This morning, I spend about an hour in the lower levels of the ds106 web site, doing some cleanup in the Feed WordPress area. The system was reporting a moderate amount of dead or decaying blog feeds; I did not count, but cleared out maybe 100 feeds that were dead.

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo shared by Stefano Corso

Just ballpark, I would guess that 85% of these were domains that had expired, or blogs that were removed from WordPress.com and Blogger.com, and a handful of sad neglected corpses of Posterous sites. Maybe 5% were sites that had no discernable ds106 content, or possibly had been repurposed to new content.

Feedwordpress helps by listing a feed for which it had a problem fetching data with a yellow background, kind of like a yellow alert

fwb yellow

Some of them have been decomposing for almost a year

deadlinks

To check them, I hover over the feed name on the left, and from the menu that appears click “View” (a command-click on the mac opens it in a new window). Many of the times you get a DNS error from your internet provider (site not found), or maybe an “Account Suspended page from a web host. Other times you might find a blog that has no ds106 content, or is irrelevant in content.

For most of these, Feed WordPress provides a rather elegant solution; remember that we have out site set up so permalinks, or direct links, for each syndicated post goes to the source site– but there is a local copy of each post in our site.

So when I am hovering on those links in the admin area, I command click “Unsubscribe”. If the site is gone, those external permalinks are bad ones, but the third option is the money one:

keep local

Delete this syndicated link, but keep posts that were syndicated from it (as if they were authored locally)

This means, in one feel swoop, you can have at least the content of a now dead blog post, made available as a link on the ds106 web site. For example, here is a post from a Spring 2012 student who let her blog and domain go, but we have a copy of her post.

felix

This is another case for embedding media served from YouTube, flickr, SoundCloud, as those links remain good (unless the owner deletes them); we do lose any locally uploaded images in the source blog. One way we could address this is the Feed WordPress Advanced Filters Plugin. This makes a local copy of any image in a feed, so we would not lose the media when the blog goes away. A downside might be you end up storing a crap load of images.

The other cause of feeds not working is often the feed is just wrong. I noticed a few of these for people submitting feeds for tags or categories; they entered the URL for the page that shows those listings, not the feed itself. Feed wordpress is usually good at detecting feeds in these cases, but I have seen a lot of misses.

So lets’s say we get a yellow indicator (feed failure) for Andy Rush’s blog. IN the real world, this would not happen, he is that good. But I might notice in the feed column, the URL for the RSS feed is listed as

But this is not a valid feed URL. I hover over his blog name, and (command) click on Switch Feed; I can see the wrong feed listed

and feedfinder

I can enter a corrected feed (or if he contacts me and tells me he is using a brand new blog, I can enter that feed URL), and Feedwordpress will verify and allow me to update his feed.

So that’s what we do to clean house.

But there is a larger picture.

The underpinning of the ds106 course we teach at UMW is the importance of a personal cyber infrastructure, of carving out, and managing one’s own digital place in the online world. For many students, their online concept is LMS frames, a web page to drop assignments like a letter box. A dumping ground. But in ds106 we aim to have them build a place they can own, carry farther, build out their corner of the internet.

Yet.. I have seen a large number of my past students let the domains go after class and/or wipe out all of their ds106 work.

Now I know this is part of owning one’s domain, of being also owner of the right to wipe it out. I have no disagreement with that.

Yet it troubles me to see students wholesale toss their work, their reflections, their growth, in the internet dump.

We have work to do here. But there are positive signs. And there are reasons for the trends. I went through tonight the URLs for all 81 students I have taught since Spring 2012 to see how many had kept their ds106 sites and how many had used their domains beyond the class. There are some factors in this (discussed below)

  • Spring 2012: Out of 25 student domains, 0 have kept their ds106 blogs, and 2 have repurposed their domains for other uses (22 are no longer domains in use).
  • Summer 2012: Out of 10 students. None have kept their ds106 blogs or repurposed their domains for other uses (all 10 are expired). Interestingly, 6 of these domains were bought and turned into spam blog link farm sites.
  • Fall 2012: Out of 23 student domains, 7 have kept their ds106 blogs, and3 have blogged in their own space for other purposes beyond ds106 (personal reflection, Europe travel). Not counted, but worth mentioning is one post 106 entry by a student to proudly boast a video he made created for a final project has topped 110,000 YouTube views. I am envious ;-)
  • Spring 2013: Out of 23 student domains, 20 still have their ds106 work available; and 3 have blogged about things beyond ds106. Notable is Amber’s blog she created to write about her summer internship at a radio station.

