I’m a big fan of Kin Lane‘s for many reasons: he’s west coast cool, he’s passionate about what he believes in, he’s a technical wizard, and he wraps that all up with some intense creativity and vision. What one might call the complete package. He’s ramping up his Reclaim efforts currently, and we got to spend some time together at the Emory Domain Incubator to start imagining what that might look like more broadly.
One of the ideas he was toying around with I really loved came as a response to the presentation Tim Owens and Martha Burtis gave about their work setting up the Domain of One’s Own environment at UMW. They talked about hacking the management and billing software WHMCS to hide all traces of money from all students, staff and faculty using the service. This makes sense because none of them pay anything to get a domain and web hosting. So much of WHMCS is defined around domains costs, billing notices, overdue warnings, etc. The software is designed for folks who want to resell domains and hosting so this makes sense, no one really buys that software in order to give products away 🙂 So as Tim and Martha quickly learned, erasing any mention of money from this application for UMW Domains was hard—the transactional logic is written into its DNA.
What Kin suggested during their session is that perhaps the WHMCS layer needs to function more as an educational/social experience that explains how domains and web hosting works, helps people understand how to think like the web in a contextual manner, and links a community together. I love this idea, and it’s funny that an article Kin linked to on Twitter just over an hour ago in Wired about the Indie Box project gets at some of this in there reference to an open source application marketplace on these personal servers. But two of the issues I see with that project are a) you have to pay $500 for your own server, and b) you have to manage your own server.
Don’t get me wrong, the vision behind this project is awesome, and I’m a big fan. I’m just wondering if the hosted part of our identities on the web doesn’t still make some sense. You can still move your life bits to open source applications on a solid web host, and you can still have a marketplace for open source applications, Installatron is a pretty solid example of this. Kin has talked about building a marketplace of APIs that pull your contributions from various third-party, NSA-friendly platforms into your own server—but do you want to opt out all together? Maybe, but managing a server under your desk was never much fun, and I can’t imagine it will be that much better now.
So, thinking about this the idea Jon Udell was exploring in 2007 about hosted lifebits might be a conversation we’re ready to have more broadly currently given that the NSA is scanning our emails and Google and Facebook are hoarding our data. I think many of us would be willing to pay for hosted services that enable us to store and share our various digital lifebits, providing access and privacy as needed. In many ways Kin’s idea of the re-imagined layer for domain and hosting management might consider what this might look like as a way at this issue. What if people created API tools you could pay a nominal fee for to ensure you could regularly archive your tweets, Flickr images, Facebook updates, etc? What if you could go beyond that an ensure some consistency of your online environments in terms of links, media, etc? Engineering an open web can only happen when each of us starts reclaiming some of the fundamental pieces of our personal digital archives, which does not necessarily mean taking on the role of full blown server admin. Collaborative labor collectives can be useful in some scenarios 🙂
This is one of the things I really want to start thinking about in relationship to Reclaim Your Domain. How can I start reclaiming my various online spaces that I’ve been living in for the last decade or more to go through the process of consolidating and ensuring a future for these conversations within and beyond the moment.