Real Barnstar.jpg
Open Badges are new digital credentials that can recognize an editor’s achievements on a variety of websites. Wikipedia barnstars are a great way to engage our contributors, but perhaps we could take them to a new level? Image by Isha, freely licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

As reported earlier, Wikimedia Sverige (Sweden) has been working with, the open source translation community that localizes software interfaces for Wikipedia and other open source projects. During this project, we looked at the values and motivations that get participants to join online communities, as well as the technical support, development and online documentation that support them. We found that direct invitations to the project, even when coupled with enhanced documentation and instruction material, only go so far.

A mockup of a badge. Image by Sara Mörtsell, freely licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0.

The question is not only how to get volunteers to start, but how to get them to continue and find meaningful engagement over time.

This has led us to examine the effects of implementing “open badges” in The Wikipedia entry on “Digital badge” gives some insights to the ongoing conversation surrounding badges; it says that such rewards can have a “significant impact,” and can be more than their common perception as simple rewards: they “can be used to motivate learning … and signal achievement … [badges are] most effective when they also contribute to goal setting, reputation, status affirmation, instruction and group identification.”

A familiar digital badge is the barnstar used in the Wikipedia community. The significance of barnstars for strengthening Wikipedia’s online community has been covered by Kriplean et al. (2008), and their study shows how barnstars contribute to helping communities function more effectively, such as supporting newcomers to become regular editors.[1]

For, we chose to look beyond barnstars, opting instead for the open badge infrastructure run by the Mozilla Foundation. There are a couple of crucial differences between barnstars and open badges: the latter can be awarded by an outside issuer and are portable — they can be taken out from the wiki and displayed in other online contexts.

Even when these badges are relocated, they retain the metadata about the issuing organization and the badge qualification criteria, along with links to each badge holder’s achievements. This portable feature makes it possible for the earner to communicate success and identity across online (and offline) contexts. This gives individuals engaged in the translation community the opportunity to bring their reputation and achievements to other online contexts that can unlock career opportunities.

The potential of digital badges as micro-credentials is heightened by the fact that organizations can be the issuer, thus endorsing the validity of the individual’s contribution. We found this especially crucial at the starting point of building an online community — and a this gives a chance for participating organizations to support contributor activity and retention.

We have now started working on solving some of the remaining technical obstacles before badges can be activated on Wikimedia projects. At the Wikimedia Hackathon in Lyon, France, we got the ball rolling: our GLAM Technician, André Costa, with the support of Tyler Romeo, on finalising an extension for Open Badges that will make it possible to create, issue, view and verify badges on MediaWiki, in accordance with OpenBadges specifications. Currently, what is still missing is code review of this extension and building additional functionality to allow badges to be exported to e.g. Mozilla Backpack and automatic issuing of badges according to certain criteria.

Perhaps this extension could become another tool for editor retention within the near future?

John Andersson, Sara Mörtsell & André Costa
Wikimedia Sverige


  1. Kriplean, T., Beschastnikh, I., and McDonald, D.W. (2008) Articulations of WikiWork: Uncovering Valued Work in Wikipedia through Barnstars Proceedings of the 2008 ACM conference on Computer supported cooperative work, ACM, 47-56.