I Don’t Own My Domain : I Rent It #DoOO

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Reposted with permission from http://blog.mahabali.me/blog/educational-technology-2/i-dont-own-my-domain-i-rent-it-dooo/

Author: Maha Bali @Bali_maha

I don’t know why we say “domain of one’s own” and “reclaim your domain”. It’s not very accurate.

My understanding of ownership is that something belongs to me. That I have already acquired it or been gifted it. And I own it until I die, no additional payment required. If I own it and I die, it passes to my heirs.

That isn’t at all the case with domains.

When I created a domain, it didn’t become mine. Basically

  1. I don’t own the domain name. I pay for it every year. That looks like rent
  2. I don’t own the actual hosting. I pay Reclaim (whom I love and trust) for shared hosting because I assume they will do a better job of the hardware/backup etc

And here is my question for #DoOO for students. It is great for a university to offer students a domain of their own. But once they graduate… They have to pay for it themselves. In Egypt many young people don’t have access to a credit card (even the ones at my elite institution). They would lose it after the few months grace period. What a shame, right?

Of course if the students kept their blog on WordPress and WordPress closed down they would lose it, also. So there’s that.

And they regularly lose the work they did on their LMS. So…that too.

Any thoughts on this?

Update: read comment thread below [comment stream on orginal post]

Also: linking to a recent/old (haha) Prof Hacker post of mine on digital life after death (which mentions some of the stuff Audrey alludes to as post-ownership society)

Update again: I annotated Audrey’s post


9 Replies to “I Don’t Own My Domain : I Rent It #DoOO”

  1. With 64 in-depth comments on Maha’s original post maybe it would be more helpful to maybe do a hypothes.is web annotation there? It’s a rich discussion.

    But you asked.

    I’ve read that ,to her, Maha’s original provocation was not really answered. This is likely because and I think its worth considering the muddied meaning of what “ownership” is (deferred below)… it’s insightful to understand better a severe limitation outside the western world that the costs involved to reclaim/claim require credit cards which are not universal. I raise my hand on being ignorant of that reality. Past tense.

    This to me is a (not by me) solvable problem, meaning some alternative payment system for domain-ing.

    Yet it still winds back to what ownership is.

    Maha’s post suggested it in the vein of material ownership. I own my grandfather’s gold watch, and I get to decide if I want to give it to someone else. There are differences that come into play with digital materials, they are not material nor free from replication.

    And there is interpretation of what the “own” in DoOO means. I being no means a literary expert go back to the inspiration or the name, Virginia Wolf’s “Room of One’s Own” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Room_of_One%27s_Own from Wikipedia’s description

    The title of the essay comes from Woolf’s conception that, “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction”.[5] Woolf notes that women have been kept from writing because of their relative poverty, and financial freedom will bring women the freedom to write; “In the first place, to have a room of her own… was out of the question, unless her parents were exceptionally rich or very noble”.[6] The title also refers to any author’s need for poetic licence and the personal liberty to create art.

    It’s arguable whether she meant that she had to have the deed to the room as in physical ownership or just control and safety of the space.

    The cost of domain registration as I know you know (trying to avoid splaining but emphasis) is not for the room/domain but the registering it in the phone book of the internet. I could avoid those costs if I just told everyone to visit my site at 23.345.32.12 (made up numbers). I could run a server in my own basement, Yet getting those numbers are not free, I have to pay or be provided internet access that provides an IP address. Am I going to generate my own electricity for it all? No I pay rent for that too.

    So while I may not technically own cogdogblog,com because I pay rent for the entry in the address book I challenge anyone to say what is there is not mine. Can I say it will be there for all time? No, but that’s another long issue.

    I do not have a problem with the idea I have to make ongoing payments for this. It means its important to me, if I put up money for it, I have a stake in it. I have my own responsibility. If I was adverse to that, or unable, then I am looking at “free” hosting of my room, which means I pay with my information and advertisements.

    All of which does not address the original problem, how can people in places where credit cards are not used “pay” for their room? And that is where we should get back to as a focus, not as (I have done which seems so slippery a slope) to slide down the nuances of meaning of ownership. But of which, I prefer the sense of ownership as a space I manage, rather than one I have a deed for.

    So we face a system barrier we cannot exactly do much about now. One could resign and quit. I might suggest, as I do when I have students new to posting online, to start with a free service, with a throwaway email address and start w/o personal identifying information. Understand your data footprints. Get practice in expressing, connecting, writing, provoking, and selectively decide how/if to represent yourself. It’s a test drive. If one does find value, then jump to the self-owned domain.

    And even beyond that is to develop an understanding / appreciation of the value for people to even consider doing it. Why go to the trouble? X is free. I would think in this time of surveillance, data mining, external influence/control we are maybe making more of a rationale than one of principle.

  2. I am trying to focus on Maha’s question about students transitioning from University-provided domain to a self-hosted site that requires credit-card payment. Like Alan I find that difficult to understand – it’s outside my experience. I do wonder though whether there aren’t agents who might pop up to offer the service of paying by credit card in return for cash with a fee:)
    But what is the alternative to students paying for themselves? that their domain would be provided by some authority – parent or institution or charity or ? And to me that seems against the spirit of DoOO somehow.
    I am not too hung up about absolute ownership of domains – the service charge for domain and server space seems like a good model to me. But my perspective is informed by my own experience – I hope that I have learned from my mistakes. I started blogging in 2006 at Elgg – a ‘free’ service. I acquired some skills in customising the appearance of my site and when, at fairly short notice I had to move the blog because Elgg was closing its service, I was able to backup my data and transfer it to a self-hosted domain.
    I found a cheap ISP and all seemed well. Unfortunately, I didn’t take regular backups – #diglitfail 🙁 and when my ISP went out of business and pulled the plug on the server, shortly after I’d paid my annual fee, I lost my blog. This was far worse than losing a domain name.
    So for me, if the university had supported students in learning to back up and value their data, then they are enabling them to take the content of their domain to another place.

