What BB’s patent really tells you about them

I gave the keynote at the BB users’ conference yesterday in Durham. As I have blogged before I had some reservations about this. I think it was worthwhile though – I talked about web 2.0 and some of the usual VLE topics I have covered (succession, metaphors, future directions, etc). From a BB audience perspective the key slide was one that focused on the patent where I played the YouTube movie on software patents, gave some of Michael Feldstein’s interpretations of the patent, and linked it back to the succession model. The Blackboard company representatives in the audience looked a little unhappy with this, although slightly battle weary too – I suspect they are getting tired of talking about it. In the questions someone asked me about other patents and I outlined some of their dangers and why I considered them an ‘educational menace’. So, it was a good audience to raise that topic in (in many ways better than preaching to the converted at an open source conference, say). I think it is also another example of why it is such a dumb move on BB’s part. Without the patent I wouldn’t have said anything bad about them, I had a lot of time for them. What the patent does is effectively polarise users, forcing them in to mutually opposing camps. It has made me much more of an advocate of open source for example, and that reaction manifested across many HE institutions will ultimately do a good deal of harm to BB. If I was an investor in BB I would be seriously questioning the wisdom of Michael Chasen, its CEO, in pursuing this strategy.

The theme of the conference was the power of 2.0, and was all about web 2.0 implications. One can’t imagine a less 2.0 approach than BB’s patent (it hardly chimes with the principles of openness, freedom and respect for users does it), so the other thing is demonstrates is a complete lack of understanding about the current technological and social zeitgeist – and would you want to place so much of your institution’s strategy in the hands of a company that is so far from getting it?

One Comment

  1. Guy Pursey says:

    I’ve been writing up my notes on this talk recently and I remember thinking at the time that this was an unusual (but brave) move to make in talk that Blackboard representatives were present at. Thanks for giving the talk. I found it very interesting and thought-provoking.

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