The New Merit Badge Economy

By March 31, 2014Bitcoin Business
Click here to view original web page at

The New Merit Badge Economy

Sometimes our personal victory moments don’t get the respect or acknowledgement they deserve. That includes not only leveling up on video games or March Madness, but our personal achievements at the gym, while parenting, or with our significant other.

Why shouldn’t we be rewarded for sticking with a difficult relationship, eating healthier, or maxing out a workout routine?

Enter the concept of merit badges.

Some creators today are hacking our perceptions of worth (including self-worth) and putting value to personal achievements and behaviors.

(If you laughed at Bitcoin a few years ago, you might want to pay attention here.)

Many of us have been to the soccer game or basketball game or scouting event where everyone received a badge, pretty much just for showing up. Put another way, they are being rewarded for their behaviors. People of all ages today are now earning credits, badges, sales coupons, free swag—sometimes just for being where they are right now.

And sometimes they are rewarded in advance. An example. Kiip has turned the whole rewards notion on its head. Instead of rewarding individuals after they have visited, purchased, flown, or other activity, they reward in anticipation of those activities. Inspired joy pops that lead you toward the path of purchase. Back to Kiip in a moment.

Elijah Szasz, ceo and co-founder at Spark6 in Los Angeles, is introducing rewards as the next challenge inside the corporate body. A new social rewards system created by Szasz and his team (currently in Beta, due for release in May) reinforces our positive behaviors.

The objective is to help individuals meet their own predetermined goals, which can be (but not always) aligned with company goals. If persons can set their own outcomes—whether it’s a diet regimen, exercise schedule, or just more quality time with family members, the corporate body finds itself running a healthier ecosystem. Individuals receive badges, points, or other rewards when they meet their data points.

Ask anyone under the age of 30 whether or not ‘leveling up’ can be an incentive for further engagement or activity, and you’ll understand the power of the concept.

But this is not ageist. We all level up in our lives, careers, and hobbies. What else is behind all the professional-grade kitchen appliances and garage tools, all the guitars, flatscreens, and artisan brews? Not to mention rewarding personal accomplishments with a new car, or that pair of 3-inch heels.

Spark6’s new app, titled “21 Days”, helps people solve three problems prevalent in their life: how to get balance, how to continue to grow, and how to give back.

“We decided to solve for these through a series of experiential tasks—actually giving the user something to do within 21 days,” explains creator Elijah Szasz.

Why 21 days? It is believed that if you incorporate something into your life consistently for twenty-one days, your brain takes on that routine as a habit. (Amazon has over 121,000 titles with something about “21 days” in the title.)

21 Days gives people a challenge within Health, Wealth, or Relationships categories. These are big bucket categories for most people, Szasz explains, based upon search engines. You also can host your personal challenge with friends through Facebook. In turn, friends can invite friends, and the challenge can even go public. Months later, you can look at how many others joined your challenge, so your personal challenge can resonate and connect with complete strangers.

“Seeing people with like-minded interests (cf. Instagram) is socially reinforcing,” explains Szasz. “And social discovery becomes a big part of the new merit ecosystem.”

Every challenge that you complete qualifies you for a unique badge for that challenge. Working with Mozilla’s open badge platform creates an ecosystem of badges, which throws your accomplishment into a virtual backpack. The metadata shows who the recipient was. For example, if you earn a badge for working with nonprofits (e.g. eBay’s Giving Works) and throw them onto your resume, those badges have weight in the hiring process.

“Those badges have real meaning to employers,” says Szazs. Ultimately, these experiences become badges that you can take to a multitude of places, from Facebook to LinkedIn.

This encourages other effects as well. “Kids will work forever to level-up in a video game,” says Szasz. “But doing their geometry homework means nothing to them. Earning an badge in a new level in geometry could potentially mean a lot more.”

Every badge out there has the potential for corporate sponsorships. For instance, if you have a running challenge, like-minded brands like Nike, Under Armor and others could sponsor you.

Elijah Szasz is not alone.

Mozilla, the internet company whose mission is to promote openness, innovation and opportunity on the web (co-founder Brendan Eich created JavaScript, a key technology of the open Web) has created the Mozilla Open Badges platform, which is free software and an open technical standard any organization can use to create, issue, and verify digital badges.

“The Web and its core principles of openness, universality and transparency–the ways that knowledge is made, shared and valued have been transformed,” writes Mozilla’s Erin Knight in a whitepaper. No longer relying on expert authorities or professionally-produced artifacts, Internet citizens are able to seek information or experience from peers or open education sources online, declares Knight.

In the real world, Citizens do not typically get credit for literacies like getting information, judging its worth or merit, multitasking and networking. But this is about how reality intersects with the digital world.

“Badges can play a crucial role in the learning ecology,” says Knight. “Badges can service as a virtual resume of competencies and qualities for key stakeholders such as peers, schools, or potential employers.”

Mozilla (with a grant from MacArthur Foundation) is developing a system to implement and evaluate a badging ecosystem that acknowledges skills, interests, qualities, status and achievements. Keyed to individual interests and learning, the badge system accredits accomplishments and intends to support independent learning all across the Web.

Knight points to webcraft, moviemaking, writing JavaScript, and other determinedly Web-focused activities. While this may seem a bit self-serving for Mozilla, it’s important to note how often the public is turning to TED talks, videos from Stanford, MIT and YouTube for both learning and inspiration (is there a difference?). And don’t forget Khan Academy, which has over 4000 videos and millions of learners.

Self-badging may not be as capricious as it first sounds.

Kiip (mentioned earlier) is a new company that is pushing incentives from the back of the purchase cycle to the forefront. So, instead of being rewarded after you spend time or money (think frequent flyer miles and credit card rewards), you can be rewarded upfront.

Spontaneous joy.

Here’s the formal definition for the new category Kiip has created (they deserve a badge for that): a mobile rewards network that redefines mobile advertising through an innovative platform that leverages “moments of achievement” in games and apps to simultaneously benefit users, developers and advertisers.

What this means in practice is that you can be rewarded for working out this morning.

For playing a computer game over lunch.

And for watching “The Good Wife” tonight.

This challenges the value equation for activities we once thought tedious or even mindless. Kiip has been listed as one of the 4 Hot Online Ad Companies by Forbes, and founder Brian Wong is one of Mashable’s Top 5 Entrepreneurs to Watch.

Collecting badges from multiple sources for low-end tasks might seem like a badging treasure hunt. On the other hand, perhaps we have done a bad job at framing what “success”—personal and professional—really looks like.

It might be time to underline the tasks that are important to us. “A digital badge is an online representation of a skill you’ve earned,” extolls Mozilla’s Knight. And if that is ratified by a set of authority figures that includes our peers, and is rewarded by those product communities we feel we are a part of—isn’t that ideal?

If you look at the merit badge economy next to the new collaborative economy that’s shaping up—with collaborators like Airbnb, Lyft, Toms, eBay among others, you get a different sense of what value may look like in years ahead.

Wherever people can get balance or grow, whether it’s improved parenting, better relationships, mastering hot yoga, or improving your Prezi skills, these frustrations, hopes and dreams are big buckets to fill. According to Mozilla, the answer to who should be involved in this is, “You.”

“We tell them the time commitment, the steps, and provide some helpful links,” says Szasz.

After that, whether you earn a merit badge (or not) is up to you.

Leave a Reply

All Today's Crypto News In One Place