prices, and frequently doing unethical things with the data they receive from their users. The major difference between the two spaces is that Big Social Media is doing it on a much bigger scale and making a lot more money and creating greater damage as a result.

Instead, let me make some recommendations to thought leaders in the space for more humanistic and holistic remedy. Follow the general philosophies and principles of the IndieWeb movement. Dump (or at least gradually move away from) your corporately built LMS and start building one of your own. Ideally, open source what you build so that others can improve it and build upon it. In the end, you, your classes, your departments, and your institutions will be all the stronger for it. You can have more direct control over your own data (and that of your students, which deserves to be treated more ethically). You can build smaller independent pieces that are interchangeable and inter-operable. The small pieces may also allow new unpredictable functionalities when put together. You can build to make better user interfaces, better functionality, and get what you’d like to have instead of just what you’re given.

Sure, doing this may be somewhat uncomfortable in the near term, but many hands over many institutions, building and crafting a variety of solutions will result in a much better and more robust product–and one that we all can “own” and benefit from. By open sourcing, many hands will make light work. Imagine what the state of online learning, Open Educational Resources (OER), and open pedagogy would look like if the hundreds of institutions had put all of their LMS related funding over the past decade into even a handful of open source programmers instead of corporately controlled interests?

Already within the article, there is a short list of potential solutions one could look to as LMS replacements. Those that are open source are literally crying out to not only be used, but to be improved upon so that everyone can benefit from those improvements. Other related options might include

For solid examples of what can be accomplished, we can also look toward individual developers like Stephen Downes and projects like gRSShopper or Alan Levine and his many open source repositories. There are also individuals like Greg McVerry, who is using free and opensource content management systems like WordPress and WithKnown to push the envelope of what is possible with classroom interactions using simple internet protocols like Webmention, Micropub, WebSub, and bleeding edge readers using MicroSub, and Robin DeRosa, who is creating her own OER materials. These are just a few of thousands of individuals hacking away at small, but discrete problems and then helping out others.

At the higher end we can see broad movements like A Domain of One’s Own (DoOO), which empowers students students and faculty by giving them their own domain names and hosting as well as web-based tools to leverage these benefits. (I often look at the DoOO movement as IndieWeb for Education, but without as much emphasis on building for oneself.)

There are even ethical companies like Reclaim Hosting who are doing some excellent and tremendous work in the DoOO space. The benefit of the way these systems are built and maintained however, is that should Reclaim cease offering their excellent support, benefits, and add-ons, individuals or institutions could relatively easily take all of their data and applications and move them to another provider. This provides a massive incentive for service companies to continue iterating and improving on their work as well as the services they offer. Sadly, some of these mechanisms don’t exist this way within much of the corporate LMS space. But they certainly could and should.

For those who are interested, feel free to do some research into some of these areas and tools. Join the DoOO or IndieWeb.org communities. Build your own tools, give feedback to developers of opensource projects to help them improve. Give them some of your time and resources to make these communities and spaces better and stronger over time. Feel free to join the IndieWeb chat to meet folks virtually and discuss these ideas, or use the IndieWeb wiki (the IndieWeb for Education page is an excellent place to start) to not only read, but to contribute back ideas, tools, links, and resources for others. (The wiki has a CC0 license.)

I’m always happy to help people begin to find their way in some of these resources if they need it to get started.