reflections on the merger
According to the bb.com/webct site, the product lines will remain intact and supported [for now I assume], while over time a new product set that combines the best of both worlds will be rolled out. As I wrote to one of our faculty (her immediate reaction was amusing, and unprintable :-D), it'll take several months to do the paperwork, several more months to fire and reassign sales and backoffice people, and then they'll be able to start thinking technical stuff. If they fast-track it, they MIGHT be able to have something (BlackCT?) in beta this time next year.
Or they might take a deep breath, step back and really think strategically about 21st century learning. Maybe they'll start slow; come up with a blog or wiki module that can be plugged into both Enterprise and Vista. ('Course, us po' redheaded stepchillin' - Basic customers - gots to stay out in de barn.)
I suspect that the low price means that Blackboard sees WebCT's main asset as its customer base rather than its technology. WebCT has some nice features. But having used both systems, Blackboard seems to deliver a more consistent overall user experience. They've been steadily gaining market share, and it's certainly not due to agressive pricing.
After the quality and customer-service debacle of CourseInfo 3.x Blackboard shook itself and decided to get its act together and become a Big Company. They're certainly structured that way now, and this deal only reinforces that.
Moodle and Sakai aren't real competitors for Blackboard's customer base IMO. I just don't see open source solutions as major players. WE are not the customers. We're the users. The customers are our bosses and their bosses, the VPs who sign the POs. relatively few institutions - especially small and medium-size institutions - can afford open source. Pay $75,000 a year for software licenses, or hire 1.5 FTE system admins / programmer-analysts at $60,000 to support open-source? Even I can do that math.
Feature-wise, OSS tends to be a couple of years behind commercial off-the-shelf products. A big part of that is the fact that OSS depends on volunteer development, while COTS vendors have dedicated developers. Bb is trying to straddle that line with its Building Blocks architecture. Unfortunately, their current pricing strategy leaves the smaller customers (like us) out in the barn. (Macromedia did the same thing with Extensions for Flash and Dreamweaver. Fortunately for the little guys, anyone can use the Macromedia extensions.)
There may be a third path. Maybe, just maybe, the combined company will say, Hey, you developers and end-users. We know you've had some great ideas that we've had to set aside in the past, because we've been locked into these legacy architectures. We're going to start with a blank sheet of paper and design a real, 21st-century learning system with all the features, bells and whistles you've been waiting for.
Sure, I'm an optimist. I'll be scanning the sky for swine. ;-)
UPDATE: Welcome readers of Inside Higher Education!