A while back I wrote about revising Newsvine's "Vineacity" Branch to reflect a modernized application because the community evolves, and with it, the context and purpose of the original Vineacity lost some of the value. I that discussion, some of us agreed that the Vineacity was still important to communal growth, many said that they have stopped using or never did use Vineacity as a measure of other community users. A fellow Viner and friend, Mykola Bilokonsky brought up the idea of adopting a badge system like one might see on Sony's PlayStation Network and Microsoft's XBOX Live.
The Vineacity has 6 branches. Even the RAV isn't something you hear people yearn for (except for maybe Noah Bradley). In the past, the 6th branch was something that some placed a level of importance on par with ending world hunger (like Noah Bradley). But recently, and maybe it is due to recent national and global events, the branch talk has simmered down (even for Noah Bradley). What we need is something that gives the community to strive for outside of "good content" and make them remember what it was to self moderate and help others; we need something, that Noah Bradley can yammer on about and beg for all over again. We need – a badge system.
As a basic idea I think this, as Myk said "has wheels". Not only does this allow an evolutionary approach to social media, but also sparks new interest in actually being productive members in what at times feels like a stagnant cesspool of political banter. The implementation of such a system might prove to be a little tricky. This however, requires smart implementation which provides something mutually beneficial to the users and to Newsvine.
What Newsvine would get is something other websites haven't' done and probably haven't given much thought to. What the users get is binary collectables and more of them. And, depending on the implementation methods and the extent that the developers wanted to take it, a greater say in how and what is gauged as a 'good user' both directly and indirectly. The developers also get to play with a slightly different UX and IA than one normally finds in social media, particularly citizen journalism.
The basic idea here, at least from my end is that first and foremost a tier system of badges should be in place. This would consist of Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. A tier system would take the importance off of the RAV true enough, but only in a minor way. With the user base Newsvine has it is logical to assume that not every user who is 'in' to Newsvine has the time, resources, or even drive to actually attain one despite it being available to everyone. Therefore putting a tier system on the other 5 branches allows users to work towards and become recognized as having traits geared towards a specific area or all areas.
We'll just call it "mutually equitable uniquity on the premise of purpose driven reciprocal exchange"
In the initial steps it benefits the user directly – they get a cool little badge, but like anything, you've got to pay to play (not literal money in this case). Once the user starts getting into the silver areas they have to put forth enough effort to show the community they're worth investing in, but not so much effort that if the user happens to feel 'not at home' they won't feel as though they've been used. Gold raises the bar and vets people for the road to platinum. At first glance platinum seems somewhat lofty and it may be (remember this is only an idea and crappy 5 min Photoshop graphic) but platinum leveled users would have been around long enough, and had enough Newsvine experience that they could be 'go to' people by anyone. Users can easily see who is best to give what advice or step in and resolve an issue (because users in a community tend to apply pressure to unruly types and mediate before the issues become a problem) by seeing in which areas a user excels, and the opposite is true – advanced users can see which users are worth the time and effort, who is new and in what way they are new or at most, least active. In total I think the tier system better serves the users and the community by better identifying who, what, and how of an individual with far less subjective branching.
How then do we represent this in a tidy icon like we can the existing Vineacity?
If were to implement say, a bar graph like in Figure 2, then this might solve the problem. My graphic doesn't best represent Newsvine visually, but I'm sure the graphic could be redesigned to have branches instead of the bars… maybe put the proposed lettering seen in Fig. 2 within the bulbous portion of the existing branch shapes and then color the branches accordingly (but a little bigger)
Lastly, and the part that might make most of the people happy, comes the custom badges.
These are badges the users create on their own and can hand out freely to whom they feel are worthy. The easier the badge is to attain or the more readily that a bade is designed to be given out, then the less valuable it is. Think of it like the US dollar; when you have a dollar just like 300 Million other people then that dollar might be worth, well, a dollar. If however, you have a dollar and only 300 Thousand other people have it, then you might have something worth 10 dollars. So the custom badges would have a numbered run limited only by how many the user who created them feels like handing out and for what.
This is not without potential problems, the first being subjectivity and the second opportunity. How then do we turn both into a goal?
Before I get into that, I should explain the "Connectedness" Badges:
BRONZE: Acquired 1 custom user badge AND given 5 custom user badges.
This means that the user has to either make a custom badge and give it to 5 people or make 5 custom badges and give them to 1 person each - or- be given a custom badge by someone.
The badges are not meant to be a free for all, make a badge for anything you want. They should be for positive reinforcement. We all know who assholes are when we see them, and yes, something they're needed and funny to read, but realistically that what Drivl.com and like sites are for (or rather, were for). So when badges are made, they should be for things that are ordinary but characterize the recipient as someone who does them consistently. For example, someone who says poignant things on a constant basis which adds to or injects new direction in a positive light to a discussion would get a 'poignant' badge created by a user. If the Newsvine staff saw enough of these or saw it in the badge pool then they might add a green border signifying the site's approval for this badge as something 'worthwhile'.
Custom badges become less of an obstacle when it is used properly. At first I would imagine that many people would have the their own version of the same badge, which makes the Newsvine approved user badges something with a bit more weight. There might also be a need to deny users the 'rights' to a badge that has already been created - for example if Myk created a badge for 