WordPress Multisite: Multi-Network versus Multiple Independent Networks

One of the things we find ourselves doing more and more of at Reclaim Hosting is managed hosting, in particular for WordPress Multisite (WPMS). In the end was the beginning for this blog. So, I was on a call last week were the discussion around running multiple, independent WPMS instances versus one WPMS instance with multiple networks, i.e. sites.stateu.org and courses.stateu.org represent two functioning WPMS instances using subdomains (or subdirectories) such as mysite.sites.stateu.org or mycourse.courses.stateu.org that both point and share one set of core WordPress files. I experimented with this over 10 years ago by running a WPMS (then called WPMU) service for Longwood University off the core WordPress files of UMW Blogs. I thought it would be revolutionary for the ability to share infrastructure across Virginia public institutions of higher ed, but not so much. That said, I was glad to see Curtiss Grymala to take the whole idea of multi-networks to the next level for UMW’s main website.

Anyway, enough about the past, that was then, this is now …. for now. The question is why would you run several independent WPMS instances with distinct core files versus running multiple instances of WPMS off of one shared set of files, plugins, themes, etc.? For me the value of running everything off one shared set of files was shared themes, plugins, and updates that make management easier than across numerous separate installs.*  Another benefit was a single space for site/user administration between networks. Additionally, managing single sign-on through one instance should prove a bit easier for setup, but will need to double-check on this one. I also know you can have various portals for each WPMS network mapped on a single set of files, so it will not be confusing for the users, for them the fact they share core files will be invisible. So, in this regard the choice comes down to whether or not consolidation makes sense for the WPMS admin, which is often a question of convenience.

But there may be some practical reasons not to use a multi-network setup. Like, for example, if you are planing on running thousands of sites on each of these WPMS instances you may want to keep them separate given scaling issue with the WPMS database.** Having three WPMS instances share core files means if one goes down, they all go down, which can be an issue. Also, if you have an existing WPMS site you want to incorporate into an existing multi-network setup it may get tricky depending on whether there are shared users across the various instances of WPMS that you’re combining. I will have to do more research here, and would love to know about anyone’s experience in this regard, but I imagine users across a multi-network instance would need to be able to access the various networks with the same email/username across networks for the sake of both convenience and single sign-on (which are often one in the same).

Which raises another question that I’m unsure of,  if users sign-in through one network of a multi-network setup can they cleanly move between sites on different networks? I’m wondering if keeping single sign-on and users separate in this instance may prove less problematic in the long run. I’ll be working through these scenarios this week, but wanted to post this here cause I know a few folks have experience with running multi-networks on bit sites and wanted to be sure I was not overlooking any major red flags before making some recommendations.

*It also allows you to share any premium themes or plugins across one instance.

**Although if this is the case you will have to shard databases anyway, so one could argue it would be easier to do that for one instance rather than many. 

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Pi Video Looper at OER19

Another thing worth mentioning about Reclaim’s sojourn to OER19 was our trial run of the Pi Video Looper setup that we’ll be rolling out for Ryan Seslow‘s artwork at Domains19. Luckily Meredith got a primer from Tim before making the trip to Galway because I was a bit rusty. The basic idea is you install the Pi Video Looper on a Raspberry Pi and the Pi boots up and automatically loops any video (or videos) loaded within a specific directory. So, you could have a video version of a GIF that loops eternally, which effectively gives you a hi-quality GIF looper, which is what we did for the Be Kind, Reclaim poster Meredith animated in anticipation of OER19. We also included an animation of VHS Tape art as well as a Ryan Seslow’s Vaporwave visual as a teaser. Here’s a look:

There are two tricks to Pi Video Looper after installing the software (see links below for more on this), one is actually finding the Raspberry Pi on the network, to accomplish this Adafruit’s Raspberry Pi Finder is crucial. You need to do this so you can eventually access the Pi via FTP and add files given there is no GUI for the PI when using Pi Video Looper software. The other trick is actually getting the Pi on the network, which gets doubly complicated when you are using a guest wifi network that requires additional steps. Luckily tethering to the iPhone worked cleanly, and to connect the Pi Video Looper with a specific network you need to add the wpa_supplicant-conf file and reboot so that the network settings are loaded.

