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Google Badges: What have you been reading?

Google Badges tracks your news reading, rewards voracious readers, and helps you organize your reading habit.

Google video. Screenshot by Eric Smalley/CNET
Google Badges are colorful icons that tell you what types of news stories you've been reading. Google video. Screenshot by Eric Smalley/CNET

At first glance, Google Badges, a feature released this week on the Google News platform, smacks of kindergarten.

Read enough stories on a certain topic and you get a badge. Read even more and you rise through the levels--bronze, silver, gold, and ultimate. I'm picturing gold stars pasted on crayon drawings.

Google has a help page that explains the new feature, complete with a short, happy video.The badges are fairly fine-grained. There are 500, including one for stories about Harry Potter and one for stories about your favorite baseball team. See the video below.

Commenter SuperJohnMitchell's reaction to the video: "Seriously?! I don't need to get an achievement after I read the news."

At second glance, however, I see some utility here. And to be fair, I should mention that some people did write nice comments about the video. Badges is automatically parsing what you read into categories, then making it possible for you to click on a category to get that type of news. People who take advantage of Google's news categories are doing this to some extent already. I suspect there are a lot of folks, however, who aren't that organized. Once you have a badge, you can click on the hover menu to turn the badge into a section.

In contrast to news categories, which are categories you say you want to read, Badges organizes into categories you actually read. Are you really ready to admit to yourself how much celebrity gossip you consume?

There are pluses and minuses to each method. You might get a lot out of skimming headlines in a category you say you want to read. But Google can't tell what you're looking at unless you click to an actual story.

Badges are private by default, but you can also share them. This automatic sharing of news sections is probably the most interesting feature of badges, but it isn't as useful as it could be. Your friends can see how many stories you've read, but they can't see what stories you've read, or better yet, stories you've marked in some way.

To turn Badges on, enable Web History. Badges will appear in the Personalize column in Google News--if you don't see the column, you can open it by clicking "personalize" at the top right corner of the screen.

What do you think? Is this just a kindergarten recap? Or is it going to take the personalized newspaper to the next level?