Small Systems Integration

I’m not sure exactly what I mean by this. In fact, that very idea has me excited as a move towards see more small things happen. Small things is a theme I will be exploring this Spring, it resulted from a great discussion with the organizers of the AMICAL conference this year in Rome I’ll be speaking at. The focus will be on small things, a sense of post-MOOC taking stock of the valence of terms like massive/local, big/small (data), and  corporate/indie, the shape of the talk is not entirely clear to me though but I am taking Calvin Johnson’s advice and exploring E.F. Schumacher‘s book Small is Beautiful which posits the idea of Appropriate Technology. I’m excited by this talk, and I still have months to prepare. It really make s a huge difference when conference organizers take an hour of their time and talk to you about their community, their needs, and the general sense of focus and interest. I’m absolutely certain this talk will be the better for it.

And while the idea of small is bouncing around in my mind Tim Owens and I get on call with Jon Udell. One of the things he is thinking through right now is small systems integration. In particular as product manager for Hypothesis, how did Reclaim integrate web hosting into a universities identity management systems. Fact is, our work with providing universities a seamless, integrated service for web hosting on their campus is pretty awesome.  We integrate with several authentication systems used at various universities: CAS, Shibboleth, Active Directory, LDAP, and we joined InCommon, a federated ID management consortium through Internet2, to make the Shibboleth that much more seamless.

How do we do it? Well, mostly through WordPress plugins.  We wrap CPanel web hosting in a WordPress instance that enables us to use existing plugins to negotiate their various authentication systems. We still need to work with the campus IT and make sure we are getting only the user attributes they want us to have and we can then hand off that user to CPanel as an iframe in a WordPress page to provide a small, seamlesss integration of web hosting for a campus through single sign-on. However we feel about the push for single sign-on, it certainly makes provisioning and setting up web hosting around campus 1000x simpler, and that matters a ton. We’ve been having more and more schools use InCommon to integrate their Domain of One’s Own web hosting package. Once it’s up and working, it is beautiful. That said, Shibboleth is a complex beast and Tim has been digging in the last couple of months, and while listening to him talk to Udell yesterday about how Hypothesis might be able to provide schools like Oklahoma, BYU, Davidson, Emory, etc. might provide a more seamless, integrated solution for a campus to use their service for annotating across sites, LMS, courses, etc. is powerful is you are thinking about a campus tool available as a SPLOT. a simply tool for annotation you install through a WordPress container with pre-configured plugins integrated back to Hypothesis would be such small, simple, and useful edtech tool.

I realized these small system integrations that provide a user access to their work and federated across several services that ultimately feedback into a personal API is very much the trajectory of work the Domain of One’s Own need to follow. How do we start seamlessly integrating in small, focused ways to build a wider federation of tools that help us manage and control the discovery and narrative of who we are on line and off. I have to keep this in focus, and the opportunity to hear Jon and Tim go, which was my point to begin with, reinforces for me we are doing just that. We are in full create mode at Reclaim now and key folks are starting to come together and get this work funded and working right, which in terms demonstrates the power of providing a campus community alternatives that need not be massive, expensive, or singular, it can be small, cheap, and decentralized. I like this path, it may not win widespread appeal, but that’s all right, in fact it’s kind of the point.

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One Response to Small Systems Integration

  1. Maha Bali says:

    Happy ur meeting with us sparked this direction of writing (I won’t say thinking coz it was always already there somewhere). Looking forward to how this turns out

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