Elluminate and Wimba Believe They Can Change Blackboard

I read a very nice set of arguments for the merger from an Elluminate employee here. However I believe the arguments have a few fallacies:

Argument that Elluminate is too small to compete and the only way to increase competition is to decrease the number of firms.

Sounds like reverse logic. In order to provide you with better options we need to decrease your options. This is fine if the single company can do a great job, listen to all their clients needs, and produce the perfect solution for every client. However, since we can’t trust that to happen, the best answer is to have multiple firms all trying to achieve happy clients. That way if one firm misses the mark, there are other firms ready to step in. Its called competition, its wasteful and redundant, but it seems to work better than a single monolithic big brother company. Speaking of competition and size, how do Sakai and Moodle compete against Blackboard in spite of Blackboard’s much larger size? Or better yet is there really any competition in the LMS market? If not, then how can the company that is responsible for that lack of competition in the LMS market (Blackboard) help bring about competition in the real time market?

Argument that education is poorly served by companies who are not education focused, so one strong education company is better than a bunch of weaker (smaller) education companies.

The post makes some good criticisms of competing corporate focused products. If customers care about those features then these corporate products should be out competed. The argument is that customers are presented with the choice between a flashy corporate style product (Adobe, WebEx) that will have short comings in educational use and a more homely product that actually meets the needs of their teachers and students (Elluminate, Wimba). What that argument means is that Elluminate doesn’t trust their customers to make decisions in the best interests of their students. I would agree that it seems that products are purchased without a sufficient trial period by the actual users and that technology purchasing decisions often rest with non educators. In my mind, this is how Blackboard has achieved such market dominance, a flashy sales pitch to a few key decision makers. I find it hard to believe Blackboard will change its approach.

There are other markets where corporate products are being used in the education sphere. MS Sharepoint is being used by some schools as an LMS (discussion forums, sharing documents, and sharing calendars). The feature comparison reveals that Sharepoint makes a poor LMS and so hasn’t been able to complete very well, however I welcome MS, Adobe, and Cisco WebEx attempts to enter the market and create products. These companies will push the education focused companies (I mean company) to improve the quality of their offerings.

Argument that the Elluminate and Wimba teams are full of committed educators and good people.

Guess what, so is Blackboard and yet Blackboard still has a reputation as a company that provides an inferior product with poor customer service at an inflated price. Why is that? I believe it is the focus on the corporate bottom line and their strategy of cornering the market. To me the belief that Elluminate can change Blackboard sounds kind of like a woman dating a man with a history of abuse and thinking that she is going to be the one to change him. The problem with Blackboard isn’t that it has bad people in it, the problem with Blackboard is that the corporate structure and strategy has made it mostly irrelevant to Blackboard if their ultimate customers (students and staff) are unhappy or poorly served. Also this argument makes me wonder, Why get involved with Blackboard at all? It implies that folks at Elluminate and Wimba are aware of the short comings of Blackboard and yet still want to partner with them.

I am all for hopeful optimism, but we are all trying to predict the future here. My argument is that Blackboard will prevail in decreasing competition (just like they did by removing WebCT and Angel as options for schools) and limiting the ability for other LMS’s to use their new real time product. The counter argument is that Elluminate and Wimba will prevail in opening up Blackboard. The piece of the argument that really lands me on the negative side is that Bb bought two companies at once (merging code is very difficult) and paid way too much for the companies (estimated $30 million value for $116 million). This screams of a business decision to create a monopoly. Elluminate and Wimba folks have quite a bit of work a head of them as Blackboard attempts to quickly turn a profit on their products and they try to change Blackboard.

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