This week at MozFest in London there’s a session called “Hack the Backpack” where the Open Badges community is being asked to help contribute to long-standing open and unaddressed issues regarding the backpack. It needs some “love”. But why is the Backpack in such dire need of attention? Isn’t Mozilla working on it?
You’d think so. It’s actually unclear why it’s still called the Mozilla Open Badges Backpack at all since there is not a single full-time employee left at the Mozilla Foundation assigned to Open Badges. There is no Open Badges Team at Mozilla.
The team was disbanded well over a year ago. Not only was the backpack abandoned — technically put on “maintenance mode” — any real initiatives and plans for what the backpack was supposed to be were essentially put on hold since the spring of 2013. Resources at Mozilla for Open Badges were redirected to support Chicago Summer of Learning and after that to support Cities of Learning in late 2013–2014. The Open Badges team focused on the much hyped BadgeKit which was really only used as a private beta for Cities of Learning and then abandoned in the summer of 2014.
In the late winter of 2014, a handful of the Open Badges founders formed the Badge Alliance to support the work of the community and keep the Open Badges Specification and infrastructure moving forward. It was funded in a cooperative effort by the MacArthur Foundation and Mozilla but after 6 months, the Badge Alliance lost its anticipated 2 year funding stream. By December 2014, both the Badge Alliance staff and the Open Badges team at Mozilla were gone.
The Open Badges community, mostly unaware of this, remained and continued to grow. Through June 2015, the Badge Alliance staff kept going anyway — unpaid and unauthorized. They persisted with the hope that the funding would return and out of concern and loyalty for the work and community. Without that effort the Open Badges community calls and the specification work would have come to a screeching halt leaving a leadership vacuum and throwing the growing but still nascent ecosystem into uncertainty.
I could have gotten in on the ground floor, or more accurately the sub-basement, of this scene starting 12 years ago or so, but at the time it was clear that the potential funders of the work were 5-10 years away from understanding what was necessary, and much worse than that, doing this work correctly is a massive multi-disciplinary project. It is exactly the kind of thing futurists are referring to when they talk about the demand for jobs that don't exist today. And yet, they just don't seem to grasp the difficulty of this work, and the huge long term investment that would be necessary to even get the infrastructure and core standards working properly.
Anyhow, I haven't been following this scene extensively, but based on my knowledge of the problem space, the economics and politics of open source development, and foundations, this all rings quite true.