This past week, Google jumped onto the gamification bandwagon, adding badges to its Google News service. It works something like this: If you go to Google News and start reading articles, you’ll be rewarded a badge (there are roughly 500 badges you can earn right now). As you keep reading about a particular topic, your badges will level up, going from bronze to silver, gold, platinum and ultimate. Let’s say, hypothetically, you’re a major Google fanboy/girl. Once you read an article about Google, you’ll get the Google badge. Then, the more Google related articles you read, the more your badge will level up along the way. Google says it’ll take roughly a week of reading certain types of articles to earn a badge and then start the ramp-up process.
Initially, the Google News badges will only be visible to you, but you can opt to make them public to your friends to, ya know, show them that you really have nose for news.
Of course, there’s a catch. You’re required to give up a little privacy in order to earn these badges. Your Google web history must be turned on (this is separate from your browser Web history) if you want to start collecting these achievements. Web privacy watchdogs often warn against having your web history enabled, and even though Google promises not to share your web browsing habits, remember that Google will readily hand it over if the legal system requires it to do so.
The addition of badges to Google News isn’t really that compelling, and, in its current state , violates one of my cardinal rules of gamification: Don’t just slap badges on something in an attempt to make it more compelling. A few badges are not motivation enough to make someone (like me) give up monitoring feeds in Google Reader or make the rounds to their favorite news sites.
Since this is still the “bronze release” of badges, according to Google News engineer Natasha Mohanty, it will be interesting to see if this is just an elaborate plan to get Google users to turn on their web histories. Badge integration into the new Google+ social network seems inevitable, but the real-world payout of earning badges still seems hazy.
Maybe Google will take a note from Foursquare and offer elite badge-holders some kind of real-world payment in exchange for their loyalty. If Google would, say, partner with the New York Times or Wall Street Journal and offer a free (or even highly discounted) subscription to its digital content, then these badges might seem infinitely more interesting.
What do you think Google News can do with these badges to make them more compelling? Sound off in the comments below.