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Social Media

The Badge Based Economy

The Foursquare Newbie Badge

Websites and apps seek to encourage users to do different things, they seek different incentives to give users.  People have been encouraged to use websites with virtual currency, chances to win physical prizes and other assorted ways to encourage users, and most of these incentives have been largely unsuccessful. Recently, a new form of incentives has cropped around the Internet to fairly big success and replication: badges.

Although they were not the first app to use them, the use of badges was popularized by Foursquare.  Foursquare encouraged users to check in to locations by giving points for each check in and unlocking virtual badges based on checking in different places that meet a certain set of requirements.  While the points have fallen by the wayside in a social sense, people go out of their way to collect badges. Going to different Starbucks to unlock the Barista badge, college bars to unlock the Animal House badge, places with multiple members of the opposite sex to unlock the Player Please badge, etc.  Once people saw how successful the badges were in incentivitizing people to go places in the real world, it began to be copied by other sites and apps.

Blip.fm is a popular website for broadcasting music to friends and Twitter.  It was quite popular among Twitter users who wanted to share songs with their friends and followers. In December, Blip.fm added badges to, as they claim, reward users who “do extraordinary things on Blip.fm.” In addition to the rewards, it encourages people to play more songs to get badges that reward users for DJing songs every day or every hour.  While I do not know how it has affected the number of blips by users on the site, I can speak from personal experience when I say I blipped a song every day for a month to get the Headliner Level 4 badge.

Two weeks ago, popular political blog The Huffington Post added badges to encourage its users to be more active in the community.  They promote gaining as many followers/fans as possible with their Networking badge and encourage users to police each other with their Moderator badge.  They guide their users’ behavior by giving them virtual rewards to post on their profiles to be viewed by the other users.

By giving users virtual rewards that are large and colorful and can be seen by other users, it gives the users a social status online that can encourage them to behave in ways that the user would not normally do in exchange for a piece of flair made of bit and bytes. Like in real world social experiments, as in the Stanford Prison Experiment, people can be guided to act differently than they normally do based on the badges they wear on their metaphorical chest.

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