Google News Adds Badges, Gamification: Hit or Miss?
We don’t always cover Google so frequently on the Badgeville Blog, but lately we’ve been keeping a close eye on their gamification research and implementations. After aÂ successful launch of G+ thanks to carefully planned game mechanics, Google announces a more front-and-center game mechanic use case to itsÂ popular Google News platform: a badges and levels program for reading and viewing news.
Google is offering a variety of 500 different badges, each one for a particular topic. When you read articles, you can earn category badges, and the more you read, the more stars you earn on your badge. You can share badges, which will be targeting the G+ community.
As an avid Google News reader myself, and a former journalist watching the ever-changing state of news media, I am looking forward to their new game mechanics. These rewards are not designed to massively alter reader behavior or interest, instead, they are built to encourage more frequent reading of subjects you already care about, and to help identify new content you’d want to read. Of course, they also encourage people to read news from Google and not go directly to the sources, which means more opportunity for advertising revenue growth.
“The U.S. Edition of Google News now lets you collect private, sharable badges for your favorite topics. The more articles you read on Google News, the more your badges level up: you can reach Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and finally Ultimate. Keep your badges to yourself, or show them off to your friends.” Â – Google
Google has, for a long time, been trying to get the forumla right for automatically showing content like other content you’ve read, or asking you to select categories to track, but it’s never been clear how the algorithms work on the front end. Here, if you read a lot of articles about Basketball, you earn a Basketball badge. Then, the badge allows you to easily read all articles about the subject. You can also level up and go public with your readership status. Of course, Google is investing in this system as part of their overhaul of their experiences to be more social, interactive, and meaningful.
While it is exciting to see Google investing in game mechanics, their badge program is far from perfect. But before I get around to picking apart what they’ve done wrong, let’s review what works.Â It is exciting to see Google investing in game mechanics and gamification. Their badges are nice, and the ability to add new stars to each category badge helps streamline the interface -especially considering how many thousands badges there would be if each level-up needed a separate badge.
The current implementation of Google News badges is definitely front-and-center to their users who visit Google News, which helps in onboarding to a new gamification program. We always recommend to our customers that in order to have a successful gamification and social loyalty program, educating your audience on “how to play” is just as important as the game mechanics that you use throughout your site.
But then, the onboarding experience gets a little confusing. If you haven’t read their more detailed page explaining the system, how to “play” isn’t clear. They offer a sidebar widget that suggests you earn the iPhone badge by reading content about the iPhone. The experience quickly becomes confusing and frustrating to someone trying to earn a badge. It is extremely important to make the first interactions with a gamification program clear and positive, or else you will turn off your users from the start.
Instead ofÂ using the widget real estate to suggest articles to read about the topic, you have to click through to see articles about the iPhone on a page that then has no reference to the badge or rewards. Google’s overview claims that you can “click on a badge to see articles that will help the badge reach its next level,” but I was unable to locate this feature.
They also miss out on the opportunity to give the user a choice of topics to start earning rewards for, and a sense of progress towards earning these rewards. A better tactic would be to give the user their 1st reward for reading about a section that has a badge attached to it. This would show the user how the system works, instead of making it a more passive and less effective experience.
After going to an iPhone news article, I received no real time notifications letting me know I was making progress towards earning my reward. I actually figured it didn’t register reading the page. However, I went back to the google news homepage, and saw I did, indeed, earn credit for reading the article. Actually seeing that I earned credit required me to mouse over the iPhone Badge to see that I received credit. A better user experience would show the user, very clearly, that they earned credit for reading this article. We don’t usually recommend toolbars, but in the case of Google News, where you are taken to another site to reach an article that isn’t owned by Google, it might make sense to offer a toolbar that features real-time rewards for reading articles.
That said, I’m still confused over whether I’ve earned the badge, or am in progress towards earning it. It says “keep reading to earn the bronze badge,” but I don’t know how many articles I need to read about the iPhone to earn this badge. Upon further investigation, I find that Google’s separate page on the program tells me “If you read a few articles a day about your favorite topics, you should earn your first badge in about a week.” If you look at the Zynga and Playdom’s of the world, you’ll realize this is a bad strategy. We all like instant gratification, especially when we start learning a new program. The program can, and should get progressively more difficult as you become engaged, but earning your first reward seems much too difficult. In any game, the first level should be easy and able to be won quickly the first time playing.
For an onboarding experience, the lack of explaining how to earn my first badge exactly is confusing and doesn’t motivate me to want to earn the badge. The information about reading a few articles a day about your favorite topics isn’t even shown on the Google News homepage. A better option would be for Google to say “read 1 article about the iPhone every day this week to earn this badge.” Defining the road map for rewards is key in helping users understand and enjoy their rewards experience. Later on, gamification programs can introduce “surprise” badges, which appear for behaviors that you performed, but didn’t expect to earn a reward.
Also, Google News fails to show me how many category badges are available. There are many different categories of news. If Google were a Badgeville customer, we’d recommend they showcase the top 10-25 categories of content and badges you can earn for each of these categories, so users can select their favorite categories to participate. By offering iPhone as the recommended category, this immediately limits the positive experience to people interested in iPhone articles. Granted, Apple’s iPhone may be a popular topic on Google News, but it would be better to offer an onboarding experience with a broader scope of categories to initially engage a wider audience.
Ultimately, we think the Google News gamification program has a lot of potential. On the positive side, we know Google will iterate this and improve based on audience interaction. They’ve also designed some really nice looking badges that users will want to earn, once the user understands the breadth of badges that can be earned.
While Google News is not a Badgeville customer, our API and widgets could easily support their current program, plus a much broader experience. For more information on Google News’ badging program, check out Google’s official video about Google News Badges below: