A Long Short History of Reclaim Hosting

Earlier today Adam Croom shared that OU Create (the University of Oklahoma’s Domain initiative) would be open and freely available to the entire campus. That’s pretty remarkable news, and quite a testament to the unbelievable work folks like Adam, Mark Morvant, and Kyle Harper have done over the last year. It’s deeply rewarding on a personal level (and I imagine Tim might feel similarly) because Oklahoma’s interest, excitement, and faith in Reclaim helped us take the leap from giving free hosting and $12 domains to providing a full blown domain and web hosting infrastructure for an entire campus.

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History for me is always personal, and I track the history of Reclaim through the people who helped make it happen. It goes without saying the work Tim Owens was doing in the Winter and  Spring of 2012 with Hippie Hosting is foundational, and the inspiration for that shoeless co-operative started because folks like Alan Levine, D’Arcy Norman, Dave Cormier, and Scott Leslie were clamoring for options beyond Dreamhost and their ilk (amirite?). That’s the work that would come to define the Domain of One’s Own pilot at UMW during the 2012/2013 academic year.

Hippie Hosting

The birth of Reclaim Hosting as an idea to help universities run their own Domains projects will be forever connection with David Morgen and our trip to Emory University in January 2013. Tim and I hatched the idea on the VRE ride back to Fredericksburg after that trip while dreaming about the possibilities.

How Canadians are hatched

Reclaim’s embryonic stage is deeply associated, at least for me, with my first real crossing of paths with Audrey Watters and Kin Lane at the MIT Hackathon in March 2013—nicknamed Reclaim Open. We named the baby soon after 🙂 It was born July 31, 2013 thanks to $800 leftover from a Shuttleworth grant made possible by David Wiley, and a crazy push from Tim to say we could actually do this. We had a tremendous amount of interest when we first announced the idea, and we realized we might need some serious money for domains, so we did a community callout for a short-term loan, and raised almost $12K from our community within a week. A vast majority of it made possible by Mike Caulfield‘s unparalleled generosity. Turns out we overestimated how much we would really need (who knew 1500 people wouldn’t sign up in one day?) so we were able return the money within the month. But how amazing that folks supported our efforts from the get-go and helped us finance the beginnings of this adventure with no expectations of anything in return.

The following year was a roller coaster. We had over 1500 sign-ups from August through June, and we only charged folks $12, essentially the cost of a domain—we threw in a year’s hosting for free. At the same time I started digging in around the idea of the next generation of campus tilde spaces, and started presenting about Geocities, the long history of domains, and the fact that higher ed built the web, yet we continue to denature ourselves from its true potential for teaching and learning. Blah blah blah. [Much of this work was inspired by my co-teaching the Internet Course with Paul Bond, and my part at least fueled my portion of the Reclaiming Innovation article I co-wrote with Brian Lamb.]

It was the presentation at Sloan-C, “Domains in the Afterglow,” in April 2014 where all these elements finally came together in a semi-cohesive vision. That was also where and when institutions like Oklahoma and Cal State Channel Islands started to show some interest in the work Tim and I were doing. Interestingly enough, at that same moment Reclaim Hosting was down to it’s last couple of hundred dollars, and Tim and I were kind of ignoring the fact that we weren’t really sure what was next. We provided a compelling model for faculty and students getting cheap one-off sites for courses, as well as highlighting the real power of having a hosting company for the education sector run by folks who have a deep understanding of ed-tech. That said, we were doing everything at cost. And at least for a little while during late Spring I started thinking, “Well, that was fun, and it makes sense as an idea. But, alas, our bank account is near empty, so I hope someone with some business sense runs with it. What’s next?”

But then Tim and I got a call from Adam and Mark at Oklahoma (if you give any story enough time it gets back to its original point) who basically said they had gotten all the approvals and made everything possible logistically, they just needed to know if we could run a 1000 person pilot that coming Fall with Reclaim. I was sitting at the dining room table in my brother’s house in Montauk, L.I., it was late June and our vacation had just started. Listening to Mark and Adam commit marked yet another moment in Reclaim Hosting’s story. We had found partners at the institutional level who wanted to work with us. They knew we were a two person, rag-tag outfit with big mouths (that would be me)  and big archiTECHtural chops (Timmmmmyboy!) and they had faith in us. Tim and I were pinching ourselves.

That moment helped us re-calibrate for the coming year. And like dominoes, other schools started calling as well. Just a few days later Cal State Channel Islands committed to a pilot thanks to Chris Mattia, Michael Berman, Michelle Pacansky-Brock and Jill Leafstedt. All of whom, including the folks at Oklahoma, were at the Sloan-C workshop and presentation about Domains in the Afterglow.

Channel Islands pushed Tim and I on the idea of doing what we called a “Subdomain of One’s Own,”  which effectively provided all the affordances of web hosting as a subdomain of a top-level domain such as cikeys.com. So I could have jimgroom.cikeys.com and students and faculty could choose to purchase their own domain at the time of sign-up—a step which made Domain of One’s Own far more affordable for schools to run. This is exactly what Oklahoma is doing in their current roll-out campus-wide.

A few days after Channel Islands, Kristin Eshleman and Mark Sample of Davison College called to commit to a pilot. Insane. And to tie it all up in a neat package, David Morgen from Emory (the point of inception [INCEPTION!]) brought the Domains project they had already been running for an entire year over to Reclaim Hosting. What we might call the first Fantastic Four institutions of Reclaim Hosting.

The academic year of 2014/2015 is a blur. I don’t really remember given all that happened, but I do know we had four amazing institutional partners, over 2500 faculty and students on our shared hosting, and Reclaim was no longer a side project. It was bonafide. This fall we have 20 more institutions joining Reclaim Hosting, and our shared hosting service has been growing exponentially, and we are quickly approaching the 5000 mark. It’s been a really, really intense 14 months since that call with Adam and Mark in late June, but all the dreams and visions that flashed before my eyes on that call are coming true. And we really couldn’t have had better partners along the way. From faculty like John Maxwell at Simon Fraser University who early on believed in what we were doing (I love that guy!) to UMW graduates like Amber May who will soon be our newest reclaimer!

When I read Adam Croom’s post today yesterday (I spent a lot of time writing this) I simply meant to draw attention to it and note how they had realized the half-baked vision of the next generation tilde spaces for higher ed at an institutional level I would have thought impossible last June. Here’s the bit from the email Adam sent to the entire Oklahoma community that struck me:

Today I’m excited to let you know that, with the support of the Office of the Senior Vice President and Provost and OU Information Technology, OU Create is moving to full production and requests for use will no longer be required. Starting today, users can register a subdomain (yourname.oucreate.com) at no cost or purchase a top-level domain (yourdomain.com) for $12/year. This domain is registered directly to the user, owned by them, and transferable to any domain registrar at any point in time.

Because OU Create is now openly available to members of the OU community, OU IT will begin a process of decommissioning older web services. Students.ou.edu will be taken offline following the Fall 2015 semester and faculty-staff.ou.edu will be set to expire at the end of Summer 2016. All files maintained within these spaces that you wish to keep will need to be transferred to OU Create.

This email feels like another giant leap in Reclaim’s short history, and we could have only gotten to this point because we work with some seriously awesome folks who want to empower their community members to share far and wide.

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1 Response to A Long Short History of Reclaim Hosting

  1. Pingback: 7 Years of Reclaim Hosting | bavatuesdays

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