<span class='p-name'>Interviewing my digital domains</span>

Interviewing my digital domains

Alan Levine recently posted a series of questions to help others think through some of thoughts and motivations as we develop and maintain a domain of our own.

I’ve written a lot about this in the past, and I’ll try to include some links to content/posts as I respond to the prompts. This is a bit long as I get into the weeds, so consider yourself warned.

And now…let’s get to it… 🙂

What is your domain name and what is the story, meaning behind your choice of that as a name?

My main domain name is wiobyrne.com. I picked this when I was starting up my doctoral program at UConn. I was teaching for several years and my email address for the district started with the prefix “obyrnei.” As I entered UConn, my email address started with “wiobyrne.” At that same time, I started using my “academic writing name” of W. Ian O’Byrne. Everyone calls me Ian, even though my first name is William. My advisor indicated that I needed to use the “W.” for my name to differentiate myself.

I needed to start up a website as part of my comprehensive exam requirements and I asked my wife what sounded like a better domain name (obyrnei, obyrnewi, or wiobyrne). She picked wiobyrne and I bought the domain immediately.

I should also indicate that I think it’s important to develop your own personal cyberinfrastructure. In this I created and/or modified my social networks and other spaces to mimic the naming mechanisms and style/look of this main domain. So…my Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere all took on the same account name and profile images. I teach this to my students now in my classes.

What was your understanding, experience with domains before you got one? Where were you publishing online before having one of your own?

My first domain (the one I listed above) I purchased through GoDaddy. I built up a website in iWeb that served as a basic digital portfolio. It was horrible. I basically added the content that was dictated by my doctoral program. I think they didn’t really know what to have me include on the site. They definitely didn’t want me blogging on there. I still think some of this perspective exists in the field.

I also had other spaces where I would blog. I had a space on Blogger, and helped start up a collaborative blogging space using TypePad for my research team.

I finally deleted my iWeb-created site and figured out how to install WordPress (I believe) in 2013. I wanted to pull my blogging habit into one space that I would still use to share materials in my digital portfolio.

Finally, at some point (I believe) in 2015 I left GoDaddy and joined Reclaim Hosting. I started up a website for my Wife and her new business. While building up this new website, I also completely revamped my main website after moving it to Reclaim.

What was a compelling feature, reason, motivation for you to get and use a domain? When you started what did you think you would put there?

Having a domain is important to me as I research, develop, and teach. My main area of focus is the literacy practices of individuals in online and hybrid spaces. As such, it’s important (IMHO) for me to “walk the walk…and talk the talk.” I should build and experiment in online publishing, and explore the impacts on my digital identities.

I think we should all have a domain of our own that we control and can edit over time. We should have one space online that we call our own, and is not owned by another corporation, group, or entity. The one, “best” representation of you online should not be your LinkedIN or Facebook page. This should be a space where you can create the identity that you want to have. You can write yourself into existence.

I think students should start a domain of their own in elementary school and build it up over their careers. We can begin this as a private, or internal space in the schools, and then hand this space over to students as they leave for college and/or career. I would have schools pay for hosting for a couple of years after the student leaves the school, district, or institution.

As I mentioned earlier, when I first started this journey, I did it because it was a requirement for my doctoral program. But, as time advanced, I wondered why I should not respond or comment on news in my area of inquiry. Why shouldn’t I get involved, make my voice heard, and share out opinions and work online. Over time this has morphed as I’ve investigated more into work about hybrid/blended learning, MOOCs, digital badges, portfolios, open scholarship, and indieweb philosophies. In each of these, my main focus is on documenting my learning openly online. I still have much of the same focus, and I appreciate being able to send a colleague/student a trail of breadcrumbs that document my thinking about a topic over time.

What kinds of sites have you set up one your domain since then? How are you using them? Please share URLs!

After starting up my primary domain and identity, I’ve been regularly looking for new ways to integrate this thinking into my other work. Most of this work is focused on collaboration, transparency, and working/thinking in the open.

An example is the use of Google Sites to create a repository to share lesson plans and tutorials created by students in my programs. I also used Google Sites to create a MOOC to share content, curriculum, and badges for one of my tech courses. I’ve also created too many Wikispaces for courses, programs, and content…but I’d prefer not to talk about WikiSpaces right now. All of these instances are a way to openly share content for courses outside of the typical LMS.

One of the big breakthroughs for me was the work I conducted with the WalkMyWorld Project. This is/was an open research project that brought together students using local and global nodes of students engaging and connecting together. We used the hashtag #WalkMyWorld to connect learners. We originally used a Google Site to organize & share materials, but then stepped up our game with a domain and a WordPress install.

The next/current evolution of this is another open research project, The Digitally Literate Research Project, in which we’re studying technology usage for literacy instruction globally. The plan is to use the site to share surveys, interviews, and researcher notes. All of this would be open online, and provide transparency on our work, while we investigate these new possibilities…and opportunities for open scholarship.

I have couple other spaces of note…while there are a bunch of other “not ready for primetime” websites and spaces. I’ve launched and crashed an open journaling space, a podcast (and website), and a couple other collective writing spaces.

Although it is technically not a domain of its own, my weekly newsletter is an important part of my weekly workflow. I created and crashed several domains as I toyed with how to launch the newsletter. Currently I post archives to my main website.

