On badging systems for incentivizing open source contributions

Continuing the discussion from Design & UX working group with @Erioldoesdesign and @jdorfman:

I’m forking this discussion from the Design & UX Working Group thread so we don’t take it off topic. :slightly_smiling_face:

Unifying the Sustain brand on the Discourse site personalizes the UX for Sustain and encourages participation, instead of the default Discourse set of badges. So, I think there are two different ways we could go, depending on personal time and bandwidth to contribute to this:

  1. Re-theme all badges, including default Discourse badges, with Sustain branding
  2. Create basic style guide for and unify existing custom badges with Sustain branding [-1-] [-2-] [-3-] [-4-] [-5-]

We also don’t have to start from scratch. Check out @riecatnor’s work in Fedora on how to design Fedora Badges as an example.

If we can collaborate on this, I think it would be double-win for Sustain and Open Design efforts. Sustain benefits from a more personalized and engaging community discussion forum. Open Design benefits from intersecting discussion topics of design and open source sustainability receiving greater visibility.

We don’t have to push hard if we are volunteering. Obviously there is a lot going on and asking for volunteer hours is usually a question of privilege. So it is not worth burning anyone out on this collab if there is not bandwidth. But I wanted to throw out the idea and see what others thought.


It seems like each day you inspire me more and more.

We have a budget that we can use. I would just need to get a sign off at the next meeting. I don’t want to stop at badges. SustainOSS.org really needs some TLC. So if we can package all of that work into one contract I think that might be the way to go.

Edit: I really like https://www.openfoodnetwork.org/ (minus the scroll hijacking)

1 Like

I cannot advise strongly enough that we x-post this to the https://discourse.opensourcedesign.net/ and the https://opensourcedesign.net/jobs/

I would very happily be a like, mentor and guide a younger open source designer in contributing this, I think that’s always a good way of up-skilling newer OSS-y design-y type people.

1 Like

So, I see one possible way to approach this.

Perhaps we could facilitate funding an Outreachy intern for Design & UX for the Sustain brand and web services. I think @riecatnor is modeling what this could look like with a fully design-focused Outreachy internship.

I’m not sure what budget is available for this and how funding would work, but we could probably build up a coalition of inter-organization mentors for this project, if funding is not a hard blocker. Outreachy interns are approximately $5500 USD for one intern in an Outreachy round.

Thanks for mentioning these sites! :pray:

I am wondering, is it too early to reach out? I feel like I am still framing this idea in my head. I think cross-posting is a great idea and I’m happy to do that work. But I’m wondering when is the most constructive time to invite more feedback. I trust your judgment more than mine since I am not deeply familiar with either community!

I don’t think badges encourage participation. I don’t feel that they help people have more enriching conversations, that they encourage people to think deeply about the work they’re doing with others, or that they help contributors feel more included and part of a community because they have them. To me, they seem to be a continuation of Facebook Likes or Reddit Upvotes - ultimately tied to the platform, used as weapons of status, and ultimately arbitrary.

For years, I’ve felt like I am a wet blanket for bringing this up in the many communities I’ve been in where there are people who push badges as a method of increasing participation. I feel that, now, again. It sucks. But I still don’t feel like I’m wrong.

Do you have any proof that adding badges significantly improves the well-being and personal growth of a community’s members?

Could we use the energy to make badges to instead think of ways to engage people who aren’t on the forum to want to share their expertise and to learn from others without using arbitrary status symbols? How can we keep the conversation going outside of the Sustain event? How can we improve people’s lives by helping them either earn more money, help others get a leg up in their career, or in general improve the worth of their open source?

My phrasing here implies that badges don’t do this - I’m not saying they don’t have a small effect for some small amount of contributors who like them - but I am just curious if we can think of other means, instead.

Regarding the website redesign: whom do you feel it isn’t serving, Justin?


I don’t. Do you have any proof of the contrary? (not being sarcastic, I just want to know.)

Our current site looks and works very well. With that said, to me, it’s stale. I’m in love with the new BackYourStack site, which got this idea in my head. The money could be used elsewhere I suppose.

I don’t think you’re being sarcastic. I’m really sorry to poo-poo badges; I just don’t see the use of them. I don’t have proof of the opposite. However, I can ask myself whether or not they encourage participation to get achievements, as opposed to participation to learn and grow, and what they remind me of.

This reminds me a lot of my general feeling about tracking user metrics for things like time on a site. We don’t want to prioritize time on a site. We want to prioritize meaningful contributions and meaningful takeaways. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to accurately track authentic participation on a forum; but leaning on ‘time on site’ as a proxy I think leads many companies away from their goals. For advertising-driven companies, you definitely want to have users stick around. For us, I don’t think it’s the same.

