Calypso, Sandstorm, and Cyberinfrastructure

This week, WordPress announced a new and desktop-based version of WordPress, codenamed Calypso, which allows you to locally manage multiple self-hosted and hosted websites. Essentially, it brings the streamlined interface to all. In fact, this is my first post written entirely on Calypso.

Mike Caulfield wrote an excellent post yesterday titled Calypso is the Future of Personal Cyberinfrastructure and, while don’t think that Calypso is the exact, specific answer (or believe that was necessarily his point), he brings up several points that I do completely agree with and wanted to take time to address.

To sum up Caulfield’s thoughts that he has articulated both yesterday as well as 18 months ago, there is too large of a barrier to entry to owning your own data.

If I want to own my data, I have to run the admin interface and presentation layer on my own server. This means dealing with updates, hackers, spam, denial of service attacks, etc. It sucks, and only a sliver of the population will ever do it, no matter how nice you make cPanel.

His answer is that there needs to be a service in which you can still own your own data but you can also pay for services that streamline the taxing nature of server administration, which he has termed “Storage-Neutral Apps.”

So let’s talk about what Calypso is and what’s intriguing about it and how at OU we’ve sort of been using it since this summer.

My CTE colleage, Keegan Long-Wheeler, is a mobile enthusiast and is constantly thinking deeply about what mobile learning looks like in the classroom. Us techies who like our command line driven desktops tend to poo-poo tablet-only users but it becomes increasingly hard to ignore it’s presence when Walmart has 20+ tablets on sale for under $50 for Black Friday. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb when I say that tablets are an incredible gateway to connectivity and should not be ignored.

Last May, we had been comfortably running OU Create for about nine months when Keegan came up with a Faculty Learning Community idea called Mobile Blogging and Scholarship. Faculty who joined would be given an iPad and would spend time working through curriculum based around digital workflow, scholarship, engagement, and collaboration. Faculty would also be blogging their experience along the way. Side note: Keegan has built out the entire curriculum as well as public aggregation of the faculty blogs. Check it out.

As I was helping Keegan think through the structure for the Faculty Learning Community, we kept getting hung up on how much effort would go into setting up their site via OU Create. Do we have to spend one out of six meetings just getting setup? To get a group of around 10 faculty usually takes Keegan and I roughly an hour and half, meaning it would be a full session. Login. Pick a domain name. Introduce CPanel. Install WordPress. Create new login credentials. Explain how these are different and disconnected from your OU Create login. THEN setup up the iPad app to run self-hosted WordPress site with said credentials. For this specific faculty learning community focused around tablet app-based tools (WordPress, Canva, YouTube), owning your own space wasn’t an objective, and thus this process felt taxing at best.

So I made a suggestion for Keegan. Let’s nix OU Create for just this once and have them simply sign up for In the event someone wants a full domain, we’ll be glad to show them how to migrate to OU Create so they can have the opportunity to setup multiple WordPress sites. But, for this purpose, the subject is blogging, not sites or portfolios or online presence anyhow.

And if you’ve played with the WordPress iPad app, Calypso will feel very familiar. In fact, minus a little bit more control over themes, it’s nearly identical to the end user.

So what’s the big deal with Calypso? I would say it lies more in what WordPress is saying about where they are headed rather than the product itself since we’ve had some form of Calypso for awhile. In some respects, it’s a compromise. First, it’s javascript based. I’m going to get a little bit technical so apologies. The recent history of web coders goes something like this: Everybody used to really get along. PHP worked well on servers and JS played well with the browser. The two needed each other. Until some smart kid comes around and figures out you can use JS on the server side (Node.js) and all the sudden you don’t need PHP to build server stacks. Thus, the Montagues begin to fight with the Capulets and the war between each other continues to happen to this day.

To some degree it’s like the old Microsoft versus Apple computers. It can be argued that one is newer and hipper, but it can also be argued that one is the stable workhorse. Nevertheless, folks are predicting that more and more web developers will continue to move over to the Node.js framework.

So here’s my theory. Ok, so let’s assume PHP is on its way out and you’re WordPress. Do you get rid of PHP and go with JS? Of course not. Why? Well, your application powers 25% of the web and it’s mostly running on LAMP based servers (The P stands for PHP). While it’s not impossible to running something like Node.js on a LAMP server stack, it’s certainly neither easy nor out-of-the-box to most folks on shared hosting. And WordPress is about ease of use as much as anything else.

So the next best thing you can do is compromise and build a JS based app that can run as an extension of the PHP server side application. Enter Calypso. See that wasn’t so hard to explain was it?

One of the main benefits of Node.js is speed, and I can attest that Calypso runs faster on the Desktop than (this should be no surprise though considering there is no brower). A second major benefit is JSON. Calypso communicates with WordPress entirely through REST API. Calypso has also been open sourced. Meaning, theorhetically, developers could write multiple desktop applications for managing multiple WordPress sites in the similar fashion that several folks have built apps like HootSuite and TweetDeck to manage Twitter locally through Twitter’s API.

So here’s where I might agree with the premise but not the assumption that Calypso is the answer to everything. Obviously, Calypso is for one application which can run on your server (WordPress). What I would rather see than a bunch of Calypsos is a better workflow to application installation. If we want folks to assume authority of their data, I agree with Caulfield that we have to push towards making it easier to do so.

At OpenEd, Grant Potter gave me an invite to, which is a new open source platform for servers that recently raised $50k+ via IndieGoGo. What I love about Sandstorm is that it throws out this whole PHP vs JS business and says “install whatever you want” but also takes a similar one-click install approach to applications, much like Installatron. This means in the same way I can easy install applications on my iPhone, I can install WordPress, Ghost, Mediawiki, Rocket Chat (an open source Slack-like tool) Wekan (an open source clone of Trell0), etc. and the applications language need not matter. Finally! An easy approach to accessing modern web apps. Sandstorm, similar to Docker, is focused on getting as many applications available to the end user, but is laser-focused on making it process of install applications easy to everyone:

With Sandstorm, the person deciding what software to deploy is not necessarily a developer or system administrator.


Here’s a video I put together to show how quickly you can install these applications: is still in Beta, but as Jim Groom told me, it doesn’t play very easily with domain mapping, so they would have to solve that issue. But the approach is unbelievabley smart. My criticism of open-source has been that, while we may have thousands of different tools to play with, most with the newest fastest slickest approach to design, no one has done the best job with making enough of them accessible to those who have no desire to use a command line interface.

Before going for breadth of apps, which can be overwhelming in something like Installatron or Docker, let’s make it really easy for the user to access these apps first.


Featured Image: A flickr photo shared by Kitty Terwolbeck under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license