Are badges an effective metaphor?
This final section is based round a paper by Alex Halavais which traces a genealogy of badges. Halvais makes the important point that "badges have baggage" (p 354). Badges are essentially a metaphor taken from the near past - what Marshall McLuhan might have called a "rear view mirror". At best this may ”obscure some of the most important revolutionary functions of the new medium” (Levinson 1999, p 174). At worst it may lead to what Halvais calls "monstrous moral hybrids"
The crux of his Halvais' argument is based on the identification of two conflicting syndromes within any human society: the guardian and the commercial. The ‘protoypical badge’, those found on military or scouting uniforms, represents values prized by guardians, whereas digital badges, which tend to be used in social media contexts, more closely align with the values of the commercial syndrome: “transparency, honesty, open dealing, competition, optimism, and the rise of voluntary agreements” (p 366). The visual designs of many digital badges mirror those of traditional badges, which Halvais suggests will cause 'value leakage'. Further, the Mozilla Open Badge Infrastructure is specifically intended to act "as a bridge between contexts" (Mozilla case study 2012, p 280), which "exacerbates the issue of unintended leakage" and could lead to "monstrous moral hybrids" (Halavais 2011 p 368). Given that a users' backpack can contain badges awarded by any number of communities with no obvious way of representing the values of those communities they could potentially become a breeding ground for leakage and negative hybridisation – a decent into mere gamification.
Jane Jacobs' "Moral Precepts"
The following article by Alex Halavais provides a useful perspective on badge system design and why careful thought and planning is required. I would recommend reading the Introduction and the section on Badges of survival.
Questions for reflection