Yay!! I love that you love the Back Your Stack website. Memo and the Open Design team were really amazing in leading me through a process of how to communicate the work in written and aesthetics. And Erioil did the same with the FOSS Responders website. Maybe we can have a group conversation about this. I also think we can have a visual design that represents what we are and what we are building.


HI all,

I know I’m out of the loop these days but I want to offer a heartfelt opinion about redesigning the website based on some years working in branding and design with brands including HP, Compac, https://swpremiumfood.com/, Imperial Tobacco.

A site or logo or brand isn’t for the people who created it, live on it, stare at it all day. It’s for your users / consumers. By the time the creators are tired of it the users are just starting to recognize it and build the self-reinforcing positive attachments that a brand needs to thrive. Redesign the site for functional reasons if the group/brand needs functionality that the site lacks or if you are getting a majority of negative or confused feedback from users. Otherwise I’d argue you should leave it alone.

My $0.02


Hi @RichardLitt

I am Jaskirat Singh, an open source research strategist and tech diversity specialist, developing new, and improving existing, computer-based technologies, systems, and solutions in advanced open source ecosystems. I have been working quite a while with various communities in the open-source, helping them maintain good relationships with external communities and projects, organizing meetups and events generating FOSS ecosystem, supporting the community in the outreach, creation of tools and process with good relationships. I have been already following up with Sustain OS.

This is the major problem I could see communities have been suffering to help their contributors sustain with the community. My experience denotes that most of the contributors ( be it the designer, developer, Tester, etc ) are either college students or young contributors. So their main motive remains to learn, work and grow.

So some recognition given to them is the great key to help them sustain with the community. Recognition can be like building some “program” with combining some of the recognized organizations/communities who are working great in the field of open source like, Google, Microsoft, GitHub,etc and helping contributors give appreciation/LOR letters which can be used by them to be motivated and grow more. Other factor can be funding support. Some bounty programs can also help them be encouraged and self motivated to sustain with the community.

Here is the example; Google Open Source Peer Bonus Program can be a great inspiration for this program. So the program I initiated above can be divided into various parts like:

  • Stage 1: Giving contributors LOR/appreciation letters
  • Stage 2: Supporting them with bounty programs
  • Stage 3: inviting/Giving away scholarships to them to speak at conferences,events and meetups to speak about their projects or contributions
  • Stage 4: Asking them to lead projects

So these are the ways we can go ahead and I am sure can help contributors sustain with community.

Hi Jaskirat,

FYI - Wearing my Googler hat (and I worked on the peer bonus program): the nominators are Googlers but the recipients are not Googlers nor are they only working on Google related projects.



Oh! Thanks for correcting me @allman I was wondering that those were only limited to Google OS projects. I have corrected it above.


Badges are tools that can be used for good or bad. Often, badges are way to gamify participation usually in order to encourage activity and show metrics. However, they can also be a fun way to collaborate together on shared projects and efforts. They can be a tool to encourage positive interactions and make participation more friendly.

My experiences with badge systems in open source include the SpigotMC Forums and Fedora Badges. Badges (or medals) are fun ways to encourage different types of participation in a community. They are also really helpful “breadcrumbs” for people who are new to a community to follow.

It might sound cheesy or lame, but positive reinforcements for doing good things in the community via badges is a great way to encourage and incentivize specific kinds of behavior. If there are ways for the community to submit ideas and thoughts for new badges, it makes it an engaging way for the community to collaborate on something that is not so serious. We cumulatively deal with a lot of challenging topics on these forums, so I think something to lighten the mood is nice. :slight_smile:

Badges are not one-size-fits-all and not everyone has to engage with them. But they can be a fun and helpful tool for navigating a discussion community and establishing positive community norms early on.

Hi @Jaskirat, thank you for your enthusiasm! :pray: However, this is not on topic to Sustain OSS Discourse design and UX. Could you please start a new discussion thread for this topic?


Hey! I think I tried to answer in the context taking badging system in mind. So do you want me to go with a new topic regarding this?

As this forum uses discourse and the discourse people usually like chitchat about features, usage and purpose of different community building or conversation tools, I believe this discussion might well be brought over to https://meta.discourse.org/ . When badges are used in a gamification-like system with e.g. a reputation/scoring system baked in much more than usually done in discourse (I am thinking of the stackoverflow family and I am not saying that reputation/scoring is generally a bad idea) I can see that this might give some motivation or happy emotions for some users without dividing the community or hurting others who do not have the badge. Especially if they are somewhat funny (“it’s your third post on a friday the 13th”) and/or you can “hunt” them - meaning that at least for some of them you know what you have to do to get them. But my main point is: why discuss that only in this single forum and not over at meta.discourse. Probably there is some discussions held about the topic already.

