Re-Presenting Badges

5kbadgeYes, it’s another badge post. Feel free to skip, or take a look at some of the other badge-related stuff I’ve posted earlier to get some background.

One of my earliest questions, asked a couple of years ago, about badges and the Open Badge Infrastructure is whether you could put badges into the infrastructure that the issuers didn’t intend (specifically) to go into the OBI. And here we have a great example: the “I walked 5000 steps” badge you see here. When I earned it, via FitBit, it let me share it via Facebook or Twitter, and so I did. Now, on my FB page is a note that I was awarded the badge.

The question is simple. Can you have a “helper app” that takes badges earned on FitBit, or on StackOverflow, or on Four Square (you get the idea), and places them in my badge backpack. Let’s just assume for the moment that these badges, like the FitBit badge, are sitting somewhere out in the open. So, here are some of the questions this raises:

Who owns the badge image

Can I assume, since they are allowing me to put the image on FB, that I can use the image to represent myself in various venues, particularly if the badge is “properly earned”? E.g., is my use above “fair” or am I impinging on their copyright/trademark by using the image? Legally, it seems to me that they could easily claim that they haven’t granted me an explicit license, though I think it would be a mistake to *stop* the flow. After all, why give a badge if you don’t want people to display it? So, at this point, I would say it is an issue of asking forgiveness rather than permission…

More technically, I would assume that the “helper site” would cache the image, rather than providing the OBI with the original image location on, e.g., the FitBit site. That means the helper site would be taking on some liability, but I assume they could easily claim to be a DMCA safe harbor and have appropriate take-down processes?

More generally, the ownership of badge images is likely to become a pretty hot topic. All of the sudden, a lot more people are creating trademarks, and they are likely going to be coming too close to comfort to one another.

Finally, on this topic, I could create a badge that suggests that the FitBit badge was earned, but was my own badge design. At that point, I think there isn’t much FitBit could do to complain. But it would make so much more sense if you could just use the initial badge image.

Are you that person?

The issue of stolen glory is tougher. If you have this middle layer, how does it know you are who you say you are on the other services? If they have some form of data sharing or identity API (e.g., OAuth) there may be ways to “connect” to the account and demonstrate ownership, but these are not universal.

For systems that do not provide an open API for authentication, you would have to play with some kind of work-around to get users to prove they have access to the site. That is possible, but likely too cumbersome to make sense. Luckily, OAuth seems to be more common these days than it once was, and it might be possible to set up a kind of middle layer that helps users on systems that already employ badges move those badges to an OBI backpack. (Some of this could likely be made easier with broad adoption of Persona, but even if I am encouraging my students this semester to set up a Persona account, I’m not going to put too many eggs in that basket until it gets widespread adoption.)


I unceremoniously killed off the BadgePost system. It was a great learning system, and I can see how it might be useful to others. That said, I think it makes more sense to leverage existing systems. And I like the idea of building a kind of “middle layer” that can draw on badge systems that already exist. I expect my early targets to be:

  • FitBit: why not?
  • FourSquare: Since even people who no longer use it seem to have 4sq badges :).
  • Reddit: They have no badges, really, but we can layer our own on based on karma alone. (Like the Reddit badge for this course, though more automagically generated.)
  • WordPress: There is an OAuth plug-in for WordPress already, and several badge plugins. Should be possible to leverage a WordPress site running the right stack…
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  1. Posted 1/4/2013 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    I totally agree that we should be able to bring all our badges together into one place. Regardless of where we earned them… recently I was awarded the handyman badge from 4square, I believe this applies to being a very small part of my skills and knowledge toward home renovation. A few month back I began to described an architecture for what you are asking for here. I believe it is possible by consuming existing API’s from these different badging infrastructures, I called it badge batching.

    • alex
      Posted 1/4/2013 at 2:58 pm | Permalink

      Cool. I don’t know how I missed that. Has there been progress on that front?

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