3 reasons why you should take digital badges seriously

In Posted September 24, 2013



When reading Reid Hoffman’s essay “Disrupting the Diploma” it became clear for me that badges are growing up. Once something you claimed for fun on Foursquare, badges are now being used in new, different and awesome ways — for pretty much everything. It seems the time has come for badges to be taken seriously and become serious business. Here are three reasons why:

Badges are becoming real.
The core thrust of Reid Hoffman’s recent essay “Disrupting the Diploma” is that diplomas and other devices for communicating accomplishment, skill, dedication and expertise are outdated. They’re ready to be ushered into the 21st century. Pieces of paper, Reid argues, just can’t keep up with the dynamism of an authentic digital badge (or collection of badges) and the way a badge can be shared online and brought everywhere on mobile phones.

Reid is perceptive to point out that a badge can only be real and valuable if its distribution is limited. Over the past two years, for example, thousands (and tens of thousands) of people have been claiming badges on basno every day. They do that because they trust (and can verify) that the badge was issued by the right issuer in the right way to the right people. By understanding a badge’s source and how it’s been distributed, people can place value in the story it tells.

For those of us in the badge business, it’s therefore a big deal seeing the word “badge” used in a serious essay written by one of Silicon Valley’s finest. Gone are the days of badges as little images you collect for checking in on Foursquare. Today, the badge world is humming with talk of great potential. This is a huge shift in public perception that is just starting and crucial to our collective future. Badges are real, versatile and will increasingly provide real life value for their owners.

2. Badges are not just for education.

The attributes that make people special (that are #badgeworthy) stretch way beyond their coursework and job training. (There’s a reason that a good interview quickly skips to the “Interests & Activities” portion of a resume!). The impact of a great digital badge platform will likewise stretch far beyond education and professional development.

Badges will touch athletics, health and wellness. The medal and trophy will go the way of the diploma.

Badges will be part of sports, music, movies, television and entertainment. Souvenirs, ticket stubs, memorabilia and other mementos will all be badge-ified. Exactly as they have been in the ‘real’ world for a long time. What is new (and required for digital badges to work) is that we build a way to verify the authenticity of badges. Give them series numbers — and track who issued them.

Badges is already for supporting causes, non-profits and charities. Badges as appreciation from brands and businesses. Badges for traveling to great places and climbing mountains and going shark diving. Badges for interests and affiliations. Badges for style. Badges for reasons no one’s even thought of! Check out a few examples here from ‘a badge you get when you are a serious Lego Builder, over the digital version of your New York Marathon Medal to proving that you are an accredited investor.

3. Badges will be big business.

Badges are incredible communication devices, capable in a second of conveying immense context. (And as our friend Gary V says: “context is king.”) That’s why what Reid dubbed “certification as a platform,” my co-founders and I call basno.com. A platform build on the fascination on how to create authenticity for virtual goods that is now the leading platform for badges.

For Reid’s vision of a world where the diploma is a collection of badges to be realized, it will require the issuance of many badges by many sources. That in turn requires an open platform for the creation and collection of digital badges: A place with both robust badge creation, distribution and authentication tools, and also a layer of services and apps that recognize those badges and help connect people with access and value based on the badges they own.

This is similar to when the creation of domain names started a whole new industry of domain hosts. It’s similar to what YouTube did for online video, SlideShare for presentations, etc.

@werdelin | http://henrik.me

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