Giddy with the successful launch of its Google+ social network, Google appears to be reinventing itself as the bar depicted in the '80s sitcom Cheers, a place where everybody knows your name.
Google is requiring users to provide Google Profiles, the identity component of Google+, with "the name that you commonly go by in daily life." This is essentially the same as Facebook's name policy, which doesn't sit well with Internet users who prefer to interact online without being personally identified.
Google did recently add "Other" as a gender designation option in Profiles, a concession to privacy, but mostly Google, like Facebook before it, wants to see more information shared.
Toward that end, Google on Thursday turned the U.S. edition of Google News into a potential social experience. The company introduced a system of online badges that Google News readers can earn by reading news articles. This is known as "gamification," the addition of game mechanics to non-game activities. It's a particularly trendy term at the moment and has been the subject of discussion at several recent game industry conferences.
Gartner is predicting that by 2015, more than half of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes.
Google has designed some 500(!) badges to recognize avid news reading. While the badges initially are private, Google would like to see users make them public. The badges are explicitly described as sharable, though Google has opted not to share potentially sensitive information--the specific articles read for a badge award.
"Your badges are private by default, but if you want, you can share your badges with your friends," explains Google engineer Natasha Mohanty in a blog post. "Tell them about your news interests, display your expertise, start a conversation, or just plain brag about how well-read you are."
Google is big on bragging these days, which perhaps isn't surprising for company in the advertising business. What is bragging but selling oneself? Those using Google Profiles have probably noted the presence of a data field titled "Bragging rights."
Google News readers in the U.S. henceforth will get to lord titles like Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Ultimate over their less news-addicted friends. Here's to hoping a future revision brings more brag-worthy award designations, like Tabloid Titan or something similarly hyperbolic. Mohanty describes the badge system as just the first step, "the Bronze release," of Google News badges.
To use news badges, users need to have their Web history enabled. Privacy organizations have long cautioned users to be aware of their Web history settings for any search engine. Google relies on Web history data to provide personalization. While Google says it does not share Web history data, the information is retained until the user opts to delete it, and Google will provide it if compelled to do so through legal process.