Lauren Hanks and I presented about Reclaim Cloud on the final day of the conference. This was in the afternoon after my “Web 2.0 and Web3 Walk into a Bar…” talk, and I think the two work together quite nicely. Whereas in the morning I discussed the loose federation of blogging that characterized early Web 2.0 and how much of that spirit was present in Web3 tools like Mastodon, this talk focused on how Reclaim Cloud enables folks to more easily install and host many of these next generation tools.
I’ll try and give a basic walk-through of the presentation in a bit, but it’s worth noting here that the break-through for us with this presentation were the following two sketches by Bryan Mathers: “Reclaim Containers” and “Reclaim Container Cranes.” These were images that were part of the original Reclaim Cloud concept artwork. We never did had these fully fleshed out and colored given we wanted to focus on the retro space-age vision inspired by the Jetsons. That said, when putting this presentation together Lauren and I realized that these visual/conceptual aides allowed us to describe clearly and concisely how containerization works.
With the ship you can think of that as analogous to the server that delivers a series of containers. In this example those containers are brilliantly visualized as VHS tapes, not only to remain on brand, but also to communicate each is its own product, such as WordPress, PeerTube, Mastodon, Ghost, etc. And I think that provides a visual metaphor you can wrap your head around quickly and easily, something Martin Weller and I discuss at length with the Milton-esque extended nautical simile that is Docker in a forthcoming episode of his indispensable edtech podcast series on metaphors.
The illustrative power of the “Container Crane” image was not immediately clear to me until talking with Lauren when she noted that this is Reclaim’s role in helping folks understand and manage this new environment. So the cranes in the shipyard help manage and orchestrate these containers, becoming the metaphor for how Reclaim can help with the “heavy lifting” of the next generation of server infrastructure. It all starts to work, and this is something I’ve been banging my head on since 2015 or so. I’ve not been able to adequately communicate the brilliance of this metaphor. Lo and behold, it only took two images from Bryan Mathers for that breakthrough. If nothing else, folks listening to us might now have an apt visual metaphor to make sense of containerization and how it differs from more traditional web hosting. Long live Mathers art!
In terms of the presentation, we started with a Demo of the Reclaim Cloud interface and the one-click Marketplace installer.
What’s interesting about the above image, is it’s really similar to the image Martha Burtis made for our presentation in 2006 when talking about Fantastico and one-click apps for cPanel hosting in Bluehost:
This is not the exact slide from the Bluehost experiment talk, but it’s some derivative version of it that I continued to change and use for years afterwards, and funny how it makes the point, at least to me, that Reclaim Cloud is essentially the next iteration of what we started doing at UMW 18 years ago.
Lauren then discussed the idea floated by EDUCAUSE back in 2015 called the Next Generation Digital Learning Environment (NGDLE). It was the promise of a Lego-like structure of applications and components that would be built around the LMS to provide more “personalized” learning and broader access to data, resources, and, most importantly, tool integration. It was also predicated on a cloud-like space for users that define the apps they use for learning. Obviously we felt Domain of One’s Own, just gaining some traction in 2015, was an excellent example of one instance of this vision—just without all the LMS nonsense 🙂
In this regard, the NGDLE white paper was appealing, but the follow-up essays in a special issue in 2017 were a bit more disconcerting. At first the calls for open standards and a general sense of the limitlessness of transparency seemed promising, but it was troubling when these words were written by then Chief Digital Officer for McGraw-Hill Publishing. Stephen Laster‘s call for radical openness when it comes to the “free flow of identity, rostering, and learning data,” which seems more like a free-for-all for student data collection than a thoughtful integration of open tools.
One of the travesties of the term open has been its seemingly uncontested goodness when it comes to edtech. I’ve certainly contributed to that problem, but when we’re talking about openness of identity and learning data in relationship to students within systems—this sounds more like a plan to make sure those various interested parties gain unbridled access to personal data within the NGDLE. That approach is very much the opposite of vision we have for Reclaim Cloud. While the NGDLE proved an acronym only a mother could love, the idea of collecting student data en masse and ensuring a more invasive and surveillance-ready series of tool integrations did come to bare. And I would argue none of these free-flowing efficiencies have resulted in anything resembling better experiences for students, not to say anything about that laughable metric of “success” in this context. Beware the wolf in open sheep’s clothing.
But despite all the scheming and posturing of companies large and small vying for student data, an open standard around containerization for the web was congealing and the vision of a cloud-based space for students to explore various applications was on the horizon. Docker was a huge piece of this shift. I talked a bit about the shipping metaphor at more length, this time using examples from Marc Levinson’s book The Box: How the Shipping Container Made the World Smaller and the World Economy Bigger.
I also re-used part of the script I wrote for my small piece in the “Understanding Containers” flex-course Taylor Jadin and I ran back in July, and I do think it holds up:
From there we pulled out the container ship images Bryan Mathers created and we could finally hear the “AHA” moment everyone was having 🙂
After that we returned to the Reclaim Cloud interface, and hit what I think is another huge point of this presentation. The difference, arguably, between what was happening with Web 2.0 software in 2006 and what is happening with containers in 2023 is that not only can it be a sandbox for edtechs to explore a wide-range of tools that were heretofore unimaginable to run without major infrastructure investments from IT. But, even crazier, any of those sandbox products that hit and gain traction can be seamlessly scaled to enterprise for a fraction of the costs. We used our recent WordPress Multiregion work in Reclaim Cloud to demonstrate this, and I believe this is the other piece of the evolution of this infrastructure over the last 20 years. You not only get a next generation sandbox, but that can seamlessly transition to an enterprise solution that fails over to multiple data centers across multiple regions with automated backups all with a few clicks in GUI interface.
I have much more to say about our forthcoming cloud-based WordPress hosting interface, which is quite exciting, but I think this same logic extends more broadly to cloud-based apps well beyond Reclaim Cloud. We’re in a brave new world of infrastructure that allows us to run our own federated social networks akin to Twitter or Facebook with the click of a button, there is some degree of magic to that—at least it would be for 2006 me trying to figure out how to keep WordPress up and running on shared hosting. AVANTI!