Tuesday, September 20, 2011

OBI beta1

Hey all - 

As many of you probably heard, we formally launched the Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure (OBI) last week in conjunction with the MacArthur/HASTAC Digital Media for Learning Competition focused on badges (more on my thoughts/reflections about this in the next post).

The OBI is an open infrastructure to support an alternative credentialing (badging) ecosystem where there can be lots of different badge issuers and any given learner/user can collect badges across those issuers, pull them into one collection that they control and manage, and then share them out as needed with various audiences, websites, etc. We are building the specifications/standards and core reference repository software to sit in the middle and make this ecosystem a reality. More on the OBI here and here and here

As of the middle of last week, we released the beta1 version of the OBI which is very exciting progress and means that there is now a there there. 

beta1 includes:

  • Reference Badge Backpack technology
    • Repository of all badges for a particular user
    • Unpacks the badges to provide user with a view into the metadata behind the badge
    • UI for management and privacy control
    • Grouping - ability to create groups of badges (and then share them out)
    • Coming soon - access to display sites that have registered with the OBI, so can share out groups of badges directly from the Backpack

  • Specifications/Standards
    • Metadata spec for badges - Badges pushed into the OBI from the issuer are simply JSON blobs, in other words, simply a set of metadata that defines the badge. This means a badge at any given time, carries with it all the information needed to understand the badge. Includes badge title, badge description, issuer, issue date, criteria to earn the badge (URL), badge image (URL) and optionally unique URL back to user work or evidence.
  • Communication channels/API
    • Issuer API (to push badges in)
    • Coming soon: Displayer API (to pull badges out)
  • Mozilla Baking Service
    • Service to embed JSON into PNG files*
  • Line-up of Initial Issuers
    • We are working with a number of initial issuers (around 10 so far), including Remix Learning, Open Michigan, P2PU and Parsons New School, to push their badges into the OBI. They will be rolling out badges systems starting next week, through the next month or so. beta1 is a ‘private’ beta meaning that we are working closely with the initial partners versus releasing it widely for public use. However, we are definitely still open to working with more beta partners so if you have a badge system and are ready to plug in, just let us know!

*More on PNG files

We have taken a somewhat unique approach to the badges themselves, based on some awesome ideas from the ever-impressive Dan Mills at Mozilla. Instead of badges existing as the raw data - JSON blobs - throughout the system, we are ‘baking’ (embedding) them into PNG files so that each badge becomes a portable, ‘tangible’ thing that can be exchanged more easily. This means that issuers could email them directly to users, and users could email/send them directly to consumers, etc. This approach gives users more control over their badges and creates a more decentralized system. Users can decide to forward badges onto the OBI, or they could store them in their own Backpack that they host or even store them locally. The one caveat is that the embedded PNG is fairly unreadable without some unpacking software - this means that the badge is a viewable/exchangeable image but the metadata behind it is fully embedded into the PNG and unreadable unless unpacked. There are several ways to access the metadata: the OBI Badge Backpack will unpack badges for users (so if they are stored there, users can see the data), some technically-able users may write their own tool or third party tools may emerge within the community. But the idea that the badge can be easily exchanged/stored and all the information needed to understand that badge lives with in means that ultimately, the PNG approach gives users and the ecosystem, more flexibility and control.

Why ‘beta1’?

What’s this ‘beta1' thing all about, why not just call it 'beta’? Basically because ‘beta' has come to mean something different than originally intended. Today we see a beta stamped on just about everything, sometimes for long periods of time. It seems to have come to mean, this is almost 100% but there may be a little flakiness or we may change a few things around from time to time. Our beta is much more in line with the traditional beta which means, its the step up from alpha that is critical feature complete, but there’s still a lot of tweaking, updating and building out to be done. Hence ‘beta1’.

What’s Next?

beta2: We are working to release the beta2 version later in October that will include the displayer side API and communication channels, enhanced Backpack UI, scalability considerations, etc. More issuers and the initial displayers will start to plug in at this point. We are also building a Facebook widget as the first displayer widget example.

Public 1.0 release: We will be releasing the fully functioning OBI as GA/1.0 in January of 2012. This will include documentation and materials to support issuers, users and displayers who want to use the system. At this point, the OBI is fully public and anyone can plug in on either end.

Where Can I Learn More About the OBI/beta1:


Many thanks and praise go first and foremost to our rockin’ technical lead, Brian Brennan, who architected and built the current version in record time. Additionally, again, thanks to Dan Mills and the Mozilla Labs folks who assisted and guided the work. And finally, we are incredibly fortunate to have a totally awesome advisory group made up of folks spanning academia, development, federal agencies, industry and the open source world. They have been with us every step of the way, helping us vet ideas (and many times kill ideas), think through assumptions, etc. Thanks everyone!