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Domains, decentralisation, and DNS

Today I attended a session at the OER20 (online!) conference entitled At the scale of care. Not only was it a great session in its own right, but it got me thinking again about ‘untakedownable’ websites.

You see, the problem, as presenters Lauren Heywood, Jim Groom, and Noah Mitchell pointed out, is that, if we use the metaphor of a house, we can never control our address.

Image of house (=website), land (=web hosting), and address (=domain)
A Plot of Land: get to know your new web space (CC BY-NC 4.0)

This is something I’ve been concerned about for ages, but particularly over the last five years. For example, see:

In fact, my thinking around this took me to decentralisation, and directly to my work on MoodleNet.


As Jim mentioned in answer to my question at the end of the session, it’s like the ‘dirty secret’ of the internet is that we’re all sharecroppers in a rentier economy. Why? Because we can never truly ‘own’ our address on the internet; we can only ever (as Maha Bali and Audrey Watters have both discussed) pay money to a central registry.

We can do better than this. I’ve experimented with ZeroNet and, to a lesser extent, IPFS. The latter was actually used to circumvent the government’s crackdown on ‘illegal’ Catalan elections while I was in Spain in late 2017.


I don’t think I’m quite ready to give up on the web as a platform, but I am sick to my back teeth of the way that it is controlled by interests that don’t align with my own. Given that I make my living online, this concerns me professionally as well as personally.

There are several approaches to decentralising ownership of the ‘address’ system on the web. First, let’s just check we’re on the same page here and define some terms. When I’m talking about ‘addresses’ then technically-speaking I’m talking about the Domain Name System, or ‘DNS’:

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a system used to convert a computer’s host name into an IP address on the Internet. For example, if a computer needs to communicate with the web server example.net, your computer needs the IP address of the web server example.net. It is the job of the DNS to convert the host name to the IP address of the web server. It is sometimes called the Internet’s telephone book because it converts a Website’s name that people know, to a number that the Internet actually uses.

Wikipedia (Simple english version)

The DNS system is extremely important, but also, because it depends on an ‘official’, more centralised registry, quite brittle. For example, governments can censor websites and web services, or hackers can target them to take them offline.

As you would expect, many people have already thought about a fully decentralised DNS. Using this system, people and organisations could truly own their address. I actually have one of these: dougbelshaw.bit

Of course, nothing happens when you click on that link, because you’d need a special plugin or separate browser that understands the non-standard DNS system. So this is where it starts getting reasonably technical and regular web users switch off and go back to looking at pictures of cats.


It’s important that there needs to be some kind of ‘cost’ to reserving domain names, no matter how decentralised the system is. Otherwise, someone could just come along and snap up every possible permutation.

That’s why, inevitably, things point back to the blockchain, and in particular, Namecoin. This satisfies Zooko’s Triangle:

CCo Dominic Scheirlinck

This is better than the way ZeroNet works, for example, where each site has a long address more confusing than a unique Google Docs URL.

However, let’s just think about the steps involved here:

  1. Open a namecoin wallet
  2. Buy some namecoins
  3. Use your namecoins to buy a .bit address
  4. Set up your website to resolve to the .bit address
  5. Ask your website visitors to either install the PeerName browser extension or set up NMControl to act as their computer’s local DNS server

So after all of this, you’re still left with the need to ask website visitors to change their browsing habits — and to do so on a non-decentralised DNS site. In addition, the Namecoin FAQ states that .bit ‘owners’ may have to pay renewal fees in future.


So that’s the current state of play for web-based decentralised DNS systems. Outside of the web, of course, things can work very differently. Take Briar messenger, for example:

Diagram of Briar connections over bluetooth, wifi, and Tor

It uses the BTP protocol, meaning it can be fully decentralised, and works over a number of different connection types:

Bramble Transport Protocol (BTP) is a transport layer security protocol suitable for delay-tolerant networks. It provides a secure channel between two peers, ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, authenticity and forward secrecy of their communication across a wide range of underlying transports.

Briar project

So for example, just like other delay-tolerant protocols, such as Scuttlebutt, Briar is extremely resilient.

Sharing data with Briar via wifi, bluetooth & internet

As ever, Open Source projects are more secure and robust than their proprietary counterparts. This is the reason that Open Source software runs much of the ‘backoffice’ services for online services.


The real difficulty we’ve got here, and I make no apologies for highlighting it due to this particular crisis, is capitalism. In particular, the neoliberal flavour that hoovers up ‘intellectual property’ and farms users for the benefit of surveillance capitalism.

Over the course of my career, people have told me that they “just want something that works”. Well, it’s well beyond the time when things should just technically work. It’s time that things ‘just worked’ for the benefit of me, of you, and of humanity as whole.

How domain names resolve might seem like such a small and trivial thing given the challenges the world is facing right now. But it’s important how we come out of this crisis: are we going to allow governments, Big Tech, and the 1% to double-down on their ability to repress us? Or are we going to fight against this, and take back control of not only our means of (re-)production, but our homes online?