On a quick glance, 27 or 33% have kept their ds106 blogs, and 7 or 9% have used them for other purposes.

The Spring and Summer 2012 low numbers are not surprising. These were times when we had student buy their own domains and pay for web hosting. I probably would be hesitant to keep paying for this after the class is over. Fall of 2012 was the pilot of Domain of One’s Own, so students had these fees covered, and we see a higher number of active domains last semester, both because the students had registration and hosting covered, but it is also not that long ago.

But the thing is, most students so their domains again a place to do assignment work for one class.

And that is the benefit of the rollout of UMW of the full Domain of One’s own- all incoming freshmen got information on how to create their own domain for use their 4 years at the university (see the summary of the first week’s action written by Martha Burtis). When it becomes something beyond a single class, but is part of the university experience across not only multiple classes, but likely sports and other activities, the ownership motivation ought to clearly increase.

Check back in 4 years, but my hunch is more students then will be taking their domains with them, and transferring a vast experience of university work in a digital form. And probably not as many flushing them away.

I’ve owned cogdogblog.com since 2005– I owe Steve Dembo the nudge credit– and he suggested the domain.

cc licensed ( BY SA ) flickr photo shared by Alan Levine

He even offered to pay for the domain as he felt like the 50 mile URL I had for the blog on a Maricopa server was a bit unwieldily.

But that’s not a fitting comparison to our students; I’m a techie, and this is my livelihood.

So I am interested in suggestions for how to better help students see the value in keeping their digital corner alive.

The post "Withering Domains" was originally emerged from the primordial ooze and first walked on land at CogDogBlog (http://cogdogblog.com/2013/08/withering-domains/) on August 29, 2013.

7 Comments

  • mdvfunes

    I find it so interesting that you have this sense of guardianship of the web. I find it really touching. I remember hearing you say that it was like a delicate blanket and we needed to make sure we repaired the holes…

    I fear not many people see the web with such affection and care. Mainly because they do not ‘see’ it in the way you do. You work behind the scenes and see the impact of a lack of care. This applies to those that leave their rubbish behind, but not those that delete and clean up after themselves.

    Yet you are also sad for those who just choose to press delete and move on. You see inherent value in having a digital corner. And for you there is a quality of home to that corner. A home that needs to be preserved over time. My sense is that for many, the web is more a place to be a nomad. If they don’t like how something works they move on to the next thing that will make it easy to get the task done quickly. They are not on the web to build they are on it to use it like this: http://youtu.be/-Na9-jV_OJI

    May be I am being pessimistic and it is possible to get people who do not see the inherent value of preserving (in nature or the virtual) to care. What you asked for are suggestions for how to help people see the value of caring for their digital corner over time – keep modelling the behaviour the way you do. I have already learnt to use the web in a less instrumental way from watching your guardianship ethos.

    May be say more in your blogs about why this matters beyond cliches about digital futures? For some, and I know many of these people, technology is just a necessary evil to be used not something to be tended to.

    I have been disheartened when in my enthusiasm for EDTECH I try to bring people on board and meet total apathy and lack of desire to change and learn.

    What is really interesting in your stats is that it challenges my notion that you need tech savvy to see the value. Clearly your students have the know-how. Some just lack the interest.

    • Alan Levine aka CogDog cogdogblog.com

      I just lost a thoughtful reply to a mis=swipe in the web browser.

      Yes, my position comes from maybe 20 years of making webs. The web is bigger than us in all ways, and I do not believe anything created is rubbish.

      But we have a culture of imposed expectations of perfection ti the outside world. That we should not have blemishes and flaws. That is why my approach is to include as many typos as reasonable in my writing- did you think that was accidental or just sloppy keyboarding skills? ;-) My heart says that when someone makes decision to remove their creative/reflective work, what they are saying is, “It does not have value”.

      I do not wish to impose my perspective on others, but I’d like people to be more aware of the connectedness about.

      • Mariana Funes mdvfunes.com

        Write something about:
        “My hunch is most people do not consider that there are implications for this, the missing part of the original dream of hyperlinks as being bi-directional.”

