News Scouts

Credit: Paul Downey
School badges, originally from the photographer’s sportcoat.

When Michael C. Dumler joined Foursquare and started checking in around the country, the badges at first came rolling in. They came quickly — the “Newbie” badge, a badge for your first ten check-ins, and a few others.

“However,” Dumler told me in an email from California, where he’s the business director at Breaking Development, “once you get the first handful of badges they become harder to obtain.”

It was inevitable that the media, seeing the popularity of social badges, would want to try it. CNN’s iReport program has a brand new badge system for contributors. MTV has one on Foursquare. The Wall Street Journal created a bunch — as of this morning, the paper had 39,326 followers on Foursquare.

So how will badging help the media?

Let’s look at Dumler’s reasoning for collecting badges: He pegs them as both achievements and a game.

As an achievement, badges “tell a story,” he said. “For instance, the “I’m on a Boat” badge holds a certain prestige and tells your social sphere a unique story of your activities at sea.”

But as a game, Foursquare is all about one-upping your friends and stealing mayorships. Sometimes badges will get you into V.I.P. parties, too, Dumler said.

So it seems the integration of badges into the media should have the same end goals. I could see, for example, an iPad app that awards a badge for opening and reading a certain number of stories every day. Or maybe a badge for stealing your neighbor’s copy of The New York Times?