Jeff Young has a great piece in The Chronicle called “Blackboard Customers Consider Alternatives“. As usual, Michael Korcuska has insightful things to say about it. I only have a little bit to add on one quote from Blackboard CEO Michael Chasen:
I have 300 people on my development team working full time on our products and services…I don’t know if there are 300 full-time people currently working on Sakai.
This is entirely consistent with Blackboard’s strategy, outlined in one of my recent posts, of arguing that they are more “enterprise-y” than their competition because they are bigger and spend more money. As Michael K points out, this particular rehearsal of the argument based on developer numbers is specious in a number of ways. But another thing to consider here is that maybe the brute force that Blackboard has to apply in terms of developer numbers to produce their product may indicate that they are actually doing something wrong.
Consider, for example, content management. Blackboard bought Xythos, a relatively lackluster content management system, and maintains it (presumably with some of those 300 developers) to add content management capability to their system. This capability is bolted on and poorly integrated. In contrast, Sakai deeply integrates with the JSR-170 standard for many of its tools so that adopting institutions can choose their content repositories from a wide range of options, including best-in-class systems, free open source systems, and so on. Sakai does not waste resources re-inventing the wheel badly.
I have argued in the past that the entire LMS product category is simply groupware re-implemented badly and that the future of the online learning environment depends on developers avoiding this trap by re-using what exists in areas like content management, calendaring, chat, roles and permissions, etc., and focusing new development on education-specific functionality. This is something that the Sakai community is doing now. And if you buy the argument, then Blackboard’s 300 developers looks less like strength and more like inefficiency.