These badges are Google’s first foray into the world of gamification, an area pioneered by foursquare and their multitude of check-in badges. The Google News Badges are awarded by topic, and are branded as Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Ultimate based on the number of articles read. They’ve also incorporated a social element by allowing users to share them with friends. The game is designed to keep readers engaged over the long-term – levels can be achieved quicker with more consistent news consumption over time and there is a level gauge to help track your progress.
Google News’ latest design is an strategic move against Twitter. Google News’ interface was previously much more similar to that of Google Search. The current news feed is set up like Twitter’s, with each article displayed with a thumbnail image and truncated to show only two lines of text. On the right, there are now options for personalization, as well as a list of “Editor’s Picks” and popular items, which mimic Twitter’s trending topics.
I’m a devoted Twitter user, and when people ask me how I use the service, my first response is usually about personally-curated news. I’m certain that a significant portion of Twitter users employ this use case, since a significant portion of them have accounts, follow others, but hardly tweet themselves. Twitter is an effective news outlet because news through social networks and crowds travel much faster than through traditional news media. I also appreciate the dialogue aspect of Twitter – even if it’s just a link to a NY Times article, I still like the short tweet that gives it context. The one thing that Google News does better than the competition is multimedia – clicking on a article title will show a stream of photos or videos related to the article. I’ve always disliked the way the web version of Twitter deals with photos on your profile: as another stream on the right side of your profile.
Google News missed the opportunity to become a source for quick and relevant news and is now trying to best Twitter with a gamification approach. Personally, I’m not sure these badges will motivate me to read more on Google News. After all, I still find the experience on Twitter much more dynamic and personal. If anything, the News Badges could be an interesting experiment in gamification. Will people begin to use the service more purely for the badges, despite some of Google News’ shortcomings? Can the badges then be used as data for something else (for example, as credentials on Quora or further personalization on Google)? Is this another gateway to making news more social?