Tag: Twitter (page 1 of 11)

Why I just deleted all 77.5k tweets I’ve sent out over the last 10 years

Earlier this year, when Twitter changed their terms and conditions, I resolved to spend more time on Mastodon, the decentralised social network. In particular, I’ve been hanging out at social.coop, which I co-own with the other users of the instance.

Today, I deleted all 77.5k of my tweets using Cardigan, an open source tool named after the Swedish band The Cardigans (and their 90s hit ‘Erase/Rewind’):

Yes, I said it’s fine before
But I don’t think so no more
I said it’s fine before
I’ve changed my mind, I take it back

Erase and rewind
‘Cause I’ve been changing my mind

Why delete all my tweets? Because I’m sick of feeling like a slow-boiled frog. Twitter have updated their terms and conditions again, and now this service that used to be on the side of liberty is becoming a tool for the oppressor, the data miner, the quick-buck-making venture capitalist.

I’m out. I’ll continue posting links to my work, but that’s it. Consider it an alternative to my RSS feeds.

Deleting my tweets was a pretty simple process: I simply downloaded my Twitter archive and then upload it into Cardigan. This enabled me to delete all my tweets, not just the last 3,200.

The upside of doing this is that I could take my Twitter archive and upload it to a subdomain under my control, in this case twitter.dougbelshaw.com. All of my tweets are preserved in a really nicely-searchable way. Kudos to Twitter for making that so easy.

In addition, I realised that deleting my Twitter ‘likes’ (I’ll always call them ‘favourites’) was probably a good idea — all 31.4k of them. They’re not much use to me, but they can be data mined in some pretty scary ways, if Facebook is anything to go by.

I used Fav Cleaner (note: this service auto-tweets once on your behalf) to delete my Twitter likes/favourites. It’s limited to deleting 3,204 at a time, so I’ve left it running on a pinned tab and am returning to it periodically to set it off again. I may need to use something like Unfav.me as well.

To finally do this feels quite liberating. As a consultant, I often point out to clients when they’re exhibiting tendencies towards the sunk cost fallacy. In this case, I was showing signs myself! Just because using Twitter has been of (huge) value for me in the past, doesn’t mean it will be, or in the same way, in future.

Postscript: at the time of writing, Twitter’s still showing me as having tweeted a grand total of 67 tweets. However, it seems my timeline actually nly features one tweet; something I retweeted back in 2016 — and can’t seem to un-retweet. I think it’s oddly fitting:

Ready to make the jump to? I’m happy to answer your questions, I would love to connect with you on Mastodon. I can be found here: social.coop/@dajbelshaw.

3 reasons I’ll not be returning to Twitter

This month I’ve been spending time away from Twitter in an attempt to explore Mastodon. I’ve greatly enjoyed the experience, discovering new people and ideas, learning lots along the way.

I’ve decided, for three reasons, that Twitter from now on is going to be an ‘endpoint’, somewhere I link to my thoughts and ideas. It’s the way I already use LinkedIn, for example, and the way I used to use Facebook — until I realised that the drawbacks of being on there far outweighed any benefits. This model, for those interested, is known as POSSE: Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere.

There’s three main reasons I came to this decision:

1.  Social networks should be owned by their users

Last week, at Twitter’s 2017 Annual Meeting of Stockholders, there was a proposal to turn the service into a user-owned co-operative. It failed, but these kinds of things are all about the long game. You can find out more about the movement behind it here.

However, it’s already possible to join a social network that’s owned by its users. I’m a member of social.coop, which is an instance of Mastodon, a decentralised, federated approach to social media. I’m paying $3/month and have access to a Loomio group for collective decision-making.

I imagine some people reading this will be rolling their eyes, thinking “this will never scale”. I’d just like to point out a couple of things. First, services backed by venture capital can grow rapidly, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re sustainable. Second, because Mastodon is a protocol rather than a centralised service, it can provide communities of practice  within a wider ecosystem. In that sense, it’s a bit like Open Badges.

