Let me walk in where I think few will fear to tread.
For those who don't know me, my name is Julian, but I am often known round the traps as "Moodleman". I am a passionate Moodle advocate of over 8 years and have been working for a Moodle Partner (Pukunui) for the past 4 years
I fear in many ways this thread is just hear to stir trouble. That being said, I am keen to become part of the debate.
Lets get to the point of this , for me, for a second.
- Moodle is open source
- Moodle can be hosted on ANY server
- Moodle Partners provide hosting and services with the right to market using the trademark.
Moodle can, and often IS installed on whatever server the client wishes. This can be their own, any online web host or the server of a Moodle Partner. The option is completely up to the user and is chosen based on knowledge and recommendations from others.
Are Moodle Partners perfect? Far from it? I certainly know we are not. We make mistakes, our servers could often be configured better. We go out of our way to ensure we are constantly growing to meet our clients demands and expectations but of course this is IT. Things go wrong and we can always try to do better. Speak to my clients over the years and there will be some who say we am awful, some who say they are happy, and some who say we am the best decision they ever made. Each are individual views based on experiences had by that user. As an organisation trying to build a successful and growing company we try to ensure we make more people happy than miserable and encourage open communication at all times. Through this we better ourselves and our services.
So why do companies choose Partners? They in essence provide the same service as any web host do they not? A server with a certain specification that runs web software. This is true, but we also offer more. Moodle Partners offer experience, moodle support and moodle orientated technical support. Just as all web hosts are not the same, neither are all Moodle Partners. They each offer services in different ways with varying methods of server support. Pukunui and Netspot for instance, both Australian Moodle partners offer server hosting and support in completely different models. Each attracts a certain type of company or user and turns away others. Why do I highlight this? Well it comes down to how a client chooses their host.
New potential clients often ask me “What does Pukunui do?”. I answer simply “We fill in the blanks”. This is what may partners do. What do I mean by blanks? We fill in the gaps of knowledge they have. We offer training for those who want to learn how to use Moodle, we provide best practice consulting for information on how to set up, we provide technical support for those who struggle to run their own, we provide development for those wanting custom code and additions and we provide hosting for those who wish us to run the site for them. Each service is individual and not necessarily tied to any other. Other Moodle Partners around the world offer similar combinations of such services. My potential clients who are missing certain skill-sets pick a combination of services they need. And this is the important point for me. The CLIENT identifies skills/services they are lacking and choose a provider to best suit their need.
If they know moodle, how to run It and can set up a server they may never call us at all and run the entire system in-house.
Maybe they know how to use and run it but cant technically support it. In this case they can use any online web host and set it up themselves. I know quite a few organisations who use Amazon S3 in such a fashion.
Maybe they have in-house web servers and want to use moodle but have not run their own before. We go out, train their admins, hear from them 3 times for consulting and never again.
Maybe they know nothing except that Moodle suits their need. They then outsource the entire kit and kaboodle to a Partner for full servicing and support.
The iterations are of course endless. But what I hope I am doing is illustrating that clients pick Partners because they are a specialised company who can “fill in blanks” that they have identified.
But again let me stress. The client chooses. And they can choose whatever they wish. Moodle IS open source and can be placed anywhere. Partners don’t limit this, in fact, at Pukunui, we have helped many through training and consulting t move everything in-house or, recently, to sites such as Amazon S3 or others. It is just part of a service we offer. Each Partner runs their own business with their own model. Ours is completely different to Netspot which is different to Catalyst, which is different to Remote Learner which is different to........you get the idea. Clients search the ecosystem for a Provider that can provide the combination of services that best suit their need.
So, what is different about a Partner? What is it they do that is so special and needs to be separated out? Partners do a few things.
Firstly, they provide an income stream to Moodle. Moodle of course needs funds to pay it’s staff. Funds to better the product and help it grow. As the software is free, it is services that provides most of the income. And as Moodle does not directly offer services, it is through the partners that these funds are generated. How does this work? 10% of the earnings of a Moodle Partner go straight to Moodle...as clear as that. (info here http://moodle.com/partners/about/ )
Secondly Partners also provide expertise. This expertise is often unique to each Partner. Each is chose, not on fiscal capability, but on what they can bring to the project. Some bring code, certification programs, large scale hosting expertise, training credentials, etc. While the skill may be unique, each helps build the product and make it better.
So here I come to the clincher. Why is the Partner program regulated? The following is MY view, but one I am sure many share. The Partner program is there to ensure others are not making money off this wonderful product/brand without putting back. I don’t think it fair that anyone should be able to market with this logo and yet put nothing back in. That, to me, is the simple simplicity of the argument. But that is it...companies who MARKET themselves. I think this is very clearly explained here (http://moodle.com/trademarks/).
You can contact any developer you want and have them do development for you. You can contact any host and have them run a moodle site. You can contact any consultant/trainer and have them run Moodle training. If you think another provider is better than a Partner based on need or reputation you can choose them. I personally have 4 friends/colleagues of mine who offer consulting/services as non partners and are doing stellar work while not breaching the guidelines. In fact, I did so myself for several years before joining Pukunui. Why did I join Pukunui then? I wanted the chance to be able to do more and put something directly back into the project. I have not regretted this decision for a minute.
So last question, why this essay?
I get very frustrated watching certain elements of the community dragging Partners down for reasons I do not understand. I hope to illustrate with this response the simplicity of the fact that this, regardless of what they say, is still very much an open market. Hold them accountable as you would any web host or consultant. Price compare what you are getting for that service and shop around. If you have an issue with your Partner contact them and try and get it resolved. If it cannot be resolved, change to a provider (partner or not) that can provide the service you need. If you don’t like them, don’t use them. If you don’t need them, don’t use them. But don’t mock or harass those who do. Let users “fill in the blanks” as they need to/want to.
To bring back Helen’s remark from earlier:
“We do not want to see other systems being bashed here - this is a place for comparisons, advocacy, reflections, experiences, and thoughtful general discussions of the playing field that Moodle is part of.”
This forum, and in fact all of Moodle.org is geared towards this goal and it is one of many reasons I am proud to be part of this community. We don’t bash other applications, hosts, providers or systems. We instead promote advocacy and reflection. Over the 8 years I have been part of this community it is this attitude and from it the views shared that have increased my knowledge and passion for education, open source and moodle. As I hope you would do with any organisation you have a relationship with, if you hav issues please contact them directly. If you believe they are doig disservice to the Moodle Trademark, then let Moodle know (contact info on this page http://moodle.com/contact/ ) as Martin and his team are keen to ensure Moodle is forever moving forward, not backward.
I don’t intend to follow up on this post to reply to baiting and cynicism. I hope instead that this post can promote positive discussion on how others can fill in the blanks and methods with which they have done so.