Here is what my supplicant file looked like:

You can see the full installation for the Pi Video Looper here, here are the install commands, here is the latest release of the software on Github, and finally if you need to change read-only permissions of mount drive for Raspberry Pi. [Leaving these links here predominantly for my own future reference, but let me know if you need more explanation.] And, finally, special thanks to Kate Molloy for capturing Reclaim’s video looping presence in all its glory!


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OER19 Therapy

You can also watch it on Podbeam here, I will switch to the Youtube link when it is uploaded there given their embed feature is cleaner.

As I mentioned in my last post, Lauren Brumfield, Meredith Fierro, and I sat down to reflect on the OER19 experience in Galway last week while things were still relatively fresh. We did this for the 14th episode of Reclaim Today, which we are trying to resuscitate, and given everything we’re doing with Reclaim Video, Reclaim Arcade, and Domains19 (not to mention Reclaim Hosting!) we certainly have the raw material these days. This video took some inspiration from Martin Hawksey’s video work at OER19, and Tim busted out the Open Broadcaster Software, which enabled us to include the intro, and we may even explore additional camera shots in the future. 

As an exercise to get us ready for the conversation, each of us blogged our thoughts to act as notes for the discussion, and you can read Meredith’s here, Lauren’s double-blog-dose here and here, and mine here for reference.  I won’t babble on too much in this post given the video has me doing more than enough of that, but I will say that OER19 was definitely occasion for all of us to not only connect in person with a community we care for, but it helped us reflect on our holistic growth as a team which enables us to put names and faces to ideas and futures for the field. In this regard the conference was amazing for both professional and personal development, and I think that is what came through most for me during this discussion, and that makes me very happy. #Reclaim4life!

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Notes from OER19

Meredith, Lauren, and I will be talking about OER19 on Reclaim Today this afternoon, so I am going to jot down a few quick points I hope to touch on during the discussion. This list will double as a quick blog post so I can throw my hat into the lively stream of awesome posts about a truly generative conference.

Point 1: This was the #femedtech conference. What do I mean by this? The women in international ed-tech were very much driving every element of the conference and the conversations and it was unlike any other conference I have been to in that regard. The sense of highlighting the work of the women in the field was definitely a big part of the re-centering of open, at least in my mind, and that was intentional and very important. So kudos to Catherine Cronin and Laura Czerniewicz for shaping something unique and spectacular.

Point 2: Art rules!

I love Amy Burvall and Bryan Mathers‘s ama-zine session. One of the best I’ve been to at any conference ever. It helps that the two are creative machines of the highest order, but they really did make this perfect, just enough guidance, just enough prompts, and bam the room was abuzz with creating for at least 40 minutes. And I finally got to meet Amy!

Point 3: I am a sucker for open edtech architecture discussions. I loved hearing Tannis Morgan, Brian Lamb, and Grant Potter talk about the amazing work they are doing with OpenETC, or as they frame it: Free Range Edtech. What are they doing? Basically providing infrastructure for all kinds of open source web apps in return for building community and support across campuses in British Columbia.I dreamed of something like this in Virginia, but to no avail. If I was still at an institution, this would definitely be a huge part of my day job (in fact, it already is at Reclaim, but love to see institutions owning and pooling the resources). Unfortunately, I missed the discussion around Edinburgh’s WordPress Multisite and and their Jupyter Notebooks service Noteable, which is very much inline with Open ETC.

