What I Didn’t Know About Using Community Source Software (Sakai) in Higher Ed

“How to set expectations for change management,” – that’s it. That’s what I didn’t know.

Consider the kinds of changes one habitually takes from a vendor of proprietary software which you maintain in your own higher ed Data Center.

The hypothetical change is

New cool features advertised to you, or…

  • Bug fixes (you’d found them or you hadn’t, in other words, you cared deeply or not at all), or …
  • Enhancements.

Qualities of the change:

  • The change has already been deployed and tested many times over by the software vendor in environments, with data, very similar to yours.
  • You schedule when you want to accept/install the change and make it available to your users, usually based on your academic schedule.

What your users expect-

  • Won’t get it before the regular schedule break, even if they knew about it.
  • Didn’t know about it anyway because the vendor doesn’t market to them but to the people who manage the system for them.
  • The vendor is an uncaring large collection of cogs anyway, so no point in asking for an enhancement.

What your users do-

  • Blog, tweet and facebook their complaints vociferously but without expecting more than a good venting session.
  • Write you emails about how your vendor doesn’t care.
  • Login after upgrades and harumpf that that the thing that used to annoy them so greatly is finally fixed.


Contrast this with open/community source:

What your users expect-

  • They will be heard if they connect with the community.
  • You are connecting with the community on their behalf and that will be meaningful in the community because it must be small.
  • The developers working on their behalf will automatically do a better job than the vendor because they work for higher ed institutions.

What your users do-

  • Demand bug fixes and enhancements.
  • Expect them to be applied frequently.
  • Suggest enhancements and expect them to be executed in amazingly beautiful ways.

2 thoughts on “What I Didn’t Know About Using Community Source Software (Sakai) in Higher Ed

  1. And the “qualities of the change” with open source? How do those compare?

    1. I’ve been thinking about this question, Scott. I don’t think I’m qualified to answer since my institution hasn’t yet contributed to any of those software changes, only consumed them.
      Sakai is what I know about. I will comment from that perspective.
      The code seems to be well vetted. Unlike customizations to proprietary software or integration code that my institution DOES create, the code from at least the Sakai software community, has more eyes on it. It’s also included in at least one nightly build of a server (http://nightly2.sakaiproject.org/) maintained by the community and is there available for access to all. The process which creates and gets the code to trunk seems to be robust with suitable checks and balances, and even more developer eyes on it.
      What may be lacking for initial code is testing in differently configured environments. Or with odd use cases. Vendors typically provide that testing for all permutations they support. The Sakai community does that more gradually. That’s about all I can speak to at the moment.

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