First, Canvas is a compelling product, with some great usabilty and features. I also welcome Instructure's move to a (forked?) open source path, which I think helps evolve platform options and the marketplace in useful ways.
I am unconvinced, however, by a main thread Instructure CEO Josh Coates takes up in his recent blog post on Instructure's open source strategy.
Josh says that software owned by a single commercial entity is preferable because "critical bug fixes, integration and innovation only come out of the folks that own the technology." I think history has shown that Josh's assertion is not true. Many open and community source projects that do not have a single commercial entity at their core consistently demonstrate high rates of maintenance, innovation, and integration. At the same time, what might be called "corporate" open source offerings do not always generate the qualities Josh describes.
Underneath this issue is an even more fundamental perspective that I also question: that there are only two paths of software ownership/development, which Josh defines in his question: "would you rather have a closed system owned by a commercial entity, or an open system not owned by anyone?" Josh goes on to suggest Instructure's open source strategy offers "the best of both worlds."
I've recently been enjoying some (possibly) healthy, irreverent debate with colleagues at Blackboard and beyond about some of the differences between such proprietary regimes and the open-source community of Sakai. While the Twitter channel we've been using generates plenty of pithy ripostes, at times a tweet calls out for more sustained thought and response.
A recent tweet from @georgekroner—one of my favorite Blackboarders—set me thinking and led to some longer—if not deeper—reflections, likely to be far less entertaining than the short salvos in our ongoing snarkument on Twitter.
The tweet that set me off was George sharing his concern that Sakai 3's planned capabilities might be "commonplace" by the time it is ready for widespread use.
I'm not entirely convinced George's concern is for real, given that Sakai is one of the most significant challenges to Blackboard's market dominance in learning technologies and it would seem any failure on Sakai's part would be cause for celebration rather concern over at Blackboard. But maybe George is just the kind of guy who wishes the best for everyone. Or maybe it's part of Blackboard's continued posture that having a near monopoly in the proprietary market is fine as long as there is at least one viable open-source alternative like Sakai, even while Blackboard itself acts like open source can't really compete.
But I'm not inspired here just to wipe away Blackboard's crocodile tears. George's tweet started me thinking: if he is right, and the kind of experience Sakai 3 will offer becomes commonplace, we should all celebrate rather than wring our hands.
If Sakai 3 ends up fitting within the broader scope of contemporary online experience, that means Sakai 3's open, social, user-centered, integrative paradigm shares in broader understandings of what online experience should be—both within education and beyond. It wouldn't just mean Sakai 3 "guessed right," it would also mean a very healthy, widespread vision of what the web can and should be has won out. Far from a concern, I would count Sakai 3's capabilities becoming "commonplace" as a major success, not only for Sakai, but for the web in general.