Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Meriting Badges?

I've capitulated. I've joined Google Plus (a.k.a. "Google+" or just "G+"). And for the most part, I'm enjoying it, although I'm following (or "have circled") so many celebrities† that my Google+ "Stream" is getting quite long. I really need a way to collapse comments so I don't have to scroll forever to get past the stuff posted by the followers of the people I'm following.

A sure sign of Google+'s popularity (however fleeting it may be) is the number of celebrities and celebrity impersonators it's attracted in the three weeks it's been live. Google would obviously be pleased to have celebrities endorse Google+ by using it, so the company is working on a "celebrity acquisition plan" and a scheme for verifying that celebrities are who they claim to be. (William Shatner would probably have appreciated an opportunity to prove his identity before his Google+ account was suspended, but the error has been corrected.)

Google+ isn't the only new feature that Google is working on this week. Google News, "a computer-generated news site that aggregates headlines from news sources worldwide, groups similar stories together, and displays them according to each reader's personalized interests," has implemented a system of "badges" for subjects that you read up on frequently. By default, your badges are shown only to you, but you can share (publicize) them if you want. I'm not sure whether I want to earn, let alone share, Google badges, since at first blush they seem about as useful as those cheesy certificates I got in elementary school for reading library books during summer vacation. And to earn badges, I'd have to actually click on links to read news articles. No more pretending to be up-to-date on current events by just skimming headlines!

PC World suggests that if badges catch on, "it's going to become increasingly easy to spot spammers simply looking to promote a brand without any knowledge of it. Authentic businesses (and individuals behind them) will get a credibility boost by displaying their high-level badges." Maybe so, but Google still needs to work on the algorithms that determine the subjects of articles before I'll take the badge system seriously. I'm on my way to earning a badge about Google itself, which is appropriate since I've recently read about a dozen articles on the company. But instead of giving me points for reading articles on Scientology, Google hints that I might qualify for a badge on prominent Scientologist Tom Cruise. Bleah.

† Well, celebrities to me, anyway. People like John Halamka (who doesn't seem to be posting anything to Google+ yet) and Greg Laden (who is active on Google+) would probably not be considered "celebrities" by most people.

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