Domains: Own, Value, Care, Time

Like a small stubborn, unique, old fashioned house surrounded by modern monolithic mega modern glass and steel structures, the Domain of Ones Own project started at the University of Mary Washington stands out as one hope amongst Educational Technology’s adoration of mega scale, management, analytics, automation, and tall tall towers of data, data, data.

Much like Edith Macefield’s home.

And much like (will all my first sentences here include “like”?) someone claiming they were at Woodstock, I will love telling people I was there when Domain of One’s Own happened. I worked 8 months DTLT starting in January 2012. While not in any way an architect like Jim Groom and Tim Owens of a vision that goes back to Gardner Campbell’s A Personal Cyberinfrastructure, I had a front row seat (and flew some of the pilot flights) for the launch of Domain of One’s Own.

Domain of One’s Own, just about un-acronym-able (just try “DoOO”), is not my story to tell.

But the sections of DS106 the open Digital Storytelling class I taught in 2012-2013 were among the first ones to pilot DoOO. A characteristic of DS106 from the start was that students did all of their work in a their own online space, not the University’s LMS, not even UMW’s own WordPress Multisite, but each student publishing to a domain of their choosing.

The first section I taught was in-person for the Spring 2012 semester; at that time we had students register their own domains AND set up a low cost hosting account with set up for us by Jim’s colleague, Zach Davis of Cast Iron Coding.

It was almost 2 weeks to get all the students through those hoops before they even got to using their WordPress sites. In that time, all of the student’s WordPress blogs got hacked with a taunting black screen boasting the mark of Emre5807. For many, this is a total disaster. For DS106, it was a chance for students to see a bit of the underbelly of the internet, to learn to re-install their software, and we made Emre5807 a character for them to build stories about (@Emre5807 is still on twitter, I know nothing about that).

The wheels were in motion for Domain of One’s Own- before it was even created, it was a repeated expression in Jim’s repertoire. Tim had learned the ins and outs of web hosting in a side experiment called Hippie Hosting, a sort of ed-tech hosting co-op for a few of us who were tired of getting run arounds with commercial web hosts.

Faculty Academy! Daculty Academy!
flickr photo shared by cogdogblog under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

At the 2012 Faculty Academy I recall Domain of One’s Own was already established as a pilot project and presented there to UMW faculty (it was a lunch session “Domain of One’s Own Discussion for Interested Parties in 211” – 211 is a room number!).

The summer 2012 section of DS106 I taught with Martha Burtis, our Camp Magic McGuffin theme, might have been among the first ones using DoOO (and probably one of Zach Walen’s classes). I know for sure I used it for my Fall 2012 online section of DS106 and the Spring 2013 section I taught for UMW.

The set up absolutely worked; what previously took two weeks for an entire section to get their domains registered and web sites set up and WordPress installed, now took two days.

But to me it’s not the Domains part that is important. And while the Own is powerful… it’s the Our that matters.

Because when it’s ours, we care about it, like Edith felt about her house.

Another session I remember from the 2012 Faculty Academy was on student portfolios, and because that’s the way they roll, the main speakers were students. The idea of blog portfolios had traction before DoOO in the longer established UMW platform of UMW Blogs– a university hosted WordPress site where registered students could create any number of sites.

The two students in the Faculty Academy ePortfolio session emphasized that just getting handed a site or a domain as new students probably would not mean much; that the power, benefit, and value after having experiences a series of uses of public web sites for their work in multiple courses. That’s what UWM Blog established; doing a blog for a class was not a one teacher experiment, it happened repeatedly. The experience built on itself.

These students said that having meaningful assignments in course blogs is what opened their minds to ideas how they could use blogs for interests outside of specific courses. I remember Shannon Hauser, then a student, showing us her UMWBlogs “dashboard” where she had a set of maybe 10, 15, or more different WordPress sites she had made for classes and clubs in her years at UMW (Shannon has her domain going

UMW Blogs was a foundation that helped make DoOO such a success at UMW.

But, as Davidson College student Andrew Rikard pointed out last year, just handing students domains is not going to accomplish much. In his EdSurge article Do I Own My Domain If You Grade It?, he zeroes on it a key question:

I agree that owning data has the potential to give students agency and control. But it is not a guarantee.

