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Bantu Writes on the Blackboard

The worlds of Internet-based education and instant messaging are coming together as a result of a deal between Bantu Inc. and Blackboard Inc.

Bantu, which provides secure instant messaging and presence management products for the enterprise, and e-education infrastructure developer Blackboard have developed product extensions that allow the Bantu IM & Presence Platform to interoperate with Blackboard 5.5, officials said. The IM product enhancement offers real-time communication and collaboration for Blackboard's 2,200 customers.

"IM and presence are innovative and important enhancements for the Blackboard e-Education platform," said Blackboard Senior Vice President of Research and Development Dan Cane, in a statement. "With Bantu, students, faculty, and staff using Blackboard can see each other's online presence and instantly collaborate - regardless of their locations."

Bantu's platform seamlessly integrates into any software application, officials said, and brings real-time communications capabilities to customer-relationship management (CRM), sales-force-automation, e-commerce, collaboration and other workflow tools. End-users of these applications gain instant access to customers, colleagues and other IM contacts through both desktop and wireless devices.

The company's platform is built around "dynamic and flexible" application-programming interfaces (APIs), XML Presence and IM-delivered Notifications. Bantu Messenger is a Web-native IM product that requires no software download and works with multiple platforms, allowing users of Windows, Mac, Unix, and Linux to communicate across the same system, company officials also said.

Bantu Messenger is also interoperable with other IM networks like ICQ, MSN and Yahoo, which allows users to communicate with millions of other IM contacts worldwide. The software also has patent-pending message encryption, firewall-friendly technology, and user-privacy controls for enterprise use.

Among other features, Blackboard 5.5 includes timed release of content and assessments that provides instructors the ability to pre-populate sequential content, including assessments, and release content as desired; learning units that let instructors create sequential learning paths; gradebook and assessment enhancements; and Blackboard Building Blocks (B2) that allow the software to integrate with third-party systems and other independently developed tools.

The Bantu IM & Presence Platform is a part of Blackboard's B2 extensions. The Building Blocks program is being launched today at the Educause 2001Conference in Indianapolis, Blackboard added.

Both companies are headquartered in Washington, D.C.

Bob Woods is the managing editor of InstantMessagingPlanet.com.