        I have never considered it before – it would make such a great post.

        May be a delete or remove means they now embody the learning and the reflections, so they are preserved in their way of being in the world? That would be my wish for all.

        Thank you for caring for the inanimate so much. How do you connect a thoughtful digital presence with breaking up the culture of perfection we live in? That would be an awesome post to…

  • First, kudos to you for all that hard work in the bowels of ds106. Having dwelt there at times, I know how much it can stink.

    I’m interested in your notes about the longevity of the work we do on the Web. We actually discussed this a bit a few weeks ago in a DTLT Today episode about Domain of One’s Own(http://media.umw.edu/podcasts/dtlt-today/dtlt-today-umws-domain-of-ones-own-project).

    I have a slightly different perspective on this.

    At this point in my life/career, I have less of a desire to ensure that content on the Web perpetuates. It reminds me a bit of Jakob Nielsen’s rants against linkrot back in the late 90’s (see http://www.nngroup.com/articles/fighting-linkrot/). I remember this made a lot of sense and resonated with me back then. Over the years, I guess my perspective has shifted.

    I don’t think of everything I do on the Web as perpetual. In fact I think of much as it as ephemeral. I know, I know: “Nothing ever disappears on the Web.” But, of course, that’s not true. Stuff does disappear on the Web all the time, but what remains (and what I kind of love) are the “whispers” of presence that maintain.

    I’ve created too much over the years on the Web to manage it all. I have a few spaces that I’m committed to sustaining. I have other spaces that are dying, slowly. (and I’m okay with that).

    As for students, I LOVE it when they feel strongly enough about what they’ve done in ds106 to keep it alive. But I also understand that for many of them the work they’ve done in ds106 isn’t what they want to focus on and maintain. What I really hope for, actually, is that they’ve just gotten some sense of what’s possible so that at some point if they’re doing work that they do want to share, cultivate, and maintain, they’ll have some sense of how to make that happen.

    I’ve been one who’s argued strenuously that we need to let students decide when they’re work lives, when it dies a slow death, and when it just disappears. As much as it pains me to see what I think is valuable work become unavailable, I think that if we’re teaching them agency, we have to give them agency.

    To that extent, for some of my ds106 classes, I haven’t done the local capture of the content if they let their site disappear. I’d actually like us to have a system by which we asked students at the end of the class to choose a path for their sites: Do they plan to maintain them? Do they want to let them stay alive until the domain expires? Do they want to delete them? Do they want us (are they okay with us) backing up their work on the ds106 site?

    Part of the reason I think we need to let some work on the Web be ephemeral is because I fear the alternative is some kind of paralysis. I mentioned above that some of my work has/is disappeared/disappearing. If I thought that I had some obligation to tend to all of the spaces I’ve built, I would be somewhat reluctant to build more — and try out new things.

    I treasure the messiness of the Web. I find that realizing things disappear makes what I can find on it even more wondrous. It’s kind of like the world, that way.

    • Alan Levine aka CogDog cogdogblog.com

      Thanks for the thoughtful reply, Martha. I continue to strive to catch up with your wisdom. The last thing I would ever want to impose is an enforced archiving or an obligation– I want people to want to do this, not have to. I fully support everybody’s right to create and delete.

      My hunch is most people do not consider that there are implications for this, the missing part of the original dream of hyperlinks as being bi-directional. At some point in teaching ds106, it was useful I thought, when we had students do the remixes and use other students work, for them to question why so many of those examples were broken links.

      More so, I feel our systems (semester schedules, courses as islands, LMSes) promote a disconnected mindset of our higher education experience. It is almost like we condone a snap chatting of our educational segments, once the grades are stamped, once the diplomas are given, everything to get to that point is expendable. The work we are doing inn ds106, and larger what DTLT is pushing against that in an important way.

      Yes, I am okay with the ephemeralness. Some. That was your word ;-) Some.

      This seems like a good topic for the October event.

      • Jim Groom bavatuesdays.com

        All that said, I think archiving all UMW student work on ds106 (images and all) is important because they create a lot of great shit, even if they don’t care about it. They know not what they throw away some times, every class needs a hoarder ;)

        • Alan Levine aka CogDog cogdogblog.com

          I’ll be adding that FWP plugin filter that does this. It won’t help with past posts (I’ve not had good luck with plugins that supposedly make copies of external imgaes local)

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