I want to shift the emphasis from data possession to knowledge production. Gaining ownership over the data is vital—but until students see this domain as a space that rewards rigor and experimentation, it will not promote student agency. Traditional assignments don’t necessarily empower students when they have to post them in a public space.

Andrew saw some courses use DoOO as a vehicle of taking “audience into account, considering the implications of public scholarship, representation, and student agency.” But he saw others that used it more like an LMS-ish assignment drop box.

My experience with DoOO at UMW was really in the pilot phase, and before it was offered to all students. For many of my students, their experience was for that one DS106 course. And while we focus much on getting a course’s evaluation at its end, my belief has always been that its more important to find out what the course experience meant to students years afterward.

In August 2013, a few months after the last DS106 course I taught at UMW, I wondered what happened to my previous students’ web sites. I always kept a spreadsheet for each class, so I ran a link check tool on the 81 students domains– summing the results up as Withering Domains

On a quick glance, 27 or 33% have kept their ds106 blogs, and 7 or 9% have used them for other purposes… But the thing is, most students see their domains again as a place to do assignment work for one class.

None of my students my first 2 sections had kept their domains, and in fact I found that four of the expired student domains had been bought by those weird entities that reuse domains as “splogs” or spam blogs set up to build google search rank for businesses often shady. I saw that as a small statement of value for those domains. That’s a partly full glass.

One of the small rewards of using DoOO was seeing the creative ways students chose their domain names– when I look these over, I see it as a personal choice as identities not necessarily their names (I did encourage them to pick something to reflect their interests or personalities, suggesting that is pretty dull).

Enjoy this random list of all 81 Domains I Once Knew:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Now some three years later I was curious to see what as changed. I got smart today and set up a Google Spreadsheet equipped with a custom formula that can test if a link is still valid (the function I found is from Check On Page for Broken Links in Google Docs; I changed it slightly to return ALIVE for a 200 HTTP status response, and DEAD otherwise).

Out of 81 domains my former DS106 students at one time owned, 19 of them reported ALIVE. On manually checking those links (because you can’t just run with data), many of them were either parked (abandoned) domains, others set up as spam blogs, or in a few cases, owned by people different from the original student.

I got yer data summary!


Out of those 81 sites created by my DS106 students, only 6 of them (7.4%) were still owned by those students (it might be 7, one of them is now a cooking site and I cannot tell if it is the same person that I taught at UMW).

Some might say that’s not great, but I still maintain that this was a factor of most of them being done in time when DoOO was a pilot. But don’t look at them as data or cells in spreadsheet, these six living domains are people:

  • Haley (Fall 2012 was an exceptional writer, she did a senior project of analyzing DS106, which she summarized in a post describing it as “an ethos of teaching”. I see her now and then in twitter, and I believe she is working in the field of publishing. And writing poetry.
  • Eric (Fall 2012 used his domain for later classes. I heard from him after his DS106 section with me, he sent me this link about a YouTube video he made for his final project– “112000 views in 3 months, someone try to top that with their final project”. That’s more views than I have ever gotten (maybe combining all my YouTube videos). I’ve heard he’s about to start an internship with the National Park Service.
  • Enisa (Fall 2012, used her domain for a Marketing class after DS106; I would guess she has graduated. Maybe she is in her one year of hosting that UMW provides after students graduate?
  • Jennifer’s (Spring 2013 primary domain does not have much in it, but all of her ds106 work is still in her subdomain. She had a memorable post No Rules for Good Photographs featuring a fantastic photo of her husband holding a lens in which his face is inverted. I’ve used it a few times in presentations (with credit, naturally); in September of this year I tried to contact her through her flickr account to seek permission to use for a talk where I had to use media only openly licensed. I did not hear back, but I saw through her flickr photos that she was doing wonder work in Art Therapy.
  • Alice (Spring 2013 still has her domain up with all of her DS106 student. She was in a creative plane of all her own; I recall she had one some contest that funded her getting a 3D printer she had set up in her dorm room. I would guess by now she has graduated.
  • Amber (Spring 2013 came in to ds106 as a very talented voiceover artist already; she already had a collection of YouTube cartoons that she had done the voices for. In class, she taught me how she used her closet as a recording booth, where the hanging clothes provide the baffling of studio. Her site is a current portfolio of the creative work she is doing now (this whole post was somewhat inspired by a tweet she shared in the last few weeks).

