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Apparently, we DO need these stinking badges

Apparently, we DO need these stinking badges published on 5 Comments on Apparently, we DO need these stinking badges

Originally posted on ReadWriteWeb

I’m suddenly seeing badges everywhere.

Location-aware apps like Foursquare and Gowalla award them for things like visiting more than four venues in one night (the “crunked” badge) or checking into the kind of venue known for a particular personality type (the “douchebag” badge).

And now I’m getting badges in nearly every game and entertainment app I use, often with oddly low standards and notifications like “Award: Launching-the-App-for-the-First-Time Badge!”

This goes back – as all good things do – to video games; badges act like little food pellets that help keep you motivated in between levelling up and winning extra lives.

But there’s no question they work, so don’t be surprised when they start popping up in more mainstream applications. The Inbox Zero merit badge could well be built into the next version of Outlook; PowerPoint users (at least the ones I’ve been seeing lately) could be unlocking the “20 bullet points and 16 fonts in one slide!” badge.

Those badges seem to fill some deep-seated craving from our inner Brownies and Cub Scouts. All that’s missing is a proud virtual parent to sew them onto a digital sash for us… and I’m pretty sure that’s coming, too.


WARNING: Old guy rant ahead-

Scary. Made a "stinking badges"-related joke a couple of months ago, and got a bunch of blank stares from the group of twenty- and thirty-somethings I was sitting with in the lunch tent. These were film people, for crimminy! On the set of a film!

…Rant off.

On badges, I recall that as my (non-virtual? RL? meat puppet?) mother was adding yet another badge on to the ole sash, she laconically remarked: "And when will you be getting the 'sewing' badge?"

She could only smile icily as I blithely responded that I had way more important skills to acquire before I went for that one. Like Morse Code, for instance…

Heh… I've had the same experience with most of my favourite movie quotes – pretty much everything pre-Star Wars. (Would it be out of line to require anyone seeking elected office to be able to quote something – anything – from Butch Cassidy?)

I remember listening to an interview with the guys behind the Stack Overflow sites (people post technical questions & problems, other people take time to answer them). They identified badges as a key part of their strategy… they'd been playing XBox and noticed that people will do anything for an achievement badge. Sure enough, given the opportunity to unlock badges such as "Guru", "Copy Editor" or "Great Answer" people will spend countless hours helping strangers with programming problems.

Incidentally, the idea of OS/application related badges has been suggested in the Ubuntu community because it encourages people to explore and investigate new things: "Congratulations you have unlocked the 'create a playlist in Banshee' badge" etc. There's a new feature called the "GNOME activity journal" which can log & tag every document, website, email, application etc that you access and a badge sub-system would sit on top of that very nicely.

Thanks for this, Jon – it's fascinating. And I suspect it helps a lot that this isn't just an attempt to get people to do more of an activity that has no intrinsic meaning to them; instead, it reflects real achievements (i.e. development or exploration) and (in most cases) something people find satisfying in and of itself.

Totally agree with you Rob about the value of badges linked to achievements which have intrinsic value. Like the mythical "you've unlocked a badge" badge, most of the Foursquare badges have no actual value other than encouraging the user to use the service more.

However maybe having a couple of super-easy badges does have value as it gets the user hooked on the concept of collecting badges… like a drug dealer giving first hits for free. I signed up for The Next Web the other week and almost immediately there was a "first visit" badge, then a "5th page read" badge. Whilst there's no effort in achieving those badges, it does provide a smooth way of introducing the new user to the fact that "hey, we have badges". They can then make the decision to ignore them or investigate further.

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