Is Blackboard taking over the world?
Last month Blackboard bought two companies that support Moodle, a very popular open source system for creating course websites. The company has also hired Chuck Severance, one of the major figures in the Sakai organization.
Leaders in the field of educational technology have various opinions regarding what to make of these developments. In 2006 Blackboard purchased WebCT and then simply allowed it to waste away. Do recent developments mean they are diversifying into open source systems or is their long-term plan more destructive? I would like to believe the former is true, that the folks at Blackboard have read the writing on the wall and are covering their bases.
It’s a good sign that Blackboard has apparently decided indefinitely continue support for Angel, another company they swallowed three years ago. People want choices, so why shouldn’t a company like Blackboard be willing to provide them? Car companies profitably offer multiple product lines and the same happens in many other industries.
I believe a shift is underway in this market. Products like Blackboard’s and open source projects like Sakai can’t be all things to all people. They can’t continue to invest large amounts of time developing dozens of component tools. Why should Sakai offer a blog tool when it can integrate with WordPress? Why should Blackboard maintain a full-featured file storage system when we could use Box or Dropbox? Some work needs to be done to integrate these tools securely and perhaps that’s a reason to be encouraged by Blackboard’s recent moves. I believe these products will begin to focus on two things: 1) providing a reduced set of excellent tools and 2) providing better integration with “best of breed” external tools.
Blackboard also owns Wimba, which it is rolling into a tool called Blackboard Collaborate. Surely they want users of Moodle or Sakai to purchase this product as an external add-on. Having experts from Moodle and Sakai in the Blackboard “fold” will only make that more likely.