Reacting to Michael Feldstein’s Blog Post about BlackBoard

Michael Feldstein had this excellent Blog post:

It followed up this excellent blog post by Michael Korcuska:
I just had to comment in Michael F’s blog – could not resist… Here is my comment…

Michael F. – I *love* this post – I also love Michael K’s post as well. The dialog is getting to the real meat of the matter.
The Sakai Community and the Sakai Foundation are not one and the same. I sort-of like your suggestion that the Foundation not invest any *Foundation* resources in helping make something “non-open” happen. However, members of the community can do whatever they decide to do.
However I think that it would be wrong for the Foundation to make such a strong statement completely closing the door on any interaction because of the patent.
Back when I was the Sakai Executive Director, I felt that it was very important to engage potential stakeholders in the Sakai product and community regardless of their use of patents or the openness of their source. Because I felt that open source should be open – open source should be an example of how to win without being protectionist.
Under this principle that I gave to myself – I engaged in many discussions with a number of companies who are notorius for having and using patents and for keeping their source closed. And I even talked to them under NDA terms to help align their strategies w.r.t. Sakai internally before making external commitment statements.
These “bad” companies include: Oracle, Apple, Microsoft, IBM, and others. Also some of the academic members of Sakai hold nasty little patents – I think one of these academic patents is in the top 10 villains on the EFF patent busters effort – but we let Sakai resources benefit Universities that hold and exploit patents that cover our space.
My perspective was that it was not my place to just “good companies” and “bad companies”. Some members of the Sakai Foundation Board and Sakai Community were often concerned when I initially engaged each of these companies as the ED. But overall after a while people relaxed and realized that nothing bad happened to us by talking to Oracle – that we effectively were protected because we were “open” and as long as Sakai stayed true to its own values – consorting with Oracle or Microsoft did not change our values.
And actually working with Oracle has had wonderful benefits – both to Sakai and to the market in general – your leadership in the IMS Learner Information Service – is awesome – Oracle’s investment in a public good is much appreciated – at least by me.
I never look at corporate decisions as “good” or “evil” – they are either “smart” or “dumb”. I think that Oracle’s decision to engage in Sakai and IMS is “smart”. I think that BlackBoard’s engagement of open source is “smart”. I think that BlackBoard’s work in IMS Tools Interoperability is “smart”. I think that the way BlackBoard granted patent immunity to Open Source is “smart”. I think that the way BlackBoard pursued the D2L patent is “dumb”. Not “evil” – not “good” – just “dumb”.
I think that the market impact of the “dumb” BlackBoard decision has already caused negative consequences to BlackBoard – I think some of your earlier posts about dwindling market share are best explained as the results of management mistakes made by BlackBoard. I actually trust the market to punish “dumb” things and reward “smart” things – so my opinion really does not matter.
If I am asked – I always tell companies what I think the “smart” choice should be. I always preface my advice with the following variant of Sarbanes-Oxley: “Thanks for asking for my opinion on this matter, just so you know – I am just a humble academic with no real business experience, but if I were facing this decision, I would ….”