Point 4: CUNY in the House! CUNY made me, I started as an Instructional Technology Fellow (ITF) as a wee lad in 2004, and the rest is internet history. So, to reconnect with the good folks from CUNY in Galway was a definite highlight for me. I will save you all the stories, but Matt Gold is the guy who said to me in 1999, “you ever heard of Google?” I hadn’t, but then I did. No shit, it goes that deep between us. But, the work they have been doing with open source is legendary. Matt has been working with Boone Gorges since 2008 or 2009 and Boone went on to be a core contributor to WordPress. The work they have done around Academic Commons and OpenLab is amazing, and I love that they have even dared to dream beyond WordPress with Manifold, a very slick open source tool developed by the great Zach Davis of Cast Iron Coding (who got me that first job as an ITF, it’s a small world) that is all about ease of use and design. It’s first and foremost a book publishing tool, and I find it much more elegant than PressBooks. Reclaim Hosting needs to double down on an installer through Cloudron for Manifold, it is too good not to.

Point 5: The keynotes, the keynotes, the keynotes: all awesome, all women, and all challenging, thoughtful, and built on hope. I’ve been a Kate Bowles fan for a long while, and while we briefly crossed paths a couple of years ago in California, I finally got to steal 10 minutes of her time (she was very much in demand) to just chat. The result was I got all fired up again 🙂 Her discussion of the expanding university was desperately needed, asking the simple question is it still a university when the basis of measurement is capital not people.And despite the deterministic language of data, analytics, and massive, she reminded us these are all choices and we have the power to say no. We should more often.  The final keynote on day 2 was amazing, and the discussion of the “Broken Faces of Capitalist Modernity” was riveting:

And the quote of the conference, at least for me in light of the Online Program Management discussion as of late, was Su-Ming Khoo’s note that “Unbundling is a form of extraction” —truer words were never spoken about edtech.

Point 6: PALs with tapes and discs

Reclaim Video made a killing at OER19 with a full blown haul of PAL-region VHS tapes thanks to the great Laura Ritchie, and a prized and I imagine fairly rare PAL-region Selectavision disc of 2001 thanks to Lawrie, who delivered it in a Coventry bag—which was a nice touch! Pure gold.

Point 7: Harry the Media Kid

I love Brian Lamb for too many reasons to list in any million posts, but the fact he has, for the second year in a row, brought along his son Harry to assist Martin Hawksey in running the media is awesome and enviable. A few of us joked about brining our kids next year, but the point remains that it is awesome experience for a kid who digs media—and OER19 supported the idea and the conference was better for it. Also, how sick that Harry got Downesed already? Brian must be a proud papa!

Point 8: Melanie Meyers

Probably the second best quote of OER19 for me was from Melanie Meyers, whose work with WordPress at the Justice Instititute in British Columbia is legion!

It was during Melanie’s session that I had the epiphany that the OER conference is not so much about textbooks and content as it is about practice and people. Listening to the work she did making WordPress not so much stand-in for the LMS, but rather serve to highlight the intrinsic weakness of the later system. And you do that by creating an open site that has become an resource educating people around the world about the Opioid crisis:

That’s a “drop the mic” moment, and it’s pure edtech gold for this geezer!

And that will have to do for now because I have to jump back on support, get ready for a meeting or two, and then do the Reclaim Today discussion about OER19, which this post will serve as the notes for. OER19 has retained its mantle as must-attend conference for me, and while it almost doubled in size this year, it still felt intimate and personal. I remain a big fan, and look forward to what Daniel Villar-Onrubio, Mia Zamora, and Jonathan Shaw dream up for OER20. Could be a Domains/Netnarr themed extravaganza!

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Reclaim Video: Incubating the Future of VHS

This morning Tim gave me a tour of all the work he has been doing to automate Reclaim Video over the last week or so—it is pretty impressive. The first 15 minutes of the  discussion is of my face given the live broadcast was locked on me for a bit, but that gets resolved and you can hear us go through the various pieces that will essentially allow anyone to effectively run Reclaim Video remotely using Reclaim the Robot. The video is about 45 minutes long, and I am a realist so it might make sense to highlight some of the advances:

  • Voice activated light switch using Wemo (or Wireless EMO lightswtich)
  • Voice activated power that when directed turn on the Pac-man machine, the Reclaim Video digital signage ( the TV, raspberry pi, and stereo are all left on)
  • 24-hour live stream using a Nest camera so one can check-in on what is happening at Reclaim Video
  • And that stream would be boring without video, so Tim figured out how to both rip and upload VHS and laserdisc to a Plex Media Server that can be voice activated to play a specific film from our library (obviously we will be start ripping and adding movies as we go, there are 3 thus far)
  • A Reclaim Video Twitter bot that is able to send information about the current movie playing at Reclaim Video (ds106radiobot anyone?)

