For about a year and a half now—ever since the Reclaim Your Domain Hackathon in LA—I have been talking about an aesthetic for the Reclaim movement. I think that was probably the wrong approach. A movement probably shouldn’t have just one aesthetic, but a diverse range of aesthetics that share a loose set of principles (i.e., reclaiming the web). The real magic of the community would be sharing and riffing on how each of the various nodes within this scene shape their work for their specific context. In other words, how they define their own aesthetic or their own sound—so to speak.
The music metaphor has been tricky in the past, but it’s also hard to avoid because it is so resonant with so many. Over a year ago at Davidson College I did a very short presentation on the idea of Indie Web Domains:
What if we thought about universities doing domains projects, kinda like indie labels promoting unknown bands and seeding a local scene. Domains could provide an infrastructure of support and promotion for the faculty, students, clubs, groups, projects, etc. that is all done in their own space. Reinforcing a DIY ethic inherited from punk. What if each school was known by the variety of it’s different approaches, ideas, and visions for what the independent web means.
A Domains project at a school could be one way of providing independent, open source alternatives to the Clear Channel LMSs that everywhere define the monotonous beat of most of edtech. It helped refine the idea that each distinct community would define what reclaiming the web means for them. We began to think about Reclaim Hosting as an independent provider of edtech for individuals, courses, and institutions alike.
Cut to April of last year in Barcelona, I found myself sitting around a table with Audrey Watters, Sheila MacNeil, Martin Weller, Doug Belshaw, and this bloke I never met before Bryan Mathers (you like that Britishese, right?). I was going back and forth with this lively, very British group (Audrey counts in that assessment 🙂 ) about the idea of Reclaim Hosting as akin to an independent record store that both aggregates and highlights all the awesome bands both locally and beyond. One of the many things that struck me while reading Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could be Your Life was how local records stores and clubs cultivated an alternative scene and formed the basis of an international network of independent culture. Bands like Black Flag were so important because they were early activators of that network for US Hardcore punk—much of how I think about the line-up of UMW’S DTLT from 2011 through 2015.
Anyway, the conversation came and went as most good ones do. I didn’t think anything of it until out of the blue Bryan Mathers sent me the following sketch he made based on some of the ideas we talked about around that table in Barcelona a couple of months earlier.
And this simplified version without the “Empowering Community” bit on the record label.
That must have been back in May or June, I’m not sure. But I loved it and I talked with Tim Owens and Lauren Brumfield about revamping our site over the summer to start reflecting this new aesthetic but before we could the semester started for us sometime in early July and never slowed down. A good thing, no doubt, but I was anxious to revisit this project. In fact, Adam Croom officially christened the movement Indie Ed-Tech in a joint presentation we gave at dLRN, and I rode the idea for the rest of the year. Audrey Watters aspirational year-end post about Indie Ed-Tech laid the whole thing out beautifully, as she is wont to do. I reached out to Bryan in early December and told him we wanted to officially adopt his art as Reclaim’s logo, and might he be interested in exploring more creative work with us as a broader aesthetic. Luckily for us, he’s interested and has agreed! In fact, Bryan runs a non-profit digital creative agency, Wapisasa, that is community-based and develops young people’s creative talents. What a perfect match!
We had an awesome discussion in late December wherein we mapped out a creative project we will be working on over the course of 2015 based on a bunch of sketches—which I loved—that he provided after our first chat. He even gave me a quick reworking of the Reclaim logo that reverses the colors and includes the Indie Edtech idea on the label!
The color re-working is specifically to replace the logo on our site which is currently blue-themed, and provides the first piece of an ongoing story. We will be rolling out the aesthetic over the coming year little-by-little, as a kind of ongoing exploration of the independent record store metaphor in relationship to what we do and the various people, courses, organizations and institutions we work with. We will be building out a catalog of work, so to speak, and I couldn’t be more excited by the prospect.
But as Bryan and I were talking about all of this we recognized that this is just one visual approach to try and tell stories around what we are doing, and we hope others join in a create their own. The idea, as I said at the beginning of this post, that there are many aesthetics that fuel a broader vision of what we want the web to be, so let 1000 alternatives bloom! In fact, the way we are planning the whole catalog idea, we are trying to build in room for just that, but more on that in another post.