  3. The solution seems simple enough, if type of payment is the question. In addition to payment by credit card, offering payment through a bank account would be another way for a digital transaction to occur. A cash only transaction would still require some type of ATM system which connects to multiple accounts so a train of code which connects deposits at ATMs to web domain related expenses, theoretically. The technology exists. There are also pre-paid cards or gift cards which function as credit cards available, so a traditional credit card is not a necessity.

    The issue of persistence in access to one’s own data is solved with the historian’s mantra which is three copies in two formats, and if you are really serious…print what is printable.

    1. Left out parts of the tweet: “Is anything in the public domain really ours? Is anything in the public domain really ours? Historians digitally back up 3 copies (different places) in 2 formats.”

      “I give this advice to profs (and students). Ownership means responsibility. Our time is temporary. Everything is ephemeral, except ideas.”

      “The Internet is interdependent. Analogy: buy groceries or run your farm or a mix – start from seed or seedlings. Oh! A power mapping…want”

  4. I’ll try not to be grumpy old guy who runs in and asks everyone to define everything.

    What I’d say is that ownership is more about control than permanence. This may be a very American example, but of course we’re crazy about home ownership here. People don’t want to rent, they want to own. But to own, you actually take out a loan, which means that really the bank owns your house. So what’s the difference?

    The difference, mainly, is a landlord can’t tell me what I can do with the house. If I want to knock down a wall, rip up the carpet, or furnish the basement I get to do that without asking. Additionally there’s no one with a key besides me who can come in and inspect the place. Etc. etc.

    It’s worth noting that a lot of times it’s better to rent and give up some control. Maybe you don’t want to absorb the risk of ownership. Maybe you like having someone else be responsible if the plumbing goes. We get religious about home ownership but we shouldn’t.

    What’s most important, in the end, is that people are intentional about these choices, and know what rights and abilities they are giving up in Blackboard, or Facebook, or Twitter, or WordPress, or on a shared hosting space like Reclaim. We’re slowly becoming a nation of renters — of music, movies, software, communities — and there are a lot of advantages to that. But as a generation of people grow up not knowing what it is like to own music or software or data we risk losing our intentionality in these matters.

    In a perfect world, I’d love to show people how torrent-like models of name-based networking could allow people to connect and share without domain names or rented servers — I do think that our focus on domains and domain names may be holding us back, and tying us to a server-based model of publication which reduces direct control and increases cost of entry into web publishing.

    But the point is not pure freedom, the point is to get people to think more intentionally what they are giving up now, and for the moment domains do that. We can talk about how location-based networking screws up control later.

  5. I thought I wrote a comment on the original post but the Internet may have gobbled it up…

    I’m thinking that we really only “own” anything until someone or something more powerful than us takes it away (Wars, fires, thieves, governments, etc.). Maybe all that I can ever truly own is my story and even that I’ve had to fight to protect from efforts to rewrite it.

    In order to set up a Domains site I needed a phone, wifi, a credit card and a couple of glasses of wine, all of which I was in possession of at the time – none of which I really “own” (except the wine which is now gone). I know that access to each of these things is a privilege not available to many. (One week after I received my only credit card, I would have been rejected.)

    To me though starting a Domains site wasn’t about the domain or the data. It was about owning my story and reclaiming my voice. Without apology.

  6. Thank you all for engaging with my post. In reading your responses, i found myself asking what my real concern was. And maybe Tanya came closest to helping me identify it. It’s the difference in privilege when we apply something like domain of one’s own in a context like mine, where freedom fro m surveillance might be ever more important but access to resources to keep our own is harder and not available to all. Should we trust hosting in the US not to surveil us? Would local hosting be any better or much worse? Having a server at home isn’t a solution for all people either. Not all of us want the burden of that. Maybe all I am saying is really that the freedom afforded by #dooo is limited and contextual and we need to recognize that? Still thinking

  7. I wrote a comment but WordPress ate it. Gonna try again.
    I was saying that having this blogpost republished with fresh comments around a year later is making me ask myself what my real point behind the original post was. Or what matters to me now. I think maybe Tanya’s response comes closest to making me see what I needed to say but also all the responses so far:
    A. There is a lot of privilege behind #DoOO – it’s a lot of things that need to work out for a person to make something like #DoOO empowering for them
    B. Sometimes those who need the most freedom from surveillance are those with the least ability to hide from it (I say hide not because they did something wrong but because surveillance and algorithms make them more vulnerable).

    I’m thinking again about how we trust our hosting providers. Not just the payment but also to protect our data and privacy and protect us from surveillance also. Do we trust our data on US servers (knowing that Europeans don’t seem to)? Are local servers any better? Someone (Simon?) suggested on Twitter having our own server at home. That not accessible to everyone. Not everyone who wants a voice online wants the burden of learning to maintain a server at home (and the other risks that entails).

    I think that maybe the overall point was that we are differently privileged online and that something like #DoOO looks different and less empowering in different contexts. Maybe that isn’t a question and doesn’t have an answer? Maybe it’s just a recognition that the structure of the Internet and our discourses of seeking empowerment online don’t transfer well? I still don’t know..

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