Shot from the Nest camera

Plex also allows you to synch videos playing in Reclaim Video with your home TV, which is crazy, and you can also use Plex on your phone to control what’s playing, so there is a lot of exploration still to come there. One thing Tim noted we need to explore is how to adjust volume on the 80s Fisher stereo, it was low when him and Tim Clarke were watching The Fly (1986), and it was impossible to adjust. The other issue to figure out is how we stream the audio online cleanly via something like ds106radio so that we can synchronously listen  while watching video through the Nest camera using something like Twitter or some other space to discuss on films playing in Reclaim Video.

Tim working the counter at Reclaim Video as Reclaim the Robot

So, that is a quick list, and we are all for ideas, I am really excited about the potential of this space for playing, and as we noted in the video, it’s like we finally got our incubator classroom at Reclaim Hosting 🙂

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Hey McFly, Register for Domains19!

I spoke with Martin Hawksey about his talk at Domains19 a few weeks back, and I got even more excited than I was already—which is saying something. And now you can a small glimpse as to why, namely the McFlyify site which is facial detection experiment that captures and animates your face on top of Marty McFly’s in the disappearing heads of the McFly family photograph from Back to the Future.

Martin describes the whole process in depth in this post, and the short version is how simple it is to use free web-based tools to capture, recognize, and manipulate images of yourself. The implications of this technology are both fascinating and troubling, and the McFlyify experiment is just a small teaser of what he will  explore in order to frame how these technologies work and their broader implications for better and for worse. How sick is that? It promises to be a remarkable talk, and I’m over the moon that it will be happening at Domains19. Which should server as a timely reminder for folks to register sooner than later given we are limited to 120 seats and they are going fast.

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Reclaim the Robot

Well, if nothing else it should be clear by this point that Tim Owens and I do not play around—we are all business! Case in point, two years ago in this article in the Free Lance-Star we noted that at some point soon CoWork could have a VHS store that is remotely run by an international robot (a particularly attractive one at that). And now, it is my pleasure to introduce Reclaim the Robot!

Reclaim the Robot

Can you dig it?! I knew that you could. Shabam! 

Reclaim Robot at Rest

We’ve been dreaming of this madness for a while now, and Tim finally found someone who had a bit of buyer’s remorse online and we got it for a bit of a steal. It’s from Double Robotics, and it is marketed as the telepresence  robot that allows commuters to feel more connected. And given Martin Weller’s recent post about support (and Scooby-Doo!), and Downes’ connecting that to the importance of a sense of presence (which I totally agree with) I figured the higher ed community might look to the practices of the cutting edge VHS market for some ideas 🙂

What is it like? It’s trippy. You can control the robot from the browser, and adjust the height of the “head” which is an iPad mounted on a modded segueway. When you lower the “head” the robot can move pretty quickly, and you have more control to get around. One you are ready to stay put, you can park the robot and share links, pictures, videos, etc. What’s more, you can share your view with others remotely which effectively lets you take them on a tour of the space (any takers for a Reclaim Video/CoWork/Reclaim Arcade tour?). Tim was taking me on a tour of his work with Smash TV at CoWork while he was on his couch at home and I was thousands of Miles away. That’s wild. 

We kind of surprised the rest of our colleagues by calling an emergency meeting, and then I rolled into the room—with folks expecting I would show up alongside Lauren via video chat. The reaction was interesting because I think it was a bit uncanny for everyone. One immediate thing I noticed is that it’s hard to negotiate depth so personal space can get weird, but you do truly feel like you are in the room and at the table.