2. Twitter’s new privacy policy

Coming into effect on 15th June 2017, Twitter is bringing in a new privacy policy that signals the end of their support of Do Not Track. Instead, they have brought in ‘more granular’ privacy settings.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation is concerned about this:

Twitter has stated that these granular settings are intended to replace Twitter’s reliance on Do Not Track. However, replacing a standard cross-platform choice with new, complex options buried in the settings is not a fair trade. Although “more granular” privacy settings sound like an improvement, they lose their meaning when they are set to privacy-invasive selections by default. Adding new tracking options that users are opted into by default suggests that Twitter cares more about collecting data than respecting users’ choice.

It’s also worth noting that Twitter talks about privacy in terms of ‘sharing’ data, rather than its collection. They’ll soon be invasively tracking users around the web, just like Facebook. Why? Because they need to hoover up as much data as possible, to sell to advertisers, to increase the value of their stock to shareholders. Welcome to the wonders of surveillance capitalism.

3. Anti-individualism

There’s a wonderful interview with Adam Curtis on Adam Buxton’s podcast, parts of which I’ve found myself re-listening to over the past few days. Curtis discusses many things, but the central narrative is about the problems that come with individualism underpinning our culture.

We’re all expected to express how individual we are, but the way that we do this is through capitalism, meaning that we end up living in an empty, hollow simulacrum, mediated by the market. Guy Debord had it right in The Society of the Spectacle. It also reminds me of this part of Monty Python’s Life Of Brian . “Yes, we’re all individuals.”


So, in my own life, I’m trying to rectify this by advocating for a world that’s more co-operative, more sustainable, and more focused on collective action rather than the glorification of individuals.

To be clear: I’ll get around to replying to Twitter direct messages, but I am no longer looking to engage in conversation either in public or private on that platform. I’ve updated my self-hosted Twitter archive and am considering using the open source Cardigan app to delete my tweets before May 2017 to prevent data-mining.

Image CC BY-NC Miki J.

Why I’m not using Twitter next month

TL;DR I’m spending time experimenting with and exploring Mastodon during the month of May. You can connect with me at mastodon.cloud/@dajbelshaw.

Update: I’m now at social.coop/@dajbelshaw, for reasons I expain here.

Back in 2011, when I’d just discovered Open Badges, I led a semester of learning on the concept. Sometimes it’s not enough to play around the edges; you have to jump in with two feet to understand what something’s about. That immersion confirmed my initial thoughts, and I’ve spent the last six years evangelising and advocating for digital credentials based on that particular open standard.

The same was true back in 2007 when I joined Twitter. I thought that this was something revolutionary, something that could not only change the way that professional development was done in schools (I was a classroom teacher at the time) but literally change the world. Unlike Open Badges, of course, Twitter is backed by a for-profit company that floated on the stock exchange a few years ago. It’s a ‘free’ service that requires on advertising to provide shareholder value.

It was easy to forget all that in the early days, as we were giddy with excitement, connecting with like-minded people around the world. Pre-IPO, Twitter seemed like the good guys, being seen as a key tool in people organising to overthrow repressive regimes. In those days, it was easy to use one of a number of Twitter clients, and to route your traffic around the world to avoid censorship. Now, not so much.

Last week, via Hacker News, I came across 8values, a 60-question quiz in the mould of Political Compass. My results are below:

Libertarian Socialism

While I’m aware that this isn’t the most rigorous of ‘tests’, it did set me off on an interesting path. As you can see at the top right of my results, I came out as favouring Libertarian Socialism. I was surprised, as libertarianism is something I usually explicitly argue against.

I decided to do some digging.

The Wikipedia article for Libertarian Socialism is pretty fascinating and, as you’d expect from that site, sends you off on all kinds of tangents via the numerous links in the text. Given that I had an upcoming transatlantic flight coming up, I decided to make use of Wikipedia’s Book Creator. Within five minutes, I had a 500-page PDF on everything from anarcho-syndicalism to the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.

To cut a long story short, my current thinking is that Mutualism seems to best describe my thinking. I’m re-reading Proudhon’s What is Property?. He’s a little naive in places, I think, but I like his style.

Anyway, this is all to say that we need to re-decentralise the Web. I wrote a few years ago about the dangers of newsfeeds that are algorithmically-curated by advertising-fuelled multinational tech companies. What we need to do is quickly replace our reliance on the likes of Facebook and Twitter before politicians think that direct digital democracy through these platforms would be a good idea.

