I had to do a quick double take on this article (first, to determine if it was April 1, anywhere in the world): Evolution Unbound: Blackboard embraces open source. This is what I imagine the experience would be like if one dropped hallucinogenics and browsed the web – a feeling of incredulity and weird confusion that can only come from time and reality being featured in a will it blend video.
I’m not surprised that Blackboard is interested in openness. They’ve made overtures in the past. At the EDUCAUSE conference in October, they were clear that they wanted to partner with the open educational resources movement. I discussed this in a post on the race to platform education. At that point, Pearson had announced open class (look Ma, free LMS!). I’m still convinced that the only reason Open Class makes sense is because Pearson can mine the data of student interaction with their content – a critical piece they were missing. Perhaps Open Class will allow Pearson to sell more content, but that is secondary to having insight into what students actually do with the content. It’s Apple-esque in a way – control the learning process from end-to-end.
Blackboard obviously makes its money from selling their LMS. How do you respond to Open Class? Why, give away what your competitors are trying to sell, of course. Blackboard touted its open education resources initiative in response. One way or another, dammit, we’re gonna compete on openness.
Imagine my surprise to read that:
Today we’ve announced the acquisition of two of these firms: Moodlerooms Inc., a leader in North America, and NetSpot Pty. Ltd., an international leader in Moodle services located in Australia…our meetings were productive in outlining areas where Blackboard can best contribute to the Moodle project as we set out on a journey.
And the pleasant understatement:
Longtime participants in the open and community source communities may be concerned about our corporate intentions, and how we’ll conduct ourselves given that we are governed by an interest in business growth.
(haha. said the fox to the rabbit.)
I’m trying to understand the economic value point is in this move for Blackboard. I’ve seen a few folks call this a “good business” move. I don’t agree. I liked Blackboard’s acquisition of Elluminate because it made sense to broaden their platform and offer an integrated solution. I was a bit confused by the company going private, but felt that it made sense if the new owners started to integrate their numerous education offerings. Education, after all, is a huge business and growing rapidly.
This current move, however, I don’t understand. Blackboard is making a mistake.
It splits the LMS market by adding another layer. Currently, you can a) buy an LMS like Blackboard or Desire2Learn or b) host your own or c) go with a Moodle-partner. With this acquisition, Blackboard now has a place at a & c. Hosting an LMS can be difficult. A small school or college simply doesn’t have the resources to host their own LMS. I’ve taught in numerous different Moodle installs (recently as a course in emerging tech to a school in Africa) and the spam and fake accounts are a big issue. Why not pass that off to a trusted vendor?
Well, that’s what Moodle Rooms did. So what does Bb gain?
It’s inconceivable that Bb got into this game for hosting revenue. Why, if you’ve spent years promoting your platform as the best one for complex implementations, do you suddenly start hosting an open source alternative? It seems that they’ve acquiesced significant ground to Desire2Learn with this move. Bb looks scattered and unfocused by moving outside of their core (or even integrated) revenue model. Are they losing that many clients in their main LMS?
Bb=Go Daddy? That makes no sense economically. Unless they plan pricy hosting options. This would then result in a rush of new low cost hosts.
Alright, so if hosting makes no sense as an economic model, what can Bb gain?
I can only see a few options:
1. Bb can stem the flow from their main platform (i.e. Oh, if you don’t like Bb, why not try our Moodle install! I already feel sorry for the salespeople navigating this discussion).
2. Data. Data is an economic value point. If Bb is hosting Moodle, depending on the end user agreement, they may be able to gain significant value from data and this data might inform the development of their main platform.
3. Move Moodle Rooms clients into their other offerings. I love Bb Collaborate. Best synchronous tool available. By far. Maybe Bb is trying to flesh out this revenue stream? What about Bb Analytics? Learning analytics are currently a buzz-wordy concept. This as an optino for-sale add-on might make sense.
My final assessment: It’s a mistake. It leaves the impression that Bb doesn’t have the confidence to compete on their own product.
There may be small benefits that Bb can gain from the acquisition, but any benefit will be offset by the message it sends about their main LMS offering. The only way that this acquisition makes sense economically is if Bb is moving OUT of the LMS space…or at least repositioning themselves so that the LMS is no longer their main offering. What we have here is a message that a tired product can be augmented by offering hosting for open source products.
D2L wins. Bb looks unfocused (and a bit scared).
What am I not seeing?