You can get a sense of how I see the others, and this image is awesome because it really is like Meredith is talk to me. The point of view is kinda like living in a virtual slasher film—although I probably need a better analogy 🙂

As you can tell by Tim and Lauren’s reaction in the above picture, it is both fun and bizarre. The sense of presence is definitely real, but also somehow unique and hampered. I can move around the space and talk with folks, but I still need help turning things on, plugging the charger in, turning on the video games, loading the tapes, etc. Also, I think folks feel weird talking to me as a robot, and I can understand that. I do wonder what the reaction will be when I greet my first Reclaim Video patron as a robot 🙂

The other thing that was cool for me was showing Tommaso around Reclaim Arcade. He has been talking to me non-stop about the games we got and what they are like, so I could finally take him on a tour and talk through the games a bit. I hope to do much more of this!

It was also cool because Tommy got into drive the robot, and he even parallel parked it once we were done. There is a camera that looks at the floor that is quite useful, and I have to say when Tim was driving he maneuvered between an old laserdisc player and chair that had no more than 18″ between them without issue. It is quite responsive, and the handling is impressive. Well, I have more to say, but my early morning shift at Reclaim Video is fast approaching, so I need to get over there and meet and greet the future! Robot Rock!

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Domain Dolphins at Coventry

I have been a big fan of the work happening with Domain of One’s Own at Coventry University. The work Daniel Villar-Onrubio, Lauren Heywood, and the recently departed Charlie Legge have done to build that program from the ground up is legend. It’s another perfect example that there are no substitutes for good people digging in to do the hard work of  cultivating a community of practice. I’m blown away by what they continue to accomplish, and luckily they are very good about blogging the work they do so you can be too! In fact, as the post I linked to notes, they recently celebrated some of the amazing work happening in their community (there is no substitution for genuine promotion and amplification of good work!) through an event that should be known as The Domain Dolphins. Why? Because all the folks recognized receive a bitchin’ mug using the artwork at the top of this post. I love the whole conceit of a Domains mascot, which is very much in the spirit of UMW’s Domainasaur and Muhlenberg’s Domains & Donuts, and a highly intelligent, playful, and social dolphin is good a mascot as I can imagine. We should all be so lucky to ride the dolphin!

Zeus And Roxanne Dogs GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Be even more impressive than the mascot is the actual work happening through the programs. There are many examples of both faculty and student work highlighted here, so do yourself a favor and take a minute to read through them, it may be a welcome reminder the hope for an independent web where folks narrate their learning is not dead yet.

But it is worth highlighting Andrew King site who is the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Coventry University. He has created the Stories of Experience, Illness and Recovery website…

…that accompanies his ‘Neurology Book Club’ to support physiotherapy students and professionals to find books and resources that provide a patient experience.” This builds on Andrew’s use of a lending library of published ‘illness narratives’ (those told by people who have experienced specific health conditions) for teaching post-graduate student physiotherapists. The WordPress website hosts a collection of reviews of books, films and other resources that may be useful for students to independently browse or for use in teaching sessions.

The site is regularly update and offers up focused, curated resources around personal narratives of dealing with illness. And that is just the beginning, Claire Simmons developed a brilliant guide for Academic Development at Coventry. Various tutors and lecturers have been rewarded for both narrating their learning process and successfully embedding Domains into the curriculum at Coventry.

What’s more, there are a ton of inspiring examples of students framing their professional practice, such as Fashion major Sarah Lindop, whose blog provided a welcome reminder for me about why we started pushing Domains in the first place. Her blog is a thoughtful, quotidian exploration of narrating her work and experience with both designing shoes as well as creating clay Gnomes in the image of her boyfriend 🙂 There is an insight from the blog that I just always find so refreshing in the academic space, and for all the hating on this medium, I find it more apt for recording and sharing the experience of learning than just about any other medium.