Ethical Design

So I’m experimenting with Mastodon. It’s not radically different from Twitter in terms of look and feel, but it’s what’s under the hood that’s important. The above image from Aral Balkan outlines his approach to ‘ethical design’ — an approach ensures things look good, but also respects us as human beings.

Decentralised systems based on open standards are really our only hope against Venture Capital-backed ‘software with shareholders’. After all, any promising new startups that aren’t decentralised tend to get gobbled-up by the supermassive incumbents (see WhatsApp, Instagram). But to get to scale — which is important in this case, not for shareholder value, but for viability and network effects — people have to use these new platforms.

So that’s what I’m doing. During May, a month when my Twitter timeline will be full of UK General Election nonesense, I’m using Mastodon. The only things I’ll be posting to Twitter are links to things I’ve written. If you’d like to join me, head here, choose an ‘instance’ (I’m on mastodon.cloud) and sign up. You can then add me: mastodon.cloud/@dajbelshaw. As in the early days of Twitter, one of the easiest ways to find good people to follow is to find ‘nodes’. I’ve found Anil Dash (@anildash) to a good starting point.

I look forward to seeing you there. It’s a learning experience for me, but I’m happy to answer any questions below!

Header image CC BY Eric Fischer

My #TwitteratiChallenge blog post

Last week, Tim Jefferis was kind enough to tag me in his #TwitteratiChallenge blog post. The rules and guidance for this can be found at the bottom of that post. I’m going to follow them in spirit rather than letter. 😉

Cory Doctorow

1. @doctorow
Writer, blogger, activist. If you want a reply, use email. Blog suggestions here: http://www.boingboing.net/suggest.html 0BC4 700A 06E2 072D 3A77 F8E2 9026 DBBE 1FC2 37AF

I’m not into celebrities and fandom, but I must admit to being in awe of Cory Doctorow. His novels are deeply thought-provoking, he surfaces important stuff through BoingBoing and his Twitter feed, and (perhaps most importantly) inspires me to keep on fighting the good fight for free and open source technologies.

Audrey Watters

2. @audreywatters
writer @hackeducation (http://hackeducation.com ), ed-tech’s Cassandra, author of The Monsters of Education Technology. Elsewhere: http://aud.life

We need more people like Audrey Watters in the world. Indefatigable and unwavering in her critique of the excesses of edtech, she’s a beacon of light and source of strength for many in the community.

Vinay Gupta

3. @leashless
Beyond good taste and evil. Global resilience guru. What do you do after it all goes wrong? And what about the poor, for whom it’s never yet been right?

My brain almost melts every time I get the chance to talk to Vinay Gupta or read his blog. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met and gets me thinking about stuff I’d never even considered before.

Josie Fraser

4. @josiefraser
Social & Educational Technologist. Digital literacy, identity & community; staff & organisational development; open education; making change happen.

I’ve known Josie Fraser for around 10 years through shared interests in educational technology and digital literacies. She’s currently Digital Strategy Lead at Leicester City Council but has been involved in so much important work across Europe.

Oliver Quinlan

5. @oliverquinlan
Research tech in schools & write about learning futures. Opinions expressed mine alone. Book ‘The Thinking Teacher’ out now: http://bit.ly/thinkingteacher

Saying that Oliver Quinlan is one of the most reliable and dependable people in my network might sound like I’m damning him with faint praise but, given the level at which he works (Oliver is a multi-talented and award-winning, teacher, researcher, author, and thinker), it’s one of the highest recommendations I can give. His gentle and quiet facade hides a razor-sharp and questioning mind.

Want to join in? Consider yourself tagged! 🙂

My Twitter ads verdict: a waste of time and money

Update: The excellent comments on this post have made me realise that I proved exactly nothing in this experiment due to the poor way I set it up. Thanks all! Will try to do better next time.

I mentioned on Friday that I was going to experiment with Twitter ads for my book The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies. I said I’d report back on my findings.

Well, it’s a pretty stark message: either I’m doing something fundamentally wrong, or they’re a complete waste of time and money.

Here’s my results after spending $50 on three promoted tweets:

Twitter campaign overview

As you can see, not exactly stellar results.

So how did that translate to sales? Remember, I said that, “After Gumroad’s commission and the 10% discount, I need less than 10 additional people to buy my ebook to break even.”