Featured on the Digital2Learn podcast

Back in November last year, I was interviewed by the fine people people at the Digital2Learn podcast. We talked about a range of things, with the result actually coming out as two separate episodes this week.

Digital2Learn: Doug Belshaw / Digital Literacies, Latitudes, and Learning, Part 1 [PODCAST S1 E18]

Digital2Learn: Doug Belshaw / Digital Literacies, Latitudes, and Learning, Part 2 [PODCAST S1 E19]

The topics of conversation won’t be surprising to anyone who knows my work. We cover some fun stuff, and then dig into the following over the two episodes:

  • Digital Literacies
  • Open Educational Resources
  • Decentralisation
  • Digital credentials
  • MoodleNet

I’d like to thank Brad and Tiffany for interviewing me, and I look forward to any feedback that you have on the episodes, which I encourage you to leave over at Digital2Learn.

(I’ve closed comments here)

Digital Literacy, Identity and a Domain of One’s Own [DML Central]

My latest article for DML Central has just been published. Entitled Digital Literacy, Identity and a Domain of One’s Own, it’s an attempt to get beyond ‘ownership’ to think about identity online.

Here’s the final paragraph:

A world where one’s primary identity is found through the social people-farms of existing social networks is a problematic one. Educators and parents are in the privileged position of being able to help create a better future, but we need to start modeling to future generations what that might look like. Let’s start with a domain of our own, but let’s keep pushing that envelope in terms of our digital skills to fully realize our own digital identities.

Read the post in full

I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to add your thoughts on the original post. You may also like another recent post of mine if you’re into this kind of thing.

My ebook, ‘The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies’ is now pay-what-you-want (including nothing!)

As I promised when first making it available for sale, I’ve steadily reduced the price of my ebook, The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies, until it is now effectively zero. I’ve given people the option of paying if they’d like to, but other than adding an email address at checkout, it’s free of charge.

For those not familiar with the origin of this book, it started life as my doctoral thesis, which I then updated and re-wrote in less academic language. People bought into it as I was writing using the OpenBeta process I devised (this was before Leanpub existed!). The earlier people bought into the writing process, the cheaper it was. They got updates all of the way up to version 1.0.

Once it was ready for general consumption, I sold it at full price (£7.99) and then steadily decreased the price around every six months. Although I don’t think it’s ‘dated’, I did have the idea of what George Siemens called the ‘half-life of knowledge’ in his 2006 book Knowing Knowledge. Another reason was that the financial aspect of the book was to motivate me to continue working on it: writing for an already-established audience is a great motivator!

I’ve been delighted that my ebook has been used as a core text in colleges and universities worldwide, including (quite awesomely) the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. University libraries have also ‘stocked’ it, making use of Creative Commons license I released it under.

So, what’s next? I haven’t really decided, really. I was planning to write a book including classroom activities for improving digital literacies but, for whatever reason, my heart wasn’t really in it. I’m still keen on doing work in the new literacies space, but am thinking of what kind of format would help people most. Perhaps a drip-feed email series? A series of webinars? A course? I don’t know. If you’ve got ideas, please do let me know.

All that remains is to thank those (hundreds) of people who believed in me enough to invest in the book before it reached v1.0, for those (500+) people who have bought it since, and for those who have given me feedback since it was published. If you’ve got comments / suggestions, I’d love to hear them.

If you’d like to use the ebook with your students, you might find the accompanying wiki helpful. It includes the hi-res diagrams I used, as well as space to be able to critique the contents with your students. For a great recent example of this in a Masters-level setting, check out this page on the wiki!

Deliberate Practice and Digital Literacies [DMLcentral]

Deliberate Practice and Digital Literacies

My latest post for DMLcentral was published while I was away on holiday this week. It’s entitled Deliberate Practice and Digital Literacies and in it I apply some of the insights from Kathy Sierra’s book Badass: Making Users Awesome.

Read the post

Comments are closed here, but I’ve cross-posted to Medium, so you’re welcome to recommend or reply there, as well as at DMLcentral.

Note: the Medium version of this post has a great ‘fried egg’ image created by Bryan Mathers that’s much better than my attempt in the original article!

Identifying, scaffolding, and credentialing skills in an ever-changing digital environment [#celt15]

The recording of my keynote at last month’s #celt15 conference in Galway is now available. I had a great time over there talking about digital literacies, Open Badges, learning pathways, and more!

If you don’t see embedded media above and below, you’ll need to click through on these links:

Note: the place the organisers originally posted it requires Flash so I’ve re-uploaded it to YouTube. If you’d like to comment on this, please do so over at their original post!

‘The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies’ is now £3.99!

The Essential Elements of Digital LiteraciesI’m pleased to announce that today, in line with my pricing strategy, I’ve reduced The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies to £3.99! The code gimme10 still works, giving you an extra 10% off!

For a specialist, self-published ebook, I’ve been delighted with the number of sales. More than 250 people backed the book as it was being written through the OpenBeta process I devised. Their feedback helped shape the book in a positive direction and around the same number of people have purchased the book post-v1.0.

