Google News Badges? We Don’t Need No Stinking Google News Badges

Whether you think gamification is the road that leads to a brighter future – or instead straight to the irreparable infantilization – of the Web, even the harshest of critics have to admit that there’s more to the concept than simply slapping some badges on a website, game or application, Foursquare-style. The more I read up on this new Google News Badges stuff, the more I think some people over at Mountain View didn’t quite get that particular message.

Starting today, in the U.S. edition of Google News, users can earn more than 500 types of badges as they read articles about their favorite topics. As Google explains in its blog post:

The more you read, the higher level badge you’ll receive, starting with Bronze, then moving up the ladder to Silver, Gold, Platinum and finally, Ultimate.

Seriously, Google? That was the best you could come up with in terms of personalizing the user experience for Google News (and feeding the Google+ beast with more data about those users)?

Or is this a half-baked attempt to get more people to turn on Web history, share their personal browsing behavior and generate more traffic and clicks for online publishing ‘partners’?

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but come on, badges?

I know they introduced Google Reader badges back in 2010, where you could earn points for every item you read on GReader, but at least that was an April Fools Joke.

Google News Badges are not, puzzling enough, unless I’m reading the date wrong.

Badges can be shared, as Google posits, so you can tell your friends about your news interests, “display your expertise, start a conversation or just plain brag about how well-read you are”.

Hey that sort of sounds like Google Knol. Remember Google Knol? Yeah, me neither.

Badges aren’t a bad idea per se, and I’m sure they work well for video games and whatnot, but news?

They did something right though, by finally separating the Sci/Tech section into two distinct sections, a separation that should admittedly have been there since day one.

But I would rather see them make some more obvious enhancements to the service to make for a smoother user experience, like improving the navigation when you search for multi-source news coverage on a given topic, the reduction – or dare I say complete removal – of duplicate or “rewritten” news articles, smarter clustering of related news items à la Techmeme, better integration with other products like Google Finance, Translate, Reader and YouTube, a more intelligent way of filtering articles based on the time of publication, less distinction between blogs and other online publications (now that the line has blurred so much and both the reporting process and the associated platforms have professionalized tremendously), a separate section for press releases, diversified news coverage and opinion pieces, and so on.

Instead, we got badges.