Badges for LibreOffice

The LibreOffice project relies almost entirely on volunteers to work, from running our infrastructure to developing our software suite. It is faire to say we take -or try to take – our community very seriously. If I needed any more proof of this, the first months as a member of the Membership Committee of the Document Foundation offered me the opportunity to review membership applications and try to understand both how people contribute and why they are attracted to LibreOffice, even when they’re not contributors.

Part of what I have noticed along with other people (in and out the membership committee) is that while we always supported fluid and transparent team work inside our community, many people, especially ones with non-code contributions tend to feel confused by what it means to be a member of the Document Foundation, and how we value contributions. Sure, they see their contribubadges_example_fastcompanytions are valued, and they feel they’re part of a great team, but how they are recognized and their work ackowledged, aside credits, seems to be a bit blurry.

I cannot quite recall who coined the idea first, but somehow the possibility of using web badges started to float around. Of course badges are not new; online forums have been using them for years; in the past few years however, projects like the OpenBadges initiative from the Mozilla Foundation have taken the concept of badges much beyond the display of “experience points” of forum members.

Badges may seem a simple concept; perhaps a too simple one. But they may help our contributors who do not contribute by sending several patches a week or a month as these ones do not need better tracking. Badges can help in two ways:

  1. Measuring their online activity: we’re not spying on them of course. But let’s take the case of an active contributor with zero experience in development (and no will to learn), who helps in the many other ways: Yesterday, she helped with translating one of our users’guides. Today she helped users on Ask LibreOffice or on one of our mailing lists dedicated to users support. Tomorrow this same contributor will help cleaning the wiki pages in her native languages. Somehow, all this leaves logs, traces; but we have noticed that this kind of contributions is not felt by the same contributors as something worth reporting, explaining, or even something used to apply for membership to the Document Foundation. But these are very real contributions that should be valued. Badges can automatically keep track of these kind of activities. It creates visibility for the Membership Community, the community itself and just as importantly….
  2. … it creates visibility and a sense of validation for the contributor herself. Badges are carried around for a reason. They convey the achievements of the contributor; they are a way to thank the contributor and at the same time give a rather clear sign of the skills of the person people are engaging with.

There are downsides to these badges of course. They’re not set up that easily: remember that besides basic scenarios (i.e. a badge for every TDF member) one has to ensure the badges are “plugged” into each data source that is necessary and relevant to award a badge. On the other end of that process, different badges must be designed for each kind of category we envisioned: users’ support is one thing, but documentation writer or QA volunteer are very different jobs. Besides that, we need to get these “jobs” right, otherwise we may end up forgetting about some of them. It would involve some design to make them look nice. And of course, we need to make sure the attribution process is both simple and flawless.

In the end, I truly think that badges are a good idea and a net positive for the community; but the execution is much more complex that the term “badge” suggests. We need to mature details on how to deliver a workable system for this, and it may still take some time if we decide to move forward with this idea. You are welcome to continue the conversation on RedMine or on our discuss mailing list. Hopefully, we will improve the way our contributors participate to the LibreOffice project and its overall efficiency with the same tool!

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