If you decide to go ahead and buy the book at this price point, be assured I won’t reduce the book further until 2016. 🙂


A quick note on the two other books I planned to write this year. Due to spinning up my full-time consultancy slightly earlier than I’d originally planned, I’ve had to put these on the backburner. I’m still planning to write them – at some point!

Open Networked Learning webinar

Update: The recording can be found here.


Tomorrow evening I’m running a webinar as part of Open Networked Learning, an initiative of three Swedish institutions: Lund University, the Karolinka Institute, and Linnaeus University. I’ll be speaking on digital literacies.

The placeholder slide below links to to Slideshare, where I’ll share the full deck once I’ve finished it!

Update: slides now available below! (can’t see them? click here)

Happily, not only is the webinar recorded, but wider participation is positively encouraged. Here’s the details if you want to join in:

  • Date: Tuesday 28th April 2015
  • Time: 5pm UTC (10am Western US / 1pm Eastern US / 6pm UK / 7pm Western Europe)
  • Location: https://connect.sunet.se/onl

Wear your best trousers. 🙂

Announcing TWO new e-books: #uppingyourgame v2.0 and an Essential Elements of Digital Literacies workbook

Update: I abandoned (and refunded) those who bought these ebooks. Instead, I’ve turned #uppingyourgame v2.0 into an audiobook. Check it out here!


TL;DR: In 2015 I’m going to write #uppingyourgame v2.0: a practical guide to personal productivity and The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook. You can buy each one for $0.99 + tax (~£0.79) right now and you’ll get every update to v1.0.


I’m excited to announce that I’ll be writing not one, but TWO e-books this year! Many thanks to those who took the time to respond to my call to ‘vote’ on what I should write next. Some people commented on the post, some direct messaged me, and some emailed. The outcome of all this was that, somewhat surprisingly, the Open Badges e-book I’d proposed wasn’t as popular as the other two.

It was neck-and-neck between #uppingyourgame v2.0: a practical guide to personal productivity and The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook. So, instead of choosing one, I’ve decided to write both of them concurrently. I’ll spend the most time on that ebook that has the most backers. Whatever happens, I’m planning to finish both of them by the end of the year.

While I’ve been very happy with Gumroad as a platform for selling the finished version of The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies, I’m going to try LeanPub for these two new ebooks. I like to write (and sell) ebooks iteratively as it allows me to get feedback from those invested in the content. For previous books following the OpenBeta process I used a manual, system I strung together myself. I’m hoping LeanPub makes this a lot more streamlined.

You can buy #uppingyourgame v2.0: a practical guide to personal productivity and The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook in their current form today. That is to say, you’ll get an indicative overview of what the books will cover for the princely sum of $0.99 + tax (~£0.79). The reason you might want to buy now rather than later is that at each milestone I’ll be increasing the price of the ebooks until they’re finished. You also get to help shape the finished version by giving me feedback.

Click on the images below to be taken to the respective LeanPub landing page for each ebook! Thanks in advance for your support and interest in my work. 🙂

#uppingyourgame v2.0

The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook

Image CC BY Robert Couse-Baker

My next e-book: three options for you to vote on

Thanks for the feedback! I’ve closed comments on this post now and announced the books I’m writing over here.

Update: something went horribly wrong in the process of using (the otherwise excellent) Gumroad for voting. I’ve transferred the overview of each one to this post, so please just leave a comment to indicate which e-book you’d prefer me write!


Last year I published The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. I’ve recently reduced it in line with my pricing strategy.

I want to get started writing my next e-book, and I need your help in deciding what to focus on. Here’s my thoughts:

  • The Essential Elements of Open Badges
  • The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook
  • #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity v2

Which would you choose? Add a comment below! 🙂

The Essential Elements of Open Badges

This book will cover everything from the promise of alternative credentialing to practical steps in getting started. We’ll delve into:

  • telling the difference between digital badges and open badges
  • how to create your first open badge
  • designing learning pathways
  • creating a meaningful and rigorous badge system
  • some of the technical side of things

Want me to write The Essential Elements of Open Badges? Leave a comment below!


The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies - workbook

This workbook builds on the success of The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. It will provide activities to help learners at all levels improve their skills.

Things that will be covered in the workbook will include:

  • an overview of the 8C’s of digital literacies
  • suggested activities for beginner, intermediate and advanced learners
  • teacher notes
  • a glossary of terms

Want me to write The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies: the workbook? Leave a comment below!


#uppingyourgame v2

Updating the original #uppingyourgame e-book, this new version will cover everything you need to be more productive on a personal level. It will include:

  • reasons for being more productive
  • workflow creation
  • useful tools and apps
  • automating parts of your workflow
  • helping others be more productive

Want me to write #uppingyourgame: a practical guide to personal productivity v2.0? Leave a comment below!


I’m really interested in writing all of these e-books, but I can’t focus on all three simultaneously! Could you help me choose? I’ll be following the same iterative OpenBeta process I’ve followed with previous ebooks.

Got other ideas? Comments? Suggestions? Leave a comment below!

Header image CC BY-NC-SA Mykl Roventine

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