Blackboard and WebCT Announce Plans to Merge. For those who aren't familiar with the companies, Blackboard and WebCT are two of the best-known LCMS products around. In fact, frankly I can't name any others off the top of my head. There are open-source solutions (which also happen to include the only standards-compliant options), but they have a relatively low takeup rate and basically have Buckley's chance of getting implemented at large universities.

It's pretty clear the Blackboard+WebCT merger is a "merger" in much the same way as Adobe+Macromedia or Oracle+PeopleSoft: one company is being swallowed by the other, with a vague notion of eventually releasing an all-new, all-singing, all-dancing product. From Bb's notes about the merger: Company will remain under the Blackboard brand. ... Over time, Blackboard will incorporate the best features and usability characteristics from the two product lines into a new standards-based product set.

So what does this all mean? Well, in short, Blackboard gets bigger. They pick up more clients and over time they'll phase out WebCT. They'll then release a "new standards-based product set". I wouldn't get too excited by the mention of standards though; the current version isn't at all accessible or standards-compliant despite what they claim. Marketing dross does not mean results, even if it does satisfy the odd manager who is vaguely aware of some problem about blind people.

To be fair, I believe the company genuinely wants to produce something more accessible; even though we won't be seeing the results anytime soon. Just like PeopleSoft, the code base is just too big and too committed to an existing methodology to change it quickly; and that methodology was set down when tag soup was the industry standard. On top of that, they have an entire range of considerations and unsurprisingly web standards are nowhere near the top of the list. Major bug fixes tend to come first.

On the plus side, it does at least show that standards are turning up as a selling point. The merger FAQ includes the question Will the combined company support industry standards?. Unfortunately the answer is more marketing dross: Consistent with each company’s leadership in education industry standards initiatives, the combined company will continue to invest in and support technical standards important to the education community. ...which just means "we'll keep doing exactly what we're doing now".

It just makes it that much more important for Blackboard to improve on standards and accessibility.

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