Super Awesome Badge Summer

We’re a third of the way into second quarter, so I wanted to check in with the roadmap and see how we’re performing against the plan. The structure of the development team has changed a bit. Our full time developers Brian and Mike are helping out with Webpagemaker through the end of May, to get it ready for the upcoming Mozilla Foundation Summer Campaign. The move changes the timeline of OpenBadger a bit, but most of that timeline was dictated by OpenBadger’s inclusion in the Summer Campaign. We’ve decided to hold off on badging the first round of the campaign, so that frees the Open Badges development team to help out with Webpagemaker.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be progress on the larger Open Badges Infrastructure this quarter. We’ve brought a few contractors on board to help us with some of our second quarter goals. We also found a great Google Summer of Code student in Matt Ramir. Matt starts working for us this week, he’ll be getting up to speed for a bit, then he’ll be helping us with a bunch of stuff.

What’s the point of the backpack?

That question came up a few times in a few different forms recently. It took me by surprise, probably because I’m so close to the work. My response was something like, “the backpack let’s the badge earner collect badges from multiple sites, and show them in different places.” “Sure, ” they’d respond, “but that’s not obvious when you earn your first badge. Plus, there’s really no place to display badges now. Oh, and login is a mess. If the pop up looks like it’s part of the site you earned the badge on, why do I have to log in a second time to get the badge in my backpack?” I’d stare blankly for a bit, and wish I had a ninja smoke-bomb I could toss to make an escape.

It’s a totally valid list of concerns, all of which we’re taking action on. Here’s the breakdown, in convenient list format,

  1. No place to display badges – For the beta release, we added the ability to create group portfolio pages, but only included a simple tweet button. We released the displayer api, hoping to see some pick up by potential displayers, but we’re caught in a catch-22. Lots of issuers want display options before they push a bunch of people into the backpack, and displayers want issuers before they invest in building their own display widgets. To break us out of that cycle, we’re bringing some folks from the community in to help us build out a series of display tools. We expanded the share widget on the portfolio page to include Facebook, Google Plus, and Twitter. A community member is going to build a nice WordPress plugin, and help us with a Facebook app that will aggregate earned badges on your timeline. We expect to have a lot more display options by the end of May / early June.
  2. Login is a mess – Similar to the displayer issue, login is another catch-22. It’s actually super simple, if you’re already set up with Persona / BrowserID, but as that’s a new project, there isn’t a significant existing userbase. Rather than just give up and offer a huge number of login options, we’re working on streamlining the process. We contracted with two UX people, one, Anya from our community, and a second, Erik Kraft, with an extensive portfolio of education sites. Anya has experienced the login issues first hand while building two badge systems, one at the University of Michigan, and another for the Michigan Maker Faire. Both Anya and Erik have ideas about fixing the issues, and we should be able to free up enough time to make a change there by mid-June.
  3. Backpack value story – When you earn that first badge, we need  to explain to the earner what the backpack is, and what it’s going to do for them. In addition to the UX issues and display issues above, we need to tell a story inside the backpack workflow, a screencast explaining what’s going on, what the backpack is, and how it will help the earner learn more, and gain more from the learning. We’re going to start small here, I’m going to make a few screencasts, and we’re going to figure out a reasonable way to work them into the workflow. I’ll be done with the videos in the next few weeks, and have them in the first-badge workflow by the end of the month.

Accessibility

A big goal of the Open Badges project is to create a platform that anyone can use, regardless of device or language. We’re going to make some progress on that goal this quarter, with Matt (the GSoC student) helping us make the backpack and openbadges.org site Section 508 compliant. We’re also going to work on incorporating Mozilla’s localization standards into the backpack and site. Both projects will go beyond the second quarter, but this is when we’ll start making some progress.

We also want badge earners to be able to use their badges on whatever device they want to use, so we’re going to work with some reactive design experts to figure out easy ways to support multiple devices without having to support a ton of individual code forks. The discussions are strategic at this point, so it’s not clear yet what we’ll be offering, or the timelines we’ll be offering them in. I’ll update the roadmap when we know more.

Endorsement, public key infrastructure, federated backpacks

It’s not really fair to smoosh three big topics into a single heading. Beyond the words though, we don’t have a solid plan for any of the three features above. By the end of the second quarter, we want to have paper versions of all the above. They’re topics we’ve thrown around for a while now, if they’re not obvious, some definitions,

  1. Endorsement is the ability for one badge issuing organization to endorse another organization’s badges. Endorsement is a significant step towards a badge ‘economy’, where badges have objective worth relative to one another. A badge with multiple endorsements will probably be ‘worth’ more than a badge without the endorsements.
  2. Public key infrastructure will allow issuers to sign a badge cryptographically. Badge signing will allow the issuers an extra level of security, but will also give the earners truly portable badges, even if the issuer goes away, or stops hosting the badge’s assertion file.
  3. Federated backpacks are the holy grail of the open badges infrastructure. Mozilla’s hosted backpack can’t be the only backpack out there, we want everyone to create and host backpacks. We want them discoverable though, which complicates things. We need a system for making all the backpacks in the world act like one giant backpack for the purposes of aggregation and discovery. This is a tricky one, but it will be super awesome when we’re done with it. Super awesome.

Super Awesome Summer

Given all the above, this summer is shaping up to be…super…awesome. I’ll write about projects as they complete, and will be speaking at a few conferences this summer: