Jason McGonigle
Jun 1, 2017 · 4 min read
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It’s been talked about before. Everyone and their cat has an idea on what the backpack needs or where it should go, for what it’s worth, here is my two cents…

As far as I understand, the backpack was only envisioned to be a prototype or proof of concept if you may. It was never meant to be a permanent fixture but like all good ideas they take on a life of their own and outgrow their original purpose. I think the backpack is the real story of the “open” in the openbadge standard. I’ve seen many a new technology appear and disappear over the years but there is something different and rather elegant in the backpack’s story. Its underlying proposition is compelling and needs revisited.

Of course the openbadge standard can be open without it. Perhaps some sort of blockchain/credentials love child could secure more, decentralise more, scale more (I have my doubts on that last one). However I’ve listened to many people talk about openbadges as a technology concept and tried (mostly unsuccessfully) to introduce its value to colleagues and customers. Two sentences in and we are all namedropping the backpack again. Ask yourself this, when is the last time you introduced the openbadges concept afresh and failed to mention the backpack?

The backpack has actually become infrastructure and plumbing in this open standard ecosystem. But more than this, it has become the contract.

I once described the backpack as your bank account. The place where you can earn and pay(share) out credentials from, but feeling confident it has no designs on your transaction data. It’s that trusted friend or broker that allows the global openbadge ecosystem of people/businesses to play nice. Providers’ don’t need to connect to that ‘other’ badge system they might be in competition with. As long as you can share through the backpack, everyone is connected and the earner wins. That’s what the backpack should be for me; that contract to the open, a switch guarantee.

The backpack as a contract to the open

We have a consumer service here in the UK called Switch, one of the government’s better ideas. It allows customers to move fairly seamlessly between bank account providers if they are no longer satisfied with the service. Unless its in a pub, lock ins are usually a bad thing for consumers. They are also the sign of a weak business model.

An openbadge Switching Service would allow badge earners to vote with their feet if they are not happy. This encourages competition between badge providers; encouraging innovation and consumer value. For me that’s what the backpack is or at least needs to become, that switching contract.

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New and emerging technologies/standards are not like established banks. As advocates we all need to encourage broader openbadge adoption and I think the guarantee of this backpack switching service is one of the most compelling reasons to invest in a new technology standard. Consumers and Earners can take confidence they are buying into an ecosystem guarantee and not just that one company or product they are working with. If the consumers believe their provider no longer has their interest at heart, they need to be allowed to vote with their feet and move all their credentials elsewhere. Challenges like the GDPR, the new Data Protection Act (but with teeth) requires that anyone globally servicing data on behalf of european citizens, must ensure rights like portablity of data and the right to erasure. This fits perfectly with the idea of the backpack as that switching portablity service.

Why would credential platforms/businesses sign up to this?

In the UK the banks had little option but to sign up to this guarantee. Without doing so they would have been seen as the bank who likes to make it difficult for their customers to leave. The same would go for technology providers. Would you choose to go with the openbadge service provider who might lock you in or the ones that have signed up fully to a switching guarantee?

For its part, I don’t believe the backpack should try to compete with openbadge provider companies and platforms. Its job should not be to offer their level of services/feature/functionality but to serve as a simple safe holding area for earners/customers while they choose their next openbadge service/platform provider.

Don’t get me wrong, the backpack still needs work but lets not boil the frog here. It shouldn’t become the one backpack to rule them all.

The openbadge ecosystem still needs its trusted broker. That broker needs a business model and a community to support it. The openbadge community needs to take a vested interest in seeing it remain and remain a neutral service. I for one wouldn’t believe as much in this standard without its trusted broker.


I’ll follow up soon with some thinking on how the backpack could be more self-sustaining.

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