Blackboard and WebCT have announced agreement to merge with BlackBoard remaining as the brand name. In reality however, WebCT, both the company and the platform, will be stripped and incorporated into Bb. So, is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well for starters it will make the WebCT or Bb decision that bit easier! But pity the smaller VLE/LMS vendors who’ll now have a monster to battle. More importantly I think this merger will probably be a threat to interoperability standards.
A couple of years ago I was at the IMS Alt-i-lab meeting in San Francisco and heard two very interesting and honest presentations from the CTOs of both WebCT and BlackBoard. Effectively they were saying that BigCo vendors were cautious about embracing interoperability too vigourously because their companies have a commercial imperative to maintain their distinctiveness in the market place. Imagine if you could use WebCT one week, effortlessly switch to BlackBoard the next and so on, ‘what would be the reason for remaining loyal to any one system?’, or so they argued. While the big two vendors remained separate there was always a customer demand for the ability to at least in principle switch content from one system to the other as universities for instance feared content lock-in. With the announcement of this merger a major reason for content interoperability has probably just disappeared. Sure there remain a number of very good but much smaller systems as alternatives to the Bb/WebCT behemoth but if you were BlackBoard would you work hard to make sure your content or services were interoperable with those? Well let’s hope so, but I think this news is going to present some real challenges to the interoperability folks. There are alternatives, choose open source for example, but if you were a university where would you put your money?