Experiment: badges, identity and you

Figuring out who to pay attention to and who to work with is a big challenge in a community like Mozilla. Using the Whistler Science Fair as example, Les Orchard points out the underlying issue — we don’t have a quick way to parse through all the awesome to find out who’s good at what / who’s contributed what / who is doing things relevant to me. This is a common problem in online life overall. We don’t have an easy, portable and reliable way to represent our skills, achievements and social capital.

Over the last two months, I’ve been talking to people about this same challenge in another context — learning and education. Historically, we’ve used degrees and certificates to show what we know. This breaks down online — partly because we have no good way to show these credentials and partly because so much of our learning is now informal that degrees aren’t really relevant. People like P2PU, Remix Learning and others have come same conclusion Les has — we could use online badges to represent these things. Sites like Stack Overflow already use badges like this. We’re going to do the same for the Mozilla / P2PU School of Webcraft.

Which brings me to the experiment I want to do: a digital ‘backpack’ that lets you store and display badges you pick up from many different sites across the web.

Badges can provide a good way for potential friends, collaborators, co-workers and employers to size you up. However, that’s only true if they can associate all your badges with you. You don’t want to send them traipsing around the web to look at sites like P2PU, iRemix and Badger to see your badges. Instead, you want to all the badges from these different places reliably associated with your online identity.

With this in mind, I’ve been talking to Mike Hanson and others about an experiment that displays badges from multiple places as a part of the identity you build up through Firefox. Someone wanting to check you out would see something like this:

At an implementation level, this would work by storing your badges (or references to your badges) in both a personal data vault like Weave and some sort of claims system. It could work something like this:

The main ‘layers’ of this system are the 1. the badge issuer, 2. you and your online identity and 3. badge display and badge viewers. Specific to my proposed experiment are:

  • P2PU, Badger and iRemix -> these are places where you *get* a badge for some skill or activity. They act as ‘badge servers’ and would expose all the badges they have awarded to you in a structured and standardized way.
  • A personal data vault (e.g. Weave) and a claims system (Mike Hanson is working on a general system like this) -> from a user perspective, these items combine into a ‘personal badge manager’ that you access via identity tools in your browser or on a web site.
  • Your identity profile (webfinger?) plus social media sites like LinkedIn -> these display all of your badges and associate them with the rest of your identity.

At a practical level, we need a system like for P2PU School of Webcraft and the kind of badge platform Les is proposing for Mozilla. Connecting badges a version of your online identity the you control also presents a huge opportunity in informal digital learning — everyone working in that space needs something like this as well.

With this in mind, my proposal is to roll out an proof of concept for the idea described above using badges from Mozilla, P2PU and various orgs in the MacArthur Digital Media and Learning Network. I’m going to work with Mike, Les, Philipp, Robert and others on this in the next few months, with the hope of showing the prototype at the Drumbeat Learning, Freedom and the Web Festival in Barcelona this November. If you’ve got ideas or want to help out, please post comments below.


  1. Danny Moules replied on | Reply

    Sounds interesting. I’d been considering a very similar idea, inspired by Stack Overflow and ‘trophies’ on video game consoles that would let you aggregate various ‘badge’ sources.

    Would love to be involved in this project if it gains traction.

  2. dria replied on | Reply

    I’m working on a community directory/identity server project that could fit really well into this system, at very least covering the “profiles” part if not also the data vault/badge backpack. I’m still hammering out a rudimentary spec (getting feedback on an initial draft now) so nothing has been posted on the wiki at this point, but hopefully I’ll be able to do that soon.

  3. Janet Swisher replied on | Reply

    A related issue is that badges from different sites are usually incommensurable, and it’s hard for someone who’s not a member of a given community to know what its badges mean. To address that, the Community Equity project (http://kenai.com/projects/community-equity) provides a framework that sites can use for their reputation system that is objective and equivalent across all CEQ sites. Here’s a slideshow about it: http://www.slideshare.net/peterreiser/community-equity-open-source

  4. sj replied on | Reply

    Nice sketches. Don’t forget the barnstar type of badge, which are given to contributors by others after the fact, rather than strived for and achieved by the contributor.

  5. Good Worker replied on | Reply

    Interesting idea, would be really useful if this system can be integrated to be used with the current websites. E.g. you can collect badges from educational websites, gaming websites, sports clubs etc.

  6. Glen Moriarty replied on | Reply

    Great post! I just learned about this initiative on the OCW Consortium blog: http://ocwconsortium.org/community/blog/2010/09/13/can-the-open-web-provide-the-future-of-assessment/. We at http://www.nixty.com are working on a similar type process w/ePortfolios. I’d love to connect and learn more about the system you described above.

  7. Jones replied on | Reply

    This is a very interesting article, badges as a concept have a very strong association with the concept of achieving something or belonging to something. It’s something you’re proud of, that you can wear on your digital “chest”.

    There’s also a pretty interesting new website I’ve run across that focuses on Badges, and applying them to ones, interests experiences and uses them as social currently. Looks like early stages but something to take a look into nonetheless. It’s at http://playbadger.com

    – Jones

  8. peterfzoll replied on | Reply

    Is there a Backpack API yet? I have bolted together an app named
    BEISA (a type of oryx antelope) that handles two aspects of badges from a teacher’s point of view: what badges he or she has (from which a parent or child might form an impression of how much the teacher knows) AND how well the teacher has done with teaching individual students on particular badges. For example, suppose the teacher has badges for WWII submarine actions near Alaska as well as naval surface engagements like the Battle of the Commander Islands. But if the State of Alaska focuses on the land battles at Attu and Kiska in the standardized high school tests, students signing up with this teacher may be in for a tough time.

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