According to my Gumroad statistics, I didn’t even sell one additional copy:

Gumroad customers

As the person who bought my book yesterday bought it at the undiscounted rate, I’m chalking that up as an ‘organic’ sale (i.e. they didn’t purchase it as a result of the advertising).

Happily, sales are going reasonably well anyway. They fluctuate each week, but are never zero. I think I’ll just let things continue as they are and not throw good money after bad. 😉

Experimenting with Twitter ads for my ebook

This morning a tweet from Rory Cellan-Jones, the BBC technology correspondent, caught my eye:

Looking back through his timeline took me to a Facebook page for the ‘BBC Tech Tent’ where Rory discussed the BBC team’s experiments with Facebook and Twitter ads.

That got me thinking.

I played around with Twitter analytics when it launched and found it pretty fascinating. However, I started to become a bit too obsessed with ‘engagement’ and put it to one side. At the end of the day, I’m not actually that bothered how many people follow me. It’s all about the exchange of ideas and having a rich information environment.

What this morning’s activity did do was give me a nudge down the path of trying out Twitter ads. I been considering it for a while and so decided to bite the bullet and set up three promoted tweets. They will show in people’s timelines over the weekend and all point towards my ebook, The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies:

Promoted tweets

As you can see, I’ve set up three different promoted tweets with the same image but slightly different text and calls to action (Learn / Order / View). I’ve put $50 in the pot  – $25 split between Saturday and Sunday – and limited the target audience to English. Specifying areas/localities to target is mandatory, so I went with UK, USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. For some reason I couldn’t specify India?

This is an experiment. Would I like more people to read my book? Absolutely. But it’s not just about that. The main thing here is playing with Twitter ads so I know how (if!) they work. After Gumroad’s commission and the 10% discount, I need less than 10 additional people to buy my ebook to break even. I’ll let you know the outcome. 🙂

Curate or Be Curated: Why Our Information Environment is Crucial to a Flourishing Democracy, Civil Society [DMLcentral]

Curate or Be Curated: Why Our Information Environment is Crucial to a Flourishing Democracy, Civil Society | DMLcentral 2014-10-24 08-02-37

My latest post for DMLcentral is up. Entitled Curate or Be Curated: Why Our Information Environment is Crucial to a Flourishing Democracy, Civil Society it’s a slightly longer post than usual. My aim is to get educators to think about their own information environment and that which they’re promoting to their students:

The problem with social networks as news platforms is that they are not neutral spaces. Perhaps the easiest way to get quickly to the nub of the issue is to ask how they are funded. The answer is clear and unequivocal: through advertising. The two biggest social networks, Twitter and Facebook (which also owns Instagram and WhatsApp), are effectively “services with shareholders.” Your interactions with other people, with media, and with adverts, are what provide shareholder value. Lest we forget, CEOs of publicly-listed companies have a legal obligation to provide shareholder value. In an advertising-fueled online world this means continually increasing the number of eyeballs looking at (and fingers clicking on) content.

Click here to read the post.

I’ve closed comments here to encourage you to leave them on the original post. I look forward to your feedback!

PS You might also be interested in Ian O’Byrne’s response to the post.

Twitter, algorithms, and digital dystopias


My apologies for the long post. I’m channeling my inner Mark Twain when I say I didn’t have time to write a shorter one.

I woke up this morning to a couple of great links shared by John Johnston on Twitter. Don’t Be a Platform Pawn by Alan Levine led me to Frank Chimero’s From the Porch to the Street and then onto a post about The Evaporative Cooling Effect which, in turn, cites this paper.  The other link, Waffle on Social Media took me to a post called Community Services which led to What’s a Twitter Timeline?

What did we used to do before Twitter?

The first time I came across John would have been in the 2004-5 academic year, I reckon, when I started blogging. This was a pre-Twitter time, a time when Facebook and YouTube had only just been invented. We used RSS readers like Bloglines, and Technorati (then a blog search engine) a was a big deal. Back in those days it was easier to sort the signal from the noise as I could literally follow everyone’s blog that I wanted to read. As you would expect, this number grew exponentially over the years and, by the time Google Reader shut down, the number of unread articles I was faced with numbered in their thousands. This, I believe, is what Clay Shirky calls filter failure.