Bravo Coventry, your work with Domains is ace, bazzin’, beezer, belter, choice, class, corking, crucial, cushty, gradeley, grand, groovy, and just about any other Britishism I can throw at these fine folks doing the web’s work!

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Wake-up! The Domains19 Schedule is Out

We have finalized the schedule for both day 1 and day 2 of Domains19, and you can see them both online here. It’s quite a line-up, and as Lauren has already announced, we are thrilled to add our fourth and final keynote: Amy Collier, who will be speaking about Wakefulness, Agency, Ownership, and Trust: 

What does teaching and learning look like when we take seriously our students’ privacy and agency? This is a question we wrestle with in my group at Middlebury, Digital Learning and Inquiry, and I imagine this will feel like a familiar or even front-and-center concern for others at Domains. Surveillance and other troubling practices enter our teaching in seemingly benign ways, with mostly good intentions. This presentation will ask us to reconsider those practices and explore how pedagogy is transformed when we center the ideas of wakefulness, agency, ownership, and trust (ooh and freedom, and possibility, and love, and…and…and…). 

It’s going to be one hit after another at Domains19, and I think it is high time you hippies but down whatever it is you’re smoking and register for this conference already!

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Why Sponsor those #OER19 Hippies?

As part of Reclaim Hosting’s sponsorship of OER19 we get a post. And given Alan Levine is giving me shit about my recent blog numbers — can you believe the nerve of that guy?— if nothing else I figure this post will boost my stats. But the way I figure things could be a lot worse,  I could have ended up blogging on LinkedIn like other washed-up edtech thought leaders to maximize my broken network effects, but in the end the bava will  always be more than enough.

This is the third year in a row Reclaim has sponsored the OER conference, but arguably the first more formally as Reclaim Hosting. It was going to be hard to top last year’s performance as Reclaim Video, and we may have run the risk of getting a bit stale the second time around. In fact, it’s the first and only conference we have sponsored as Reclaim Hosting besides our own, which begs the question why? Well, it’s actually pretty simple answer, which is nice because that means this will be a pretty short post. When I was invited to speak at the OER16 conference in Edinburgh it was under the impression that these Association for Learning Technologies (ALT) was this big organization with lots of money similar to something like EDUCAUSE in the US. I was expecting this somewhat impersonal, conference chicken experience at least from the organizers, but was somewhat ambivalent because I had already been a fan of Martin Hawksey and I knew he had recently gone to work for ALT. But, again, I was thinking he had to make his peace with working for the the proverbial “MAN” like we all do sooner or later.

But then I met Maren Deepwell, and everything changed. I think the highlight of my experience at OER16 was chatting with Maren and being blown away to learn that ALT was a tight, scrappy skeleton crew that had in many ways adopted the orphaned OER conference after budgets cuts and expired grants made it all but impossible for others to sustain. I quickly became a “big fan,” as they say. I was fascinated that such a small crew could not only be so damned effective, efficient, and friendly, but were doing all this on an ostensibly shoestring budget. There were no big sponsors, no vendor room, and no in your face salesman, so I figured I could change all that! Only kidding, but I did figure that what ALT is doing for the OER community in the UK and beyond was similar to what Reclaim Hosting is doing for instructional technologists, digital humanists, and IT folks when it comes to academic infrastructure. And, when I returned from OER16 I was all but certain we were going to try and help in anyway we could, and we did. That’s that.

We are not not beyond saying we want folks to learn more about Reclaim Hosting and Domain of One’s Own, etc., but arguably most of the folks who will be at OER19 already host through us, or at least know of us—so I’m not sure it’s all that strategic in terms of “sales.” But that’s kind of the point, these are the people that have made us and we want to support the ethos of this group that has not only saved a conference that has become a yearly highlight for me personally, but one that brings together all the best people we have and have not yet met. So in that spirit, it’s Reclaim Hosting’s honor and privilege to support all the hippies behind OER19, and we very much look forward to meeting you all. We’ll be the one’s with the VHS GIFs! 

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