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New Google News Badges Are Basically Achievement Points for Reading the News

Google News has recently rolled out its Badges program and entered the world of meaningless digital rewards. Get excited. From now on, if you have a Google account, log in and enable your web history before reading articles on Google News, you will accrue what are basically experience points (my words, not theirs) which will unlock badges and eventually cause those badges to “level up” (their words, not mine) from bronze to silver, gold, platinum and finally “ultimate.” Badges are related to certain subjects and level up based on articles read about that subject. For instance, to use the example from the instructional video, if you read articles about basketball, you will level up your basketball badge. Although you might expect a news-site achievement program to stop there, Google has gone the extra mile and implemented a balancing effect. Gorging on a whole bunch of articles in one day won’t earn you as much xp as reading a moderate amount on a regular basis. Pavlovian conditioning much?

There is also, of course, a social networking application to be had here. Badges are automatically set to private but can be shared with friends. Even if you do have your sharing turned on and are actively forcing these badges down your friends’ throats, as you are likely to do, the badges will only display the approximate number of articles on the subject that have been read. No specific articles will be shared, just in case you want to show off your platinum Pop Culture badge without revealing that you read exclusively about Lady Gaga.

While this bears a striking resemblance to the Xbox 360 Achievement system, Google is taking pains to drive the point home that badges are intended to track your reading habits, not to encourage you to alter your reading habits in order to read more Google News and earn more badges. Google also makes the point to say that you can “share these badges with friends,” not “use them to make your friends read more Google News out of a stupid, basal urge for competition.” Of course, it makes sense for them to market it this way, but the Google doth protest too much, methinks.

There is something slightly juvenile about the concept of giving away badges for reading the news, and something condescending about Google giving you gold stars for browsing their websites, and you know what? I don’t care. Whether it’s a tracking thing for your personal use, or a disguised incentive for you to turn on history tracking and talk about Google News, achievements just tend to be fun. Besides, I would gladly give up my browsing history for internet prizes because, let’s face it, I’m always giving up my browsing history to someone and I might as well get some prizes for it. Is this going to turn into a mainstream adoption of achievement technology? We’ll see. I, for one, have always wanted to have an RPG-stats-sheet for my life where I could see how many more push-ups I’d need to do to level up in strength and this seems like a step in the right direction. If you’ll excuse me now, I need to go grind xp.

(via eWeek)

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