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Digital Storytelling: Week 2

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Week two was dedicated to exploring and experimenting with the “Domain of One’s Own” Gardner Campbell had conceptually framed in week 1. They all bought a domain, and what I found interesting is a number of students bought .info domains because they were cheap (.89 cents), I kinda like that. A domain is a domain is a domain—a url to call home, and if it costs next to nothing all the better, and you never know they could be the start of a new trend in domain names. They also had to setup their web hosting account, and while I didn’t limit who they could host with, I wanted to provide a cheap, short-term option for hosting that I could potentially help with in the event of a meltdown.

So, I asked Zach Davis and Lucas Thurston of Cast Iron Coding fame if they would revive the idea behind the hosting-cooperative and get students setup on a standard, shared LAMP web server with CPanel on a monthly basis. Zach and Lucas came through for me, as they always do, and provided a short-term solution that wouldn’t cost students $100 or $130 up front for a year. Rather, 10 bucks a month for 3 or 4 months which is a bit more expensive that Bluehost, but it’s short term and if they go with this option (which most, but not all, did) they can decide what they want to do with their data at the end of class—it will actually be an issue we’ll spend the last week dealing with both technically and conceptually. I figure they have an array of options to consider: moving to a commodity web host full-time, take down their work all together, move it to UMW Blogs,, Blogger, Drupal, whatever—they need to think this through and make a decision, and it will be an excellent way to round out the course.

Week 2 was kinda fun for me, we talked through pointing their domains to the web hosting nameservers, creating subdomains, looking at the file manager in CPanel, what addon domains are, where their databases are, as well as PHPMyAdmin, but most importantly I showed them Fantastico. This made them getting up and going with their own WordPress blog rather easy (and we did go with WordPress at my suggestion for now, but already a few have installed and are playing with Drupal, Geeklog, etc.). I think I want them to have to install a CMS or forum software from scratch, and I might ask them to experiment with this over the next ten weeks–we’ll see. Cause while I like Fantastico well enough, it isn;t great for installing more complex applications like Drupal and Typo3, and I think the experience of installign a web app manually has some value in terms of learning how the pieces work.

I think I enjoyed these two classes so much because I personlly learned so much by playing with the CPanel and figuring out how to manage my own blog/data, and while I can;t guarantee that was the experience for them. It was apparent that many were having fun, and while it is at times confusing and frustrating, there is a sense of pride that goes with rolling your own that quickly becomes apparent. I have to find a way to bring in at least one new element/trick/tip for CPanel and their web hosting every week, to get the full effect of what it is they have control over—any ideas would be more than welcome?

What was also nice about week two is that a few students came out of the blog gate running. Matthew Keaton created a tutorial for the class about installing and tweaking themes for WordPress (a form of digital storytelling near and dear to my heart). And Mr. Charlie Rocket took the time to photoshop a compelling image of his online haunts, inspired by Gardner’s discussion of the nonlinearity of cyber presence.  I love the way he uses the cityscape to suggests varying levels (or heights?) of presence through a particular tool.

Image credit: Mr. Charlie Rocket