And do you know who else the domain data leaves out? I got a tweet in January from Karissa, a Spring 2013 student who let her domain go, but she shared how she was using the video skills she learned in DS106 as an elementary school math teacher. This is An Unexpected Affirmation of Why I Teach:

A domain on its own is temporary, it’s something we rent, and can choose to not pay for anymore. The same for web hosting. I’d love to see more people see their work as valuable and worth preserving.

But I’ve maintain that it’s our relationship to this space that matters. The only artifact I have from high school is a yearbook and maybe some typewritten papers my Mom saved; from my undergraduate experience I have only two textbooks; from my graduate school experience a box of slides, field notebooks, and a few papers.

These are really but fragments of the lived experience.

In some past presentations I have shown this image and asked the audience if they can identify what kind of room it is.

Room Design
flickr photo shared by cogdogblog under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

Of course it is recognizable as a hotel room (I think this was a room I had in Canberra, Australia in 2006). You can see the questionable decor of the bed spread, a complete lack of anything personal on the walls, and affordances like one outlet on the opposite side of the room of the desk.

We do not have much of a relationship with this space, it’s a brief one. It of course does not say much about me as someone in the space. It’s not mine, my presence will be wiped when I leave. This is an LMS.

Now compare that image to another bedroom:

Sorry I cannot remember where I got this photo from. I sure hope it was openly licensed
Sorry I cannot remember where I got this photo from. I sure hope it was openly licensed

This may not be your style of decor either, but this room asserts its inhabitant. This person owns this space AND they care about the stuff on the walls, on the bed. It oozes “them-ness”.

And I maintain that how we feel in these two spaces, both of which serve the same purpose as a room to sleep in, but our energy level in those rooms is dramatically different because of our relationship to the space. We feel and act differently in our own spaces.

The room metaphor is no accident.

Domains will be important to students in the longer run, beyond their time at an institution, but not because they own it. It will be important to them if they find it has a value to them beyond a few courses. And it will be valuable to them if they care about their domain, maybe even love it? if it reflects who they are, what they feel is important in a way no other hotel chain can.

To repeat what Andrew wrote, owning domains is not enough.

Owning data has the potential to give students agency and control. But it is not a guarantee.

Not every student will come to love their domain. Many will let it go when they are out there in their first jobs, when the finances are thin. I would choose food over a domain. But their decision will also hinge on what theirrelationship is to that domain, and if that provides something useful to them not just in the present, but the future.

I know that value, when I can look back and see how far I have come, or just to know what was important to me on say any day in my past I’ve mostly forgotten, perhaps April 21, 2013 or maybe October 29, 2008.

It’s a domain. And it’s a room. And what happens to it matters more over time.

Just look at Edith’s house in Seattle –well maybe not, the internet says it’s abandoned– but her story, her spirit is there, her Edith-ness is imbued in its walls.

I’d rather be in a house like Edith’s, brimming with stories, than in a mall.

Top / Featured Image: Thinking of an image of one of those old houses surrounded by crummy houses or big buildings, I searched for Google Images (licensed for reuse) for nice house surrounded by slum but all I got were slum photos. There are a lot of slum photos. I went back and tried house surrounded by buildings, and bingo, found the image above in Wikimedia Commons, but the source is a flickr photo by magnetbox shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license.

This old farmhouse house, owned by a feisty lady in Seattle named Edith Macefield, is a whole fascinating story in itself, as she refused to sell it to developers who built a giant mall surrounding, engulfing it on three sides. The“Holdout” episode on 99% Invisible is a touching story where the construction superintendent ended up becoming her friend; when she died she left the house to him.

A group of locals are fans– the Army of Edith Mayfield wear tattoos of her old house. Learn more of Edith and her house on Wikipedia.

The post “Domains: Own, Value, Care, Time” was originally yanked out of the teeth of a rabid chicken at CogDogBlog ( on August 2, 2016.

Alan Levine feels weird writing about himself in the third person.  A 1990s pioneer on the web and  early proponent of blogging, he shares his ideas at His interests include web storytelling (#ds106 #4life), mocking MOOCs, daily photography, bending WordPress, and randomly dipping into the infinite river of the internet. He and his dog enjoy the peace of a little home in Strawberry, Arizona.