Open Thinkering


Tag: LinkedIn

Decentralising the description of skills with OSMT

Skills don’t exist. Not really. They’re a shorthand way of describing human attributes and potentials which break down if you analyse them too closely. That’s not to say that defining skills isn’t “useful in the way of belief” as Pragmatist philosophers such as William James would put it ⁠— but rather that they only exist, or represent some “truth”, in as much as they have cash value.

There’s a couple of video games I’ve played for over 20 years, on and off. They’re both football (“soccer”) games, one being EA Sports FIFA and the other Football Manager (these days actually Football Manager Mobile). Both games attempt to quantify various skills and attributes important to the sport.

Screenshot of Football Manager Mobile, taken from

The above skills or attributes are out of a maximum of 20, and they’ve been handily colour-coded so that those playing the game can see at a glance how strong or weak a footballer is in a particular area.

The example I gave above of a video game neglects other things that real-life football teams can and do look for in players they wish to sign. For example, how adept at are they at gaining a social media following? Can they speak to the press confidently? What are they like in the dressing room? Are they volatile?

When we talk about skills in an education or learning and development context, we’re often implicitly talking about them for reasons of employment. Like the footballer represented by colour-coded numbers each out of a maximum of 20, it would make the life of employers a lot easier if they could view job applicants in this way. That’s not to say that they should, it just feels a lot like that’s where we’re heading.

Whoever decides on and controls the numbers is therefore in a very powerful position. They get to decide what is important, provide ways of quantifying those things, and report on them in ways that have real-world outcomes. In this way, it’s very similar to the work I’ve done about digital literacies: whoever gets to decide who or what counts as ‘literate’ holds the power.

LinkedIn is an example of a company (now owned by Microsoft) that would love to provide this level of quantification of human skills. The screenshot below is from a video embedded in an article from last year announcing their ‘Learning Hub’.

Screenshot from LinkedIn video announcing their Learning Hub

Who defines these skills? Well… LinkedIn do. They control the taxonomy. We should be wary of this.

One of the things that really attracted me to Open Badges more than a decade ago was that it democratises the “means of production” of credentialing and recognition. Although there are always attempts at re-centralisation (this week it was announced that Pearson have bought Credly, one of the major players in the landscape) the whole thing, thankfully, is built on an open standard.

If skills are to be a currency with a cash value, then we need to ensure that the skills represented by badges and credentials are also democratically defined. All of which takes us finally talking about the Open Skills Management Tool:

The Open Skills Management Tool (OSMT, pronounced “oz-mit”) is a free, open-source instrument to facilitate the production of Rich Skill Descriptor (RSD) based open skills libraries. In short, it helps to create a common skills language by creating, managing, and organizing skills-related data. An open-source framework allows everyone to use the tool collaboratively to define the RSD, so that those skills are translatable and transferable across educational institutions and hiring organizations within programs, curricula, and job descriptions.

At the heart of OSMT’s functionality are Rich Skills Descriptors (RSDs): machine-readable, searchable data that include the context behind a skill, giving users a common definition for a particular skill. With the open source release of the OSMT, other organizations can now develop and collaborate on individual RSDs as well as on RSD collections.

The power here is in providing common definition for skills within a particular context. This definition, or standard, can then be referenced in the metadata of Open Badges in the AlignmentObject field.

I realise that this sounds rather technical and dry, so let’s look at an example given by Nate Otto during a meeting of the Open Recognition workgroup as part of the Open Skills Network yesterday.

Skills represented in human and machine readable ways

Just like Open Badges, these skills descriptors can be read by humans in words and machines as code (JSON). Let’s look at an example of a skill.

The 'Communicate Time Zones' skill

There’s a lot more I could say about this, as there’s a real balance to be struck here between the flexibility that allows a thousand flowers to bloom, and a level of complexity that could stymie innovation.

One of the reasons that I’m moderately excited about the possibilities is that it slots neatly into that AlignmentObject field I mentioned above which is part of the existing Open Badges 2.0 standard. This harks back to work I was doing while at the Mozilla Foundation, linking Web Literacy skills to Open Badges.

Another reason is that Nate and the good people at Badgr are behind it. Not only have they got great people with the best interests of the ecosystem there, but they’ve also got the technical expertise to make it a reality. The next step is to get many, many OSMTs in existence so that we can decentralise the means of skill description!

Stick or twist? (

As I mentioned in a recent weeknote, after successfully submitting my side projects to, I stumbled across In plain English: there’s a couple of websites that list other websites that are less than a certain size. They’re trying to bring attention to the ‘bloat’ of the modern web.

The requirements of are quite… stringent, shall we say. 1024 bytes is a single kilobyte. For those reading this who may be ‘less technical’, do you remember 3.5″ floppy disks? They stored 1.44 megabytes of information, which means (if my maths is correct) you could fit 1474 of these tiny websites on one of those disks. Wowzers.

Never one to shrink from a challenge, and given that it’s been a while since I created my profile page at, I decided to have a go. This is the result:

Page saying:
Dr. Doug Belshaw
Open Strategist
👋 About
✍️ Blog | Newsletter
💬 Mastodon | Twitter
🤝 LinkedIn

The great thing about emoji is that they’re Unicode, so don’t take up any more space than text. As a result, the page in the screenshot above, is a mere 624 bytes, so well underneath the 1KB limit. It’s the smallest website I’ve ever created. According to GTmetrix, it loads in 177 milliseconds!

By way of comparison, and I’ve had to create a gif here to show you what I mean, here’s the current version:

Page saying 'Dr. Doug Belshaw' and then text that changes between things like 'Tech sherpa' and 'Keynote speaker'. There are links to pages and social media icons.

