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What are self-hosted web domains and why are we using them?

If you’re a student in my classes or the classes of some of my colleagues, you may be asked to purchase, maintain, and publish using a self-hosted web domain. This post explains a little about why that is the case.

It’s easy to confuse a request that you obtain a self-hosted domain as a request that you simply “open a blog” — but there is a significant difference between the two. Getting a blog is easy; wordpress.com and several other websites allow users to open blogs for free and use their software to publish posts. The differences between these two approaches come down to two things: name registration and hosting services.

When you get a free blog from WordPress (or Weebly, Blogger, Medium, or lots of other places), you almost have to include the name of that service within the name of your URL. Instead of getting to craft your name and identity on the web (with a domain name like BelindaTheAwesomeDesigner.org), you become belindadesigner.wordpress.com. The platform uses your name to market itself; a reader automatically knows that WordPress “owns” your content because it hosts your content for free. This is the way many people break into blogging; it’s easy and free, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Digital professionals, however, lose some cred with a peer, colleague, future employer, etc. sees that you’re leaving control of your digital space to someone else.

And it’s not just the name. Bloggers using those free platforms have significantly reduced functionality. They are less able to work with categories and tags; they aren’t allowed to subdivide their domain space; and can’t behind the code to change the design of their site. Most importantly, they don’t have complete authorial control of their space. WordPress and other platforms routinely serve ads, from which they profit, on their users’ “free” blogs.

When you own your own domain on the web and put a blog (or any other platform) on it, that blog is self-hosted. You have more control over its design and function, and you communicate to readers that you take your own web presence seriously. Eventually, in your work as a professional you install more complex applications on your own domain; you can use your domain to showcase your work, start a business, organize an activist cause, or publish creative interactive media projects. All of that begins with owning your own space and learning how to manage it.

I strongly recommend obtaining your domain through Reclaim Hosting, a company started by educational technologists committed to working with students and faculty. Several faculty at KSU have a close working relationship with Reclaim, and it offers name registration and hosting services to users at a significantly reduced cost ($25/year). You’ll be able to use the same domain you purchase for any DWMA class that requires student domains.

Use of self-hosted web domains in academic environments is a feature of the Domain of One’s Own program, initiated in 2008 at the University of Mary Washington. Since then, hundreds of professors and students are building and using their own domain programs. For more on the theoretical foundation of Domain of One’s Own, read Gardner Campbell’s “A Personal Cyberinfrastructure” (2009) and David Morgen’s and Pete Rorabaugh’s “Building Community and Critical Literacies with the Domain of One’s Own Incubator” (2014)

Since I started working with self-hosted domains, I’ve seen significant gains in students’ acquisition of advanced digital literacies and performance of digital citizenship. I look forward to more exploration with you on the web.

Featured image courtesy of  Cristian Labarca via Flickr and Creative Commons

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