I have written my expression of strong support for the merger on my
) and copy
it here for your convenience:
More on the Sakai/Jasig Merger
As I have mentioned here before, the Sakai and Jasig foundations are
in the process of evaluating a merger to create a kind of Apache
Foundation for higher education. The new organization would be called
the Apereo Foundation. The two communities will be voting on the
merger some time in the next month or so. Documentation and discussion
can be found here.
I’d like to tell you why I think this merger is vitally important for
higher education in general and Sakai in particular.
The Economics of Community Source
“Community source” is the label for a particular brand of open source
practiced by the Mellon Foundation-funded family of projects, most
prominently Sakai, Jasig, and Kuali. Its meaning has always been
somewhat fuzzy and has gotten more so over time as the communities
associated with those projects have grown and higher education’s
attitudes toward open source have evolved. But fuzziness aside, I do
think there is a certain attitude that infuses all of these projects
and has profound implications for their sustainability models.
Community source, as a movement, has stressed choice and independence
for schools rather than a desire to conquer a product category. In the
Sakai community, for example, there never was a strong sense that
Sakai should “win” in the market by “beating” other LMSs because it’s
the “best.” Rather, the community has tended to see itself as a group
of fellow travelers who are looking to build something together and
minimize their collective risk. As long as the project had enough
participants to be sustainable, they never worried too much about
growing market share.
The sustainability models of these communities reflect those values.
Ongoing development is funded primarily through direct contribution of
labor or funds from participating schools. There are dues paid, but
that money goes primarily toward maintaining the community rather than
the software. And you don’t have to pay dues to use the software. They
are strictly voluntary support for the community. There are commercial
affiliates who do contribute to the code, but there is no structure
binding their success and growth to the growth of resources for
developing the software, the way there is in Moodle.
Those models work well when the cost of the commercial entrants in the
product category are high and resource pooling makes economic sense.
In the early days of both Sakai and Jasig’s uPortal project, the
commercial entrants in the LMS and portal categories had pricing
power, and there was a sense that they were holding colleges and
universities hostage. It seemed worthwhile to the early investors to
put more money in up front so that they could gain control of their
destiny, and they could be assured that others would follow on at
lower investment levels because their contributions, while
significant, would be less than the license cost of the commercial
alternatives. Kuali enjoys this advantage today; the cost of
commercial ERP software, both in licensing and in implementation, is
so high that they have a compelling economic case to make even to
those schools that don’t particularly care about open source.
But pricing power for both portals and LMSs has dropped in recent
years as other viable open source and commodity private source
candidates have come onto the market. Also, as Sakai CLE and uPortal
have matured, the schools that have adopted them are more or less
satisfied (or, at least, satisficed), making it harder to get them to
invest in ongoing development. A commercial licensing or hosting fee
is something that’s easy to keep in a budget on an ongoing basis; a
developer, less so. These two factors have combined to make both Sakai
and Jasig sustainability brittle. While neither Sakai CLE nor Sakai
OAE is in any immediate danger, the threat of erosion of support below
a critical threshold is always there. These projects are not in the
red zone, but neither are they in the green.
The way these respective communities tend to deal with the problem is
to send their Executive Directors out to be salespeople and drum up
more financial commitments. In fact, the most common concern that I
hear voiced about the prospective merger is that the EDs will be
“distracted” from raising vital funds. But pushing the ED to focus on
squeezing out a few more commitments every quarter is a tactical
approach to a strategic problem. Unless the fundamental dynamics
change, the EDs will always be paddling upstream. We will never get
into the green that way. All we will do is raise the risk of burning
out good Executive Directors.
Affinity Marketing, the Sales Funnel, and Growing the Pie
I’d like to go back to a point I made in passing earlier in this post:
Dues paid to the foundations are voluntary support for the community.
