Mike Caulfield has a really interesting post on the future of personal cyperinfrastructures. The crux of the argument is while Domain of One’s Own is right, true and beautiful, no one really wants to manage their own bit of a server through a cPanel-driven web hosting environment. In fact, life is already far too cold, brutish, and short to add sysadmin to the mix 😉
His idea, instead, is that folks should have a virtualized server stack that they install apps on that they buy, but at the point of sale you own the app and its data which are both kept on your own server (which is encrypted so your virtual host can’t read). In other words, you own your data and your apps in a highly customizable, portable, and secure virtualized server environment, but you don’t have to worry about the sysadmin headache.
I really like his vision as a broader cultural model to move towards, and I think it’s a pretty smart frame for what’s to come. But as Ryan Brazell notes in his comment on that post, it’s not exactly in the spirit of Domain of One’s Own as we’ve imagined it. We are far more interested in a curricular intervention. We actually want some of this stuff to be visible and remain challenging, we want students to struggle a bit with this environment, and we want faculty to consider the roots of the web. That said, I’m not suggesting folks need to suffer to learn. This isn’t the Christian vision of sacrifice for salvation. An investment in understanding conceptually and technically how the web works through the cPanel interface provides a curricular and technological platform for just that.
What’s more, at this point more than 600 people at UMW have have signed up for a domain and used CPanel to create subdomains, installed their own application, and more. That’s something—it tells me that while we keeping saying this stuff is hard and we need it to be easier when, in fact, it’s (a) not all that hard and (b) a worthy concept space to struggle with regardless. But I agree with Mike that the struggle need not be for everyone all the time. UMW Domains might benefit from more seamless options for creating a subdomain or installing a new blog. Tim Owens has been talking about such a setup for a while using APIs in a WordPress dashboard—I’m totally onboard. There are times when the CPanel might not be necessary, but it’s presence as a tool for folks to explore and figure out remains essential to the project.
I wrote a post the other day that UMW is exploring virtualized server environments, so Mike’s argument speaks to me on this front. But I guess I tend to see reasons and possibilities for both the old gold LAMP environment with the CPanel GUI interface as well as the ability to fire up servers, experiment with apps, etc. I can even see us giving each student a virtualized environment down the road as well so they can map subdomains on various tools they are using in the virtualized environment. Why limit them to one space? Why limit freedom?
I both love Mike’s idea and I share Ryan’s concerns. Making something like Domain of One’s Own too plug-and-play defeats the purpose, at the same time making it too hard is not a solution either. Making it part of the discourse on campus around what the web is and how we need to think about it more broadly for our teaching is exactly what we want to communicate!