A GTmetrix scan of this version shows that it takes 2.1 seconds to load, which is almost 12 times slower than the minimalist version. This difference is important not only for user experience, but being a responsible technologist and minimising the resources used by the sites that I put online.

I had a mixed response when showing the new version of my site (which is still on GitHub!) to various people. Some really liked it, especially those who block JavaScript (JS) and like minimalism. Others really didn’t, and much preferred my current version — especially the JS that rotates the various titles/roles under my name.

So I created a poll, and replicated it across Mastodon, Twitter, and LinkedIn. The results were fairly conclusive, as you can see for yourself:


Poll showing 76% of respondents voting for 'STICK: keep what I've got'

19% - 'TWIST: change to minimal'
5% - 'Don't care / show results'

As you’d expect from a professional network, people like things to look shiny and polished, and aren’t too bothered about the page size implications.


Poll showing 48% of respondents voting for 'TWIST: change to the  minimal version'

32% - ''STICK: keep the one I've got'"
19% - 'Don't care / show results'

Conversely on Mastodon (or more precisely, the Fediverse) people were more split. I was actually expecting more people to vote TWIST, especially as is run by one of the moderators of the instance I’m on (

As one of the 48% of people who voted against Brexit, I don’t see that number as a reason to make sweeping changes…


Poll showing 72.4% of respondents voting for 'STICK: keep what I've got'

10.3% - 'TWIST: change to minimal'
17.2% - 'Don't care / show results'

Again, not surprised by the result here: a ringing endorsement of my current profile page. Which is always good to know.

Next steps…

I’m thinking of incorporating the best parts of both approaches in a new version at some point in the future. So that would mean:

  • Drastically reducing the filesize of the web pages
  • Serving it from GitHub (to make it easier to edit)
  • Using emoji instead of icons wherever possible
  • Keeping the animated JS strapline
  • Ensuring it loads and renders properly for those who block JS

While I’m there, I should probably have a go at reducing the size of Thought Shrapnel (GTmetrix). Although it’s running WordPress, most visitors will hit the static front page which encourages them to sign up for my monthly newsletter.

No more performative professionalism

Eight years ago when I went to work at Mozilla, I quit LinkedIn. I then rejoined it when I left. It’s a platform I love to hate, one that it feels weird even describing as a ‘social network’.

Things happen on LinkedIn that would never happen anywhere else. It is, as Fadeke Adegbuyi calls it, an ‘alternative universe’, one where those with the power to give people jobs make up or embellish stories which then go viral.

These stories are relayed dramatically in what’s now recognizable as LinkedIn-style storytelling, one spaced sentence at a time, told by job-givers with a savior complex.

On LinkedIn, jobs are not a trade between an individual and a corporation, or a way to fill the space between 9 to 5. On LinkedIn, jobs are life-affirming or life-saving opportunities, rescuing people from a life of meaningless toil or imminent ruin.

Fadeke Adegbuyi, LinkedIn’s Alternate Universe (Divinations)

I’m sure we’ve all seen these stories, probably reshared by someone you met at a conference five years ago. As a result, the number of people I’ve chosen to ‘unfollow but remain connected’ increases every week. Others might be, but I’m not on LinkedIn for professional storytime.

Reduced to its simplest form, LinkedIn is a digital resume. A profile consists of your past work experience, education, skills, and references. The posts, comments, and messages are like a cover letter. But we’ve long decided that there are better ways to showcase your ability than a list of the places you’ve worked, the school you went to, and a hastily drafted plea for work. Resumes are old scrolls of a bygone era. If LinkedIn is a site meant to demonstrate you’re an expert, it’s competing against all the places you can do this better. 

Fadeke Adegbuyi, LinkedIn’s Alternate Universe (Divinations)

I’m not sure that’s entirely true. LinkedIn remains a useful place to which people do actually pay attention, albeit often grudgingly.

Now I’m not really using Twitter, it feels like one of the only places I can connect with my existing professional networks is LinkedIn. Mastodon and the rest of the Fediverse isn’t really for that kind of stuff. Not yet, anyway.

So, like lots of people, I’m in what Adegbuyi calls a ‘hostage situation’ where we follow the work of others (and provide updates on what we’re doing) to keep ourselves in the minds of people who might be able to give us work. We’re not desperate, we’re just hedging our bets.

LinkedIn is bizarre because it tries to make this hostage situation fun. Even though it’s not. Not when you add stories, audio messages, DMs, a social feed, or anything else. The platform might be less alternate universe and more down to earth if the truth was acknowledged: performative professionalism, job hunting, and networking are extensions of work not play. As long as LinkedIn pretends otherwise, we can also pretend that we’ll never be desperate enough to use it in earnest.

Fadeke Adegbuyi, LinkedIn’s Alternate Universe (Divinations)

It would be disingenuous for me to say that I don’t find LinkedIn handy for some things. I’ve discovered opportunities through the platform, made connections with people, and found out genuinely useful information.

But what makes me a little sad inside is that the whole thing is built on the assumption that capitalist competition is a good thing. It’s predicated on celebrating spurious awards that people and organisations have (often) paid to be in the running for. And, to be honest, the performative professionalism highlighted by Adegbuyi makes the whole thing a bit cringey.

With Twitter, it got to the stage for me where the value of not using the platform outweighed the value of using it. For example, by avoiding Twitter I’m calmer, more focused, and see fewer adverts every day. With LinkedIn, I can see the day is coming when the balance tips to the negative. For now, though, I think I’ll just bring my whole self to the platform: no more performative professionalism.

This post is Day 73 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at Oh, and please do connect with me on the Fediverse!