Thursday, July 28, 2011

Points, Stars and Badges

Points, Stars and Badges

The Google News Badge system will not last.

By comparison, the MarketWatch Community employs a “star” system where contributors can earn stars as they post (quality, tragically, is not a consideration). Most people post very little, and a few people post a lot, most people stream a little, Pos Skew 3but some stream too much, most people have a little bit of money saved, a few people have a lot, most people read a few articles, some read a lot which drives a strongly skewed distribution curve where the mode is close to zero.

As users drop out of the MarketWatch user community their accounts do not appear to be deleted. “User accounts” are likely used to demonstrate value to MW advertisers. The remnants of their profile and posts get fixed into the left side of the distribution. Frequent, long-term posters continue to push the curve out to the right. 

LinkedIn has a similar active/inactive user issue as discussed in the Xolotech post: LinkedIn Professional Networking – which cites an Infographic stat from Mashable. 39% of LinkedIn users have not visited the site in more than 1 month.  (Note to LinkedIn: pruning dead wood off of a tree is a good practice to encourage future healthy growth.)

Google Badges
The process of earning stars on MarketWatch has unintended consequences that manifests a couple of negative behaviors. 

Bad Behavior

Users that are ejected from the community for violating Terms of Use, can rejoin under a new name, post a relatively small number of items, then re-earn their stars and status. 

Since inactive user counts are still valid, the median and mean are more easily surpassed. The penalty for violating the Terms is minor, and offenders know it.

The outcome for the MarketWatch Community is that User Reputation, as measured by stars is no longer valid, and that bad users have no fear of the Terms of Use. Note to MarketWatch: You tried to crowdsource a solution to this problem, but appear to have ignored your audience feedback. Tsk, tsk… you really should listen to your customers.

How will Google Count -- Absolute Value or Relative Value, and what defines a badge category?

Early Google News Badges are earned while competing against a smaller pool of readers, early adopters can gain Stars quickly. As readership increases, and more users adopt a practice to earn Badges, they will need to read many more articles to gain their stars. (Unless the MarketWatch experience occurs).

Badges in one category might gain stars faster than others - for example, not many people are reading articles on Samsung, when compared to Google. Google stars spawn at multiples of 40 articles, Apple at 25, Nokia is under 10. Of course, this will all settle when the curve is set.

Again, what is the goal of the Badge program from the User Point of View and how does it differ from the goals for Google?

Changing Habits – Do I follow Authors or Topics?

I still prefer the features of Google Reader over Google News. Reader has a better interface (and Feedly makes it great!),  does a better job at tracking articles that I have read, and keeps a list of articles so I can back-track to find key ideas. Authors that put out good product get added to my list.

My Google News reading habits have changed. I had to make adjustments to Personalization -- reducing the number of Sections, and using the sliders to increase Blogs and reduce Press Releases. I skim my home page, then click down into the Badges for further reading. Google News does not provide enough articles to feed each Badge category. Some articles re-appear as unread (but still count towards your badge).

Serendipity is lost to pursuit of a goal. (Note to self: add StumbleUpon to Menu bar, use more frequently). 

Where Reader is my “closed” list of topics (can I invoke a Google+ Circle reference?) based on Authors. Google News was always my “open” list of categorized, lightly curated, new content. Badges seem to push News towards a smaller pool of topics.

Is it possible that Google is resurrecting demographics (Demographics 2.0) by News Reading habits? Or, are Circles being stealthy inserted into other Google properties?

Chicken – Egg…? Do we even need badges?


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