1 Like

wowzers this topic provoked a lot of discussion! It’s always good when something as seemingly innocuous as badges unearths other stuff.

Re. badges overall goodness. It depends on what you compare it with really, Richard is right in that it’s not deeply enriching in a way that, say…being directly thanked by a person for doing X thing biut my take on it is everyone gets their dopamine hits in different ways, for some folks badges are those positive affirmations and goals (especially good for folks that may struggle to set their own achievable goals) and could also be a means to which you can offer a route to learning a new way of doing things e.g. Badge for ‘discovering’ a thing rather than doing X amount of thing so like, 'You found a new project that does X and you like X! vs You contributed 555 PRs and that is what we decide is good = badge! As long as you structure these things in a considerate way that is not elitist it can be good and not competitive. I do agree that that might be limited by Discourses current functionality. I would want folks to be able to turn badges on/off which may not be possible.

Gamify is a good book on this (but take with appropriate amount of salt please, https://www.amazon.com/Gamify-Gamification-Motivates-People-Extraordinary/dp/1937134857

@jwf re reaching out to Open Source Design - I think whether it’s too early or not depends more on capacity of who facilitates this need more than timing. Getting design input is good early because it helps make informed decisions on what to offer up to users and why (as is this discussion too, which is awesome) You might frame it like: "We’re looking at engaging with people on discourse in X, Y and Z ways and badges that are branded and visually ‘appealing’ is one way that we’ve thought about that but are there other ways we can do good service design for the sustain community (see https://www.nngroup.com/articles/service-design-101/ and https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/the-principles-of-service-design-thinking-building-better-services for reasonably good explanations of service design).

Agreed with @allman that a website should primarily serve its users but it should also enable the ‘staff’ to meet their objectives by allowing those users to do what they want and often, without access to usertesting, usability studies and user research the ‘staff’ are reasonably good proxies for making design hypothesis re. improvements to a site…also, personal opinion re. designers role should also include guiding and helping ‘staff’ of a website/service to adopt a more user centric thinking and you don’t do that by excluding ‘staff’ from the process of informed opinion forming.

eep. big paragraph.

Tl:dr: If you want to have a face to face about design related stuff obvs you have Memo and the team who are amazing but also always happy to contribute and participate! :bouquet: :sparkling_heart:


For me the triggering thing in this thread is the badges budget. I don’t mind against any kind of fun that people should have with open source badges, but surely I have this thought that a common SustainOSS budget could be used better. Avoiding shared budget and letting people gather funds for every feature or activity separately could help keep positive atmosphere around while we may discuss more depressing things about being a maintainer in parallel threads.

1 Like

As for badges concern. They helped me to discover what kind of activities Fedora provides. Although https://whatcanidoforfedora.org/ may work for it better. I actually do not like Fedora badge design, I don’t know why. Maybe I don’t like badges at all. But I do like getting achievements, which are the underlying mechanism behind badges that could be used for converting users, including the companies.

Is seeing somebody collecting a lot of badges discouraging? I would say yes - it is easy to get this feeling that I am not good even at editing Wikipedia just by looking at other people profiles. But again, I am competitive and I don’t like to lose. If achievements are private, that may solve the problem of automatic comparison of my self and feeling like a loser in this game. I think Steam knows something about this gamer’s behavior - you can see stats like 91% of users have this achievement, but not the top elite. This kind of of makes you feel you’re in a good company, and not in those 0.1% who don’t have a life. :smiley:

Are badges some kind of distracting slacktivism? I would say - yes. They are distracting attention from things that are being felt as more important, but, again, having a place with just heavy and topics with no answers is not something I would be willing to get back to often. Implementing badges and coordinating over it to gain experience is no less important than badges themselves. SustainOSS potential impact is proportional to the skills of contributors to coordinate and finish specific parallel initiatives.

I never thought of it that way and now I agree.

Always welcome and I’m really happy you took the time to weight in. =)

Case in point, this thread is by far the most active out of any others in this forum. It also got @allman to chime in!

You are correct. FWIW we are a committee so I wouldn’t have the authority to just make a decision like that. I get excited easily but eventually I get pulled back in (by myself or others) and realize maybe that isn’t the best idea after all. I appreciate you bringing it up. =)