I’m also heavily investigating and “dogfooding” a website to save bookmarks and serve as my digital commonplace book. This is inspired by the website philosophy & structure developed by Chris Aldrich. My “breadcrumbs” website is a lightweight website that serves as a way to build and break things while experimenting with indieweb philosophies and owning my signals.

Finally, I just started up a domain for my seven-year old, and we’re having fun learning, exploring, and documenting. I’m investigating ways to allow him to connect with blogs from other youth. I’m not ready to share the link here…but have shared some insight in some recent tweets. I’ll have a pub soon on this. 🙂

What helped you or would have helped you more when you started using your domain? What do you still struggle with?

One of the key areas that would have helped me the most is more guidance on how/why to build and maintain these spaces. I recently wrote about the challenges in this post about blogging. When I first started my career in academia, Google was still just a search engine, you only texted others if you had something to hide, and teachers hid their Facebook accounts for fear of being fired. I started to build up my digital presence and the domain/website was one small portion of this. There was no guidance on how/why to build and maintain these spaces.

To help make sense of what to do, I searched for others online that were actively building and creating what I’d like to build. Doug Belshaw, Richard ByrneAdam Levine, and Kathy Schrock were some of the first people that I would study to figure out what to do…or how to build it. As time passes, I continue to develop my professional/personal learning network (PLN) and identify ways to create and connect.

In terms of still struggling, I’d have to say that the culture of academia is antithetical to open scholarship and blogging. As I explained earlier, I was “lucky” that my advisor was willing to let us explore, build, and play. I was also lucky to have Greg McVerry as a constant sounding board to build ideas off of, and test things out online. As I mentor junior scholars and grad students, they share that they’ve been explicitly told not to blog, share ideas online, or engage in social media.  But, academia is built on the premise (IMHO) of getting a good idea, parlaying that into a job and tenure, and waiting for death. I’ve had a lot of colleagues and acquaintances ask why I would bother blogging. Ask why I share all of this content online. Ask why I’m not afraid that someone is going to steal my ideas.

I feel like this culture in academia may be changing. As I ask senior scholars about publishing books, they advise me to publish it on my own. Other senior scholars indicate that my work on this blog, and in all of the “in-between” digital spaces should count for tenure. Senior colleagues indicate that I should not have to balance out publishing in “traditional, peer-reviewed publications” as well as open, online spaces. But, having recently gone through another tenure review process, I can suggest that this is currently not the case, but your results may vary. One of my main struggles is that I have a PLN that values (or at least they pretend) my work, whereas my place of employment (for the most part) does not care about what I consider to be my best work…the blogging and content on my domains. Until then…or should I say in spite of that…I’ll continue to work and refine these spaces.

What kind of future plans to you have for your domain?

At this point, I’m continuing to modify and tweak parts of my newsletter to make it fit in better to my domain and spaces. I’m also hard at work on my breadcrumbs site to make it effectively fit into my workflow. I want this to keep track of the digital breadcrumbs I leave behind as I search and sift online. It’s having a profound effect on my work, but I’m still tweaking and folding it in. I’d equate this process to some of the ways in which I originally started using (and leaving) Evernote.

My next project, hopefully this summer, will have me re-examining my writing and publishing process. Most of my writing for “traditional” publications (articles & chapters) begins and ends with Google Docs. I’d like to start to use an open source tool/platform for writing that has as much functionality as Google Docs. I’d like to then carve out a space on my domain to showcase “projects.” These projects would each include the final publication (in PDF form), the original Google Doc, perhaps some data, perhaps supplemental content, perhaps feedback/commentary from the review process. I’d love to make this a library of my traditional pubs, along with all of the materials that led up to that final work. Hopefully I can figure out something that works, looks good, and is relatively simple to use.

What would you say to other educators about the value, reason why to have a domain of your own? What will it take them to get going with their own domain?

I’ve written and presented a lot about this in the past. I think there is a need for all individuals to create and curate their digital identity. One component of this larger infrastructure is a domain of your own. This allows you to have one spot online where you actively collect and archive your thinking over time. This is important as we recognize that our digital identities are as (or possibly even more) important than our offline identities.

This is due to a natural human reaction to “Google” someone before we meet them for the first time. Before we show up to teach a class, take a class, interview for a job, go on a date…we’ve been reviewed online. Other people use the trail of breadcrumbs that we’ve left behind to make judgements about us. The question/challenge is that this trail of breadcrumbs is usually incomplete, and locked up in various silos. You may have bits of your identity in Facebook or Twitter, while you have other parts locked up in Instagram, Snapchat, or LinkedIn. What do these incomplete pieces say about you? Furthermore, are they getting the entire picture of you when they uncover certain details? Can they look back to see what else you’re interested in? Can they see how you think all of these interests fit together…or they seeing the tail end of a feverish bout of sharing cat pics?

Finally, keep in mind that most of us are not taught to do this in the preparation for our careers. We should be, but we’re not. Most of the people developing and facilitating these educational and career prep programs are trying to figure all of this out for themselves…let alone teach you. We need to develop a domain that we control and put in the same amount of polish that we do our offline identities. Offline, we pick out a certain outfit, shoes, and hairstyle that fits our persona. We have a certain way that we want to be viewed, and select options, or habits that help create that persona. Online, we’re often a mess of half-formed elements and inconsistent information that doesn’t share the “real” version of your digital identity. Think about the version of you that you want to create…and make it happen.


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