So, although I know of people (like Stephen Downes) who are notable exceptions, we collectively swapped our RSS readers for easier-to-manage, and less guilt-inducing social streams such as those provided by Facebook, Twitter, and (later) Google+. These services made it more acceptable not to keep up – and provided a way, in the form of Like, Favourites, and +1’s, for the most popular content to bubble to the surface.

I’m not being facetious when I say that Twitter had a helping hand in me landing my last three jobs. In particular, the 2009 interview where I mobilised my followers to show the panel how powerful the network can be remains my all-time favourite example. But Twitter has changed since I joined it in 2007.

How we are now

What’s so problematic about all of this, of course, is that whereas we used to be in charge of our own reading habits, we’ve outsourced that to algorithms. That means software with shareholders is dictating our information environment. I have to admit that sometimes this works really well. For example, although I’d prefer greater transparency around the algorithm that powers Zite, it consistently surfaces things that I care about and otherwise would have missed. Other times, and especially in the light of Twitter’s changes to the way favourites are used, it makes me more wary about using the service. And don’t even get me started on Facebook.

I’m at the point where I have a love/hate relationship with Twitter. It’s so useful for me in terms of keeping my finger on the pulse of the sectors I’m involved in. However, especially at this time of year, I can become overwhelmed and I can’t see the (human) wood for the (technological) trees. Frank Chimero pretty much nailed it:

This may be overstating or overthinking the situation. Twitter is just a website. Yet, I can point to many opportunities, jobs, and (most importantly) friendships that sprung from it. Some married friends met on Twitter. It’s tempting to give an importance to the service for those of us who joined early and were able to reap these benefits, but that doesn’t mean Twitter needs to stick around forever. It matters. Or mattered. To me, I’m unsure which just yet.

How we might be in the future

During the height of the Web 2.0 boom, there were a plethora of services vying for attention and users. People jumped between these based on a small pieces, loosely joined approach. The thing that tied everything together 10 years ago was your domain name, which was your identity on the web. Nowadays, even I link to people’s Twitter accounts rather than their domains when I’m blogging about them.

It’s all very well saying that other social networks will come along to take their place, but will they? Really? In an age of megacorps? I’m skeptical. So perhaps we need a different approach. Something like Known, perhaps, or a service we can own and install ourselves that allows us to personalise our online experience rather than monetise it for shareholders. It’s heartening to see that the publication of The Circle by Dave Eggers seems to have made us question the sprint towards a digital dystopia.

As a parent, the mindset that goes with social networking concerns me. One thing I notice every year when emerging from my yearly (and grandly-named) Belshaw Black Ops period is how shallow my thinking is when I’m doing so in tweet-length morsels. It’s easy to think that I’m ‘doing it wrong’ and that I should use different services, but  what I think we need is a different approach. Perhaps I should be advocating POSSE, as championed by the Indie Web Camp folks. This stands for Publish (on your) Own Site, Syndicate Elsewhere. However, it seems a touch reactionary rather than future-facing. People don’t comment on blogs like they used to, so I’d miss out on a boatload of interaction with people from around the world.


Twitter is a company listed on the stock exchange. So is Facebook. And Google. Pinterest will be soon. In fact, every successful social space is, or is likely to end up being a monolithic corporation. As such, they need to provide shareholder value which, given the web’s current dominant revenue model, is predicated on raising advertising dollars. Raising the kind of money they need depends upon user growth, not necessarily upon serving existing users. After all, if they’ve provided the space where all your friends and contacts hang out, you’re kind of locked in.

OK, that’s enough. I’ll end this overly-long post with a quotation from Jesper, the author of Community Services:

Social media has come to symbolize, for me, the tyranny of having to appear relevant, visible and clean to everyone else, the inability to define my own boundaries and the uncertainty about what’s going to happen tomorrow to the fundamental structure of this tool that I’m using – all the while someone either makes money off of me or adds to the looming amorphousness trying to stay afloat.

You don’t have to share these fears, but that’s why I’m writing this on hosting space I pay for myself on a domain I own myself. Not because I relish absolute control over every bit. Not because of personal branding. Not because I am a huge nerd (I am a huge nerd because I write these kinds of articles and quote Douglas Adams in them). I do it because it’s the worst alternative, except for all the others.

Image CC BY-SA Jennie

Software with shareholders (or, the menace of private public spaces)

TL;DR: we’re using software with shareholders and interacting in private public spaces. We can do better than this.


