Getting Your Own Space on the Web…

To a certain extent, we can all be web publishers now: social media let’s us share words, pictures and videos, online office suites allow us to publish documents and spreadsheets, code repositories allow us to share code, sites like Shinyapps.io allow you to publish specific sorts of applications, and so on.

So where do initiatives like a domain of one’s own come in, which provide members of a university (originally), staff and students alike, with a web domain and web hosting of their own?

One answer is that they provide a place on the web for you to call your own. With a domain name registered (and nothing else – not server requirements, no applications to install) you can set up an email address that you and you alone own and use it to forward mail sent to that address to any other address. You can also use your domain as a forwarding address or alias for other locations on the web. My ouseful.info domain forwards traffic to a blog hosted on wordpress.com (I pay WordPress for the privilege of linking to my site there with my domain address); another domain I registered – f1datajunkie.com – acts as an alias to a site hosted on blogger.com.

The problem with using my domains like this mean that I can only forward traffic to sites that other people operate – and what I can do on those sites is limited by those providers. WordPress is a powerful web publishing platform, but WordPress.com only offers a locked down experience with no allowances for customising the site using your own plugins. If I paid for my own hosting, and ran my own WordPress server, the site could be a lot richer. But then in turn I would have to administer the site for myself, running updates, being responsible – ultimately – for the security and resource provisioning of the site myself.

Taking the step towards hosting your own site is a big one, for many people (I’m too lazy to host my own sites, for example…) But initiatives like Reclaim Hosting, and more recently OU Create (from Oklahoma University, not the UK OU), originally inspired by a desire to provide a personal playspace in which students could explore their own digital creativity and give them a home on the web in which they could run their own applications, eased the pain for many: the host could also be trusted, was helpful, and was affordable.

The Oklahoma create space allows students to register a subdomain (e.g. myname.oucreate.com) or custom domain (e.g. ouseful.info) and associate it with what is presumably a university hosted serverspace into which users can presumably install their own applications.

So it seems to me we can tease apart two things:

  • firstly, the ability to own a bit of the web’s “namespace” by registering your own domain (ouseful.info, for example);
  • secondly, the ability to own a bit of the web’s “functionality space”: running your own applications that other people can connect to and make use of; this might be running your own possibly blogging platform, possibly customised using your own, or third party, extensions, or it might be running one or more custom applications you have developed on your own.

But what if you don’t want the responsibility of running, and maintaining, your own applications day in, day out? What if you only want to share an application to the web for a short period of time? What if you want to be able to “show and tell” and application for a particular class, and then put it back on the shelf, available to use again but not always running? Or what if you want to access an application that might be difficult to install, or isn’t available for your computer? Or you’re running a netbook or tablet, and the application you want isn’t available as an app, just as a piece of “traditionally installed software”?

I’ve started to think that docker style containers may offer a way of doing this. I’ve previously posted a couple of examples of how to run RStudio or OpenRefine via docker containers using a cloud host. How much nicer it would be if I could run such containers on a (sub)domain of my own running via a university host…

Which is to say – I don’t necessarily want a full hosting solution on a domain of my own, at least, not to start with, but I do want to be able to add my own bits of functionality to the web, for short periods of time at the least. That is, what I’d quite like is a convenient place to “publish” (in the sense of “run”) my own containerised apps; and then rip them down. And then, perhaps at a later date, take them away and run them on my own fully hosted domain.

3 comments

  1. Sheila MacNeill (@sheilmcn)

    Hi Tony – great post (as ever). I don’t do as much as you, but like you have a WordPress account which I pay for but I know I don’t really exploit fully. I’m not confident enough about installing plugins and stuff so really like the idea of being able to easily add bits of functionality for a long or short a period as you need them. Aggregation of stuff is still important to me which is why I like the about.me service and I guess in terms of my digital literacy and personality type I’m a bit of a tart cos I’ll try just about anything if it takes my fancy😀

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