A few thoughts on Google News badges

Yesterday Google announced they were adding “badges” to the Google News reading experience.  The basic gist is that Google will give you private badges (which can also be shared – this is key) based on which topics you read most.

There’s been some comment / criticism from the gamification folks, like BunchBall, that this is an inane thing to do.  And from a user’s point of view I tend to agree. Simply awarding a badge, which may or may not be visible to my network, for reading isn’t much of a motivator.  The system doesn’t offer a sense of accomplishment to the user, or even offer a sense of what they need to do to advance or “achieve” the next badge. The only real positive aspect of this for the user is better feedback and visibility of their reading habits.

But, if we think about this from Google’s point of view – collecting validated information about reading habits is GOLD. By validated, what I mean is that if a user “shares” a reading badge, say it’s for “Mobile Industry”, they’re going on record as someone with some sense of expertise on the topic. “I’m so-and-so and I’m an expert on the mobile industry” is what the shared badge means. As Google accounts get linked to content creation via the author tag all of this can feed into the quality / credibility calculator that drives Google search. Moreover, a validated badge helps Google target ads more effectively. Better targeting = more clickthroughs = more money.

An interesting issue here is the granularity of badges in Google News. Can I get a badge in “Visual Analytics Research” or is that too specific? It would be helpful to be able to see the badge landscape of what’s available.

There’s no doubt that Google News badges are immature as a product offering. The user experience needs to get better and offer more incentives and motivation. Klout perks could be an interesting direction to take this. Ultimately though I think this is less of a UX play and more of an opportunity for Google to collect more data.