I live in Morpeth, Northumberland, a lovely market town in the north-east of England. It’s the kind of place that still has a vibrant high street and plenty of stuff going on. Somehow or other it’s survived the hollowing-out of places that seems to have accelerated since the 2008 economic crisis.

Offline private public spaces

Within Morpeth is a small shopping centre called Sanderson Arcade. It’s got shops like Marks & Spencer and Laura Ashley, piped music and a friendly, retro vibe. To help with this they employ men called Beadles, ostensibly to welcome people, give directions and lend an Edwardian air to the place. If you pay attention, however, the Beadles wear earpieces and both look and act a bit like bouncers. It’s then you begin to realise that one of the main reasons that they’re there is to keep out the riff-raff.

I’ve got no particular problem with Sanderson Arcade nor with the Beadles. I would be interested to see what would happen if a group wanted to stage a protest there. I guess they’d invoke the fact that it’s a private space pretty quickly. Still, there’s other places in Morpeth you could go to protest and still be seen and heard. Sanderson Arcade isn’t the only place people go, and the other spaces are owned communally. That’s what our taxes are for.

Online private public spaces

The problem comes when we apply what I’ve just described as a lens through which to understand what we do online. I suppose that, yes, we’re surveilled on CCTV within offline public private spaces. People can track what we purchase. We can answer survey questions about our shopping habits and lifestyle. But that’s where we hit the limits of the analogy. Online private public spaces are very different.

I came across this today. It’s the latest in a long list of examples demonstrating the amount of data Facebook collects on its users. And it’s not as if everyone is unaware that Facebook, at its very core, is a scary privacy-loathing service seeking to track as much about you as possible.  Once it has that information it sells it to the highest bidder. I like to think Google’s slightly better in this regard, but if I’m honest that’s only because I use Google’s services more than Facebook’s.

Almost every space in which we interact with other people online is a private public space. For me, Twitter and Google+ are prime examples. In the past we’ve been reassured by Google’s mantra of “don’t be evil” and how people in Iran and Egypt used Twitter to rise up against their oppressors. The reality is that both of these companies are now companies in which you can buy stock. They need to deliver shareholder value.

The problem

I’m increasingly leaning away from using software that has shareholders and leaning towards alternatives. I’m writing this on a Chromebook with Ubuntu 14.04 installed, for example. One of the things that’s great about non-profits making software is that they can innovate on behalf of users, rather than in ways that will increase market capitalization.

The problem we’ve got is that to interact with other people you need a means of communicating with them. When everyone’s physically co-located you can use your voice. If the place you’re in is unwelcoming or not to your liking then you can all decamp and move elsewhere. This is not the case when you’ve got a network of thousands of people distributed around the world. It’s quite likely that the only means you’ve got of contacting one another is through a single privately-owned platform.

I’ve toyed with the idea of closing my Twitter and Google+ accounts many times over the past few years. The problem with that is that it would affect me professionally. Not only are they spaces from which I gather a lot of information to do my job, but they’re spaces where other people find out about my work. You can’t do good in the world as a knowledge worker if no-one knows what you’ve been doing.

Our response

So what can we do? It’s not a problem for us to solve as individuals, but something for us to do collectively. And the call to action can’t be protect your privacy! because, to be quite honest, people don’t seem to care. Technically-minded people think that building a version of Twitter or Facebook or WhatsApp but with public-key encryption will see users flocking to their site. Well, here’s a newsflash for you: no they won’t. They’ll trade privacy for convenience.

Instead, we need to work at a meta level and do some systems thinking. Here’s a bad idea: try to get everyone to switch from Twitter to IRC. Here’s a good idea: work on creating a compelling way for users to bring their own data and authentication to services. Unhosted seems to be on the right track with that. Just because things have failed previously (OpenID!) doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily fail again.

Of course, the meta meta level problem centres around online business models that aren’t dependent upon advertising. Providing free services and selling user data is the high-fructose corn syrup of the internet. While we in the west might tolerate paying for services, many of those getting online for the first time in developing countries know nothing but Facebook Zero.


Things change. The tech world used to be full of people resisting The Man; the discourse was around connecting people and envisaging new possibilities. Now, however, we have a tech elite with control of the spaces in which we interact. If you don’t understand the potential implications of this, then you might want to dig a little deeper into the NSA revelations and read Dave Eggers’ The Circle. That will open your eyes.

