Huffington Post Does a Foursquare, Offers Readers Badges for Behavior
The Huffington Post—taking a cue from Foursquare, the location-based social network that allows users to win "badges" for checking in at various places—has launched a similar feature for regular readers of the news site. The badges are just the latest offering aimed at implementing social features on the site.
HuffPo now offers three badges that readers can win—the Networker badge, the Superuser badge, and the Moderator badge—based on the amount of activity they engage in on the news site. For example, connecting with other readers will earn a member a Level One Networker badge and connecting her Huffington Post reader account with either a Facebook account or a Twitter account will bump her up to a Level Two Networker—and her comments on the site will be a different color from those posted by non-Level Two users.
The Huffington Post was one of the first to implement Facebook Connect when it launched, and the service was tightly integrated into the rest of the site—for example, showing readers who connected their accounts a special sidebar with news that had been read and/or recommended by their Facebook friends. The badges extend that idea and are clearly designed to encourage readers to spend more time on the site.
Different Types of Involvement
A FAQ describes the different badges: Networker is based on connections with other readers and with Facebook or Twitter, while Superuser rewards readers for commenting on stories and for sharing them through services such as Twitter and Facebook, and Moderator is based on how many comments a reader flags. It's not clear how much of a given activity you have to engage in to win the badges, however. The Moderator badge says you have to have flagged 20 comments to get a Level One but says only that these flags have to display "a high ratio of good flags to mistaken flags." I've asked Huffington Post for comment on why the requirements aren't defined, but the likely explanation is to give the site some leeway in deciding who gets rewarded.
The way Huffington Post is using badges makes much more sense to me than something like The Wall Street Journal's recent partnership with Foursquare. Offering news tips and Foursquare badges based on where readers are checking in with the location-based network is a nice marketing gesture, but the conversion rate from Foursquare user to WSJ reader is likely to be fairly low. Huffington Post's badges, on the other hand, may seem a tad gimmicky, but they're focused on the right thing: increasing engagement with readers.
It's a similar approach to that taken by such sites as Slashdot, which has one of the most devoted online reader communities. Regular readers who behave properly by providing a real name, posting and/or flagging comments, and contributing in other ways get "karma points" that enhance their status on the site. It's a reputation management system that resembles the way players of World of Warcraft and other games "level up" through their activity in the game. The idea is that being rewarded for good behavior encourages more good behavior and builds a strong relationship with users.
It will be interesting see what kind of response Huffington Post readers have to the badges and what effect they have on the length of time people spend on the site and how often they repeat their visits.
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