UMW and in particular the folks at DTLT have a long history of talking up the idea of "a domain of one's own" which basically is the philosophy that there is great power in putting responsibility for getting a domain space and in some ways becoming a sysadmin of webspace in the student's hands. It's a philosophy that we've put in to action semester after semester at ds106 and Martha continues in her digital identity course this semester. UMW Blogs provides a powerful first step in giving faculty, staff and students the power to publish to the web with ease, but the limitations of running just Wordpress, a specific subset of themes and plugins, makes the space...well limited. A student can buy a domain name and map it to UMW Blogs but ultimately when they leave UMW they're going to have to buy web hosting elsewhere and migrate all that data off. Wordpress doesn't make this terribly difficult, but what if there was a better way?
It's funny how life repeats itself. After a powerful conversation over lunch today with my coworkers I started doing some research about where we've come and came across Jim's post all the way back in 2008 of the same title which details a vision for which the energy is now renewed. Technology, products, and services are sufficiently advanced to realize this dream once and for all, and it's time for UMW to make waves by becoming what might be the first university to issue domains to students upon enrollment. Now I'm not talking something like umw.edu/student/~whatever, I'm talking about the possibility of creating a system whereby students receive a gift card to Hover or some similar domain registrar where they get to claim what will be their space and then we provide the hosting completely free of charge for them to start building their digital identity online. Sound like an IT nightmare? It's easier than you think.
After talking about the idea of a hosting plan that could support multiple users with a few others in my network we came upon MediaTemple's DV servers which offer the ability to not only host regular domains and provide space/bandwidth/etc but they can also be setup as a reseller that can offer domains their own control panel and segregated space. After talking about this for a few days we jumped the gun and went for it and Hippie Hosting was born. For me to be able to setup a site that can accept orders for hosting that automatically creates a webspace with control panel and all the bells and whistles of popular hosting provides....well that's incredible! I'm not even some IT sysadmin guru. I'm learning a lot already but this is something the university could easily provide. I'm sure we could find a domain registrar who would love to partner with us on it and maybe Media Temple would get in on the action as well. It would be incredibly powerful. And I see this going beyond simple web hosting.
As Jim implies in his blog post and what has become even more apparent over the past few years at UMW is that providing students the path to create a digital identity and space online has huge academic implications that are much more far reaching than simply a place to put your files. This is exactly the discussion that people are having about the idea of "e-portfolios" redefined for the modern web. UMW can lead the way by providing students free of charge the ability to create their online identity and space, guide them through the process, support them every step of the way, and build it directly into the academic discipline of the curriculum taught here. This is an idea that has far-reaching implications and its time has arrived. For now if you're interested in being a part of the process and you're looking to stop supporting companies that suck, you can join our small band of merry misfits at Hippie Hosting. I'm waiving all fees and overriding all invoices when you sign up so we can get plenty of people involved and figure out a reasonable amount of money to keep it alive. Perhaps a pricing scheme could be worked out where people pay what they can and are willing to. How's that for a different kind of hosting provider? I'm excited for the possibilities this provides for UMW, DTLT, and beyond!