Public spaces should be public and commonly-owned. Perhaps it’s time for governments to stop fawning over billionaires with technical skills and start providing services for all of us. Maybe instead of dismantling the state to allow for private profit, we can use technology to create a more egalitarian and just society. And could we, just for once, use technology in ways other than shoring up the privilege of the one per cent?

Image CC BY Nathan O’Nions

Answering your questions about Open Badges

I spend about half my time working for Mozilla working on a new, open learning standard for Web Literacy. The other half of the time I’m evangelising Open Badges in the UK and Europe. Unsurprisingly, with the latter a lot of the same questions come up time and time again. These are legitimate concerns and curiosities that people have, so I thought it would be a good idea to have a URL I could point them towards. 🙂

Chewing (animated GIF)

Are Open Badges ‘transferable’?

It depends what you mean. Open Badges are issued with a learner’s individual identifier ‘baked’ into it. So if you try and take my badge and put it in your backpack, it’s not going to work. It’ll be rejected.

If, on the other hand, you talking about the ‘portability’ of badges then, absolutely, that’s exactly what we’re aiming for. Multiple badge backpacks, a completely open and decentralised system, and learner sovereignty. The learner earns badges from issuers and then chooses where to host and display them.

Why is Mozilla interested in creating a system for credentialing learning?

We’re a non-profit that believes in the Web. We believe that it’s a fantastic platform for innovation – but only if it’s open, democratic and built upon standards. Because learning today happens anywhere, including on the Web, we want a credentialing system that can bypass the ‘gatekeepers’ to learning. We want better ways to credential experiences, knowledge, interest and skills.

Oh boy! (animated GIF)

Are all Open Badges public?

They can be. By default when they’re issued, Open Badges are private and can only be seen by an earner who has accepted the badge and placed it in their badge backpack. Once added to a collection (named by the learner) they can optionally be made public and displayed across the Web.

What’s the difference between a ‘digital’ badge and an ‘Open’ badge?

It’s very simple, but with fairly profound consequences. An Open Badge is a digital image that has metadata ‘baked’ into it. So in the same way that you bake ingredients together to make a cake, so you bake a badge. And again, just as you can’t then remove an ingredient from the baked cake so you can’t change an Open Badge once it’s been ‘baked’.

Does Mozilla ‘police’ Open Badges?

Nope (animated GIF)

We’re looking after the ‘plumbing’ of the Open Badges Infrastructure (OBI). Our focus is upon the technical standards underpinning the whole ecosystem, not the pedagogical or social validity of badges. Some Open Badges will be frivolous and playful. Others will be rigorous and pedagogically sound. All of them will be technically valid badges. The value of a badge comes through a mixture of the reputation of the issuer and the rigour of the criteria for obtaining the badge.

What happens if I invest time in Open Badges and then Mozilla pull the plug?

We’re a non-profit who work (radically) in the open alongside the community. The OBI is a Mozilla product, but it’s more of a model where we’re the lead developers and advocates than having something than can be ‘pulled’. We’re committed to OBI for the long-haul, but even if we were all on several planes that crashed the Open Source community could still develop the infrastructure.

O RLY (animated GIF)

How can Mozilla maintain the quality of Open Badges?

‘Quality’ is an interesting word. Another variation of this question is How can Mozilla guarantee equivalency between badges? The short answer is, of course, that we can’t. That’s because we’re the ones developing the technical standard, but not those that are developing all of the badges within the ecosystem.

The OBI is a platform for innovation. We’ve already seen many high-quality badges that have been produced by lots of different organisations. But, of course, there will be poor badges. The value of the badge doesn’t come through how difficult it is to issue them, but upon the rigour of what you have to do to get them, and the evidence they point to. That’s within the metadata in the badge itself.

Badge anatomy
CC BY Kyle Bowen

One of the newer metadata fields that’s available within the OBI is a field that allows you to enter the URL of which standard you’re aligning to. So whether it’s a badge that aligns with the Common Core or the Web Literacy standard, there’s something you can point to as a common reference point. The ‘endorsement’ functionality that we’re working upon could then allow organisations to endorse certain badges as being good/valid representations of that standard.

What’s the quickest way of getting started issuing Open Badges?

