#OpenBadges: Beyond Spray and Pray!

The current Open Badge process looks very much like spray and pray: badges issuers spray badges then pray that they will be collected —in many instances less than 20% of earners push them to their backpack. Badges earners spray (some of) their badges on the web then pray to get some kind of feedback or value. Badge designers, issuers and earners pray that badge consumers will be able to make sense of the (pretty) pictures embedding the metadata.

If we had to describe Open Badges as a market, it would be qualified as a supply-led market, not a demand-led one. A supply-led market is dominated by producers pushing goods to consumers, enticing them to buy through marketing campaigns. It is what the #BadgeTheWorld and @BadgeEurope could become, and will not!

What would a demand-led Open Badge market look like? What would the benefits be in moving from a model where badges are primarily pushed onto people, to one where badges are pulled from them, with their active participation?

There are two ways to think in terms of demand-led: one of them is to invite the potential clients to tell suppliers what kind of goods and services they would like to receive. This might look like demand-led, while it is just a patronising version of supplier-led. Another model is based on the emergence of the prosumer, a term coined by Alvin Toffler in The Third Wave (1980): as society moves toward the Post-Industrial Age, so will the number of pure consumers decline. They will be replaced by “prosumers,” people who produce many of their own goods and services (Philip Kotler source). The read-write web, the fablabs, the webmakers, the regain of interest in cooperatives, are evidence of the emergence of the prosumer. We just don’t want to be adjusted to the market, we want to decide how the market should be. It is for the market to adapt to us and not the other way around.

How could Open Badges relate to prosumers? The most obvious response is: make everybody a badge issuer, earner and consumer. From a technical point of view, this could be solved in a matter of weeks, not even months. We just need someone with the right technical skills to glue together the existing pieces of the puzzle. But the main problem is not technical. The problem is in the mindset and the type of market we have created, supplier-led.

One of the main problems with the current supplier-led Open Badge market is that the onus on the exploitation of badges is left to the badge holder (and the badge consumer): you earned all these beautiful badges designed by us, so now, try to get something out of them! Not only do we force-feed people with badges, but on top of that, they are required to spend time creating pretty layouts in social media in order to create meaning out of badges with many different shapes and colours while we have not made the effort to elicit what could be the elements of a visual grammar of badges.

To address this issue, my suggestion is to start from the following hypothesis: imagine that badges had no pictures (or are all the same) and that once accepted it was not possible to add them to any social media (let’s say that a Web virus systematically erases all the badges displayed on all the public spaces). Would Open Badges still have any value without the pretty pictures publicly displayed? Yes, if we applied to Open Badge data the same recipes we are already applying successfully to open data.

Let us invite innovators to imagine the new kind of services that could be built from the opening of Open Badge data. The services could be related to education, employment, in particular self-employment, but also social activities and social entrepreneurship, knowledge and service exchange, etc. So, instead of today’s spray and pray, lets create the conditions for the emergence of the Badge prosumer. Let us direct our prayers to the innovators inviting them to imagine things that never were.

As George Bernard Shaw wrote: “Some look at things that are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were and ask why not?”

Badge Europe is currently collecting use cases: you are welcome to add your own (link).

Think out of the box, think out of the badge!


2 thoughts on “#OpenBadges: Beyond Spray and Pray!

  1. Daniel Hickey says:

    I love the phrase. I have been using the term “carpetbadging” to mean the same thing but I like yours better

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