About a month ago, we convened the Product Development Partners for the first development project of the Blackboard Beyond Initiative.  We’ve already covered a lot really useful ground in a relatively short amount of time, including some high level discussions like product strategy and design reviews, right down to individual feature names and other  more detailed topics.  But some of the most interesting conversations that we’ve had seem to come to the same conclusion of, "we’re not in Kansas anymore".  What I mean is that the web properties coming out of the Beyond Initiative are really going to be quite different from prior Blackboard product adoption experiences, and it seems that we don’t fully realize how deeply ingrained expectations may be based on some of those past experiences.

Here’s one example of what I’m talking about.

It came up in our discussions with the PDP that today when someone at Blackboard says the word "beta", that has a specific meanings,  associations and memories for many of you.  Okay, maybe they’re not totally explicit, but they’re probably there anyways lurking under the surface.  For example, with a beta, you needed to think about how you should manage the risk that goes with installing new core code on your production system; additionally, you were not expecting to see new features during that specific beta period.  All of this is an accurate view based on what you’ve experienced from Blackboard.

What’s really interesting is that when you switch to a model where the software is delivered as a service, through a centrally-hosted web property, those assumptions have to be revisited.  The same words have new implications and "beta" doesn’t mean the same thing anymore.  The lines between beta and production become blurred.  Have you ever gone to Google and discovered new services or capabilities that have suddenly appeared, often with the word "beta" next to it (Gmail for example)?  Have you ever gone ahead and started using that new tool in a "production" way, with relatively little concern or risk, while you still watched some of the features evolve?  That’s a totally different way of adopting web applications that is becoming more and more prevalent and popular with Web 2.0 services.  And beta testing is just the tip of the iceberg – the model is completely different than the past experiences with Blackboard software, and it will require us all to adapt our engrained expectations.

That’s exactly what’s happening with the Beyond Initiative – a series of centrally-hosted web services for the education community.  We are creating a model that is new to Blackboard and therefore we have to reinvent the wheel and help our clients evolve with us.  And it’s dialogue like this that makes our Product Development Partners invaluable. 

If you’d like to stay abreast of our plans for our first service, social bookmarking for education, please email us at beyond@blackboard.com.   

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