There’s broadly three ways to start issuing badges. The first is to use a third-party badge issuing platform such as badg.usforallbadges or openbadges.me. This is the easiest, but the URLs in the metadata of the badge point towards that third-party platform over which you have no control.

The second way to issue badges is to use a plugin for a popular Content Management System or learning platform such as WordPress, Drupal or Moodle. Doing this means that you don’t have to do any coding but the URLs in the Open Badges point back to your domain.

The third way is the most complex and involves being (or hiring) a developer and using Mozilla’s onboarding documentation to build your own badge issuing platform or plugin. Apparently it’s not that hard, but I haven’t tried it.

What happens when there’s millions of Open Badges in the ecosystem and everyone has thousands of them?

Well, first of all that will be awesome! The great thing about Open Badges is that the learner is always in control. That means you can choose which badges to display for what purpose. So, if you want to show all of your gamer and photography badges on Facebook and your professional badges on your online portfolio, you can.

Cat - worried about puppies

The other thing to remember is that an Open Badge does not stand alone, but is part of a wider ecosystem of value. One of the best ways of imagining this is through badge-based learning pathways. In the same way that you collect cheeses/pies in Trivial Pursuit, so badges can work together to unlock a larger, meta-level badge. Once you’ve unlocked your competency-level badge, it would point back to the five skill-level badges of which it’s comprised.

How can we trust an Open Badge? How do I know someone hasn’t just bought one?

Both very good questions. A combination of the Criteria URL and the Evidence URL should help with this, I think. The (compulsory) Criteria URL states what the earner had to do in order to be issued the badge, and the (optional, but to my mind very important) Evidence URL points to work done in order to get the badge. This is anything that can be displayed on the Web – images, text, videos, etc.

Do people buy qualifications now? Of course they do. Will people attempt to (and sometimes be successful in purchasing) Open Badges? Almost definitely. But the difference between traditional qualifications and credentials, and Open Badges is that the latter leave a breadcrumb trail of evidence. My Great Uncle built his entire adult life on a the claim that he attended Oxford University. After his death we found this to be false. That wouldn’t really have been possible in a badge-based system. He would have been found out very quickly!

Investigator (animated GIF)

Why are Open Badges any more than stickers? Aren’t they just extrinsic motivators?

As stated above, the value of an Open Badge comes through the metadata contained. Learning design is the hard part of creating an ecosystem of badges; it’s the 90% of the iceberg you don’t see. So, of course Open Badges can be used to extrinsically motivate. But, like all credentialing systems, if designed well then they can also promote intrinsic motivation.*

*My rejection of intrinsic/extrinsic motivation as a binary will have to wait for another blog post…

How can issuers ensure their badges are taken as seriously as possible by institutions/employers?

An Open Badge is a metadata-infused credential. Whether badges are taken seriously depends on how trustworthy, relevant and useful they are to others. That’s a function of the reputation of the badge issuer but also on the rigour of the Criteria URL. What did the individual have to do to get the badge? Was that worth doing? Is there an Evidence URL pointing to what that individual actually did?

It’s a fact of life that people like (and trust) good-looking things so it’s worth spending some time on the visual design of the badge. But that’s the tip of the iceberg: it’s the learning design, the partnerships and the thinking through how individuals can ‘level up’ that’s important. DigitalMe have a great CC-licensed badge canvas resource to help you think through some of these things.

Finally, it’s worth having a useful way to display badges to institutions and employers. Purdue University, for example, have an iPad app that students can use to show their badges at interview. Badges can also be displayed on pretty much any kind of website, including e-portfolios and wikis.

Why would I want an Open Badge instead of a degree?

This is the $64,000 question, but one that misses the point in the short term. Often when a new technology comes along we think in terms of either/or. In practice, however, it’s more and/and/and. How can we use Open Badges to credential those things that we think are important but we don’t currently have a way of capturing? How can we make credentialing more granular? How can we make learning more personalised through badge-based ‘playlists’ or ‘pathways’? These are the questions which interest us a lot more than ‘Can X replace Y?’

Mind blow (animated GIF)

Have you got any more questions? Ask away below! (or on Twitter / Facebook / Google+) If I get enough I’ll probably do another one of these in a few weeks’ time. 🙂

Header image CC BY Bilal Kamoon