I have been a Sakai Foundation Board member for several years now, and
a community member for more. I have heard many, many versions of the
same discussion: How can we increase the number of dues-paying members
by emphasizing the value of the community? The answer is simple:
Increase the value of the community. The Apereo Foundation, by
creating a brand separate from the individual projects but supported
by those project brands (in somewhat the same way that the Apache
Foundation’s brand is boosted by housing projects like Maven, Hadoop,
and ActiveMQ), could become the place that first comes to mind when
college and university folk think about collaborating around open
source software or related practices. It could attract more
participants. And it is my sense that the barrier to participate in an
open source project is the highest when it’s your first. Once you’ve
had a successful experience with one, you’re more likely to try another
—especially if some of the same folks are involved. There is great
value in building a strong community of practice around open source in
higher education. That value far transcends the value of any
particular project. As such, it can create a halo effect for projects
that are associated with the community.
The objection I typically hear at this point is that Apache has a
common audience of techies who are interested in the bottom portion of
the IT stack, where Sakai and Jasig do not have that common thread
with each other. In my view, that concern misses the point. The real
value is in creating common and neutral ground for higher education to
collaborate on open projects rather than to serve some particular set
of IT functions. Take the case of Blackboard, for example. When they
announced their intention of becoming more involved in the Sakai
community by hiring Chuck Severence, it stirred up a lot of concern.
It feels weird for Blackboard to be involved in Sakai because they are
long-time competitors in the LMS category. But it would be far less
weird for Blackboard (or Desire2Learn, or Instructure) to participate
in an Apereo Foundation, where they could, for example, contribute to
developing LTI-based teaching tools that could integrate with both
LMSs. More importantly, it would be less weird for Blackboard
customers to participate in Apereo on such projects. Likewise, it
would be easier for the IMS to build open source reference
implementations of new specifications that are housed in the Apereo
Foundation than in the Sakai Foundation. Some of these new projects
will have infrastructure requirements. You don’t need to develop your
own single sign-on software to tie a couple of ed tech applications
together with SSO, but it sure is convenient to have SSO experts in
your network. Apereo could be a premier place for schools to work
together on solving their end-to-end academic technology problems. As
such, the community could grow, both in numbers and in value. Some of
the new participants would join the Sakai or Jasig projects as they
got closer to them, thus boosting their sustainability without
requiring us to turn the Executive Director into a traveling salesman.
But even more importantly, the community itself would become valuable
to a wider range of schools regardless of which projects they do or do
not join. A rising tide lifts all boats.
I do not dismiss the questions I hear about the merger. There are many
important tactical details to work out. And precisely since these
projects are brittle (again, not under immediate threat, but not as
safely sustainable as anyone would like them to be), anxieties are
high. These concerns need to be addressed, and I am confident that
they will be. But let me be clear: I strongly believe that this path
is the most viable path to long-term sustainability for all of the
projects involved. If you are a believer in the benefits of Open, then
the best way to support it and prove out its value is to be open. The
health and robustness of the software is a second-order effect of the
health and robustness of the community.
> > Collaboration Google Group (see *
> > ).
> > *JASIG-SAKAI MERGER-RELATED DOCUMENTATION*
> > (1) *Proposed Transitional Apereo Membership Fee Structure *- This
> > document will provide the history, rationale and details associated with
> > the initial membership fee structure that is being proposed for the new
> > organization. Both the Jasig and Sakai Board of Directors endorsed this plan
> > .
> > (2) *The Value of a Common Foundation: A Case of Apereo* - This is the
> > third public release of this "living" document which discusses the
> > rationale and benefits associated with the merger and has been updated to
> > reflect prior comments and concerns from our communities.
> > (3)* Updated Apereo Bylaws* - This final draft of the bylaws has been
> > updated significantly since its initial release in August 2011 and has also
> > been endorsed by both the Jasig and Sakai Boards.
> > (4)* Jasig-Sakai Merger FAQ* - We have developed an FAQ based on the
> > questions and issues that our communities have raised over the past year
> > and will continue to add to it as additional questions are posed.
> > *All of these documents can now be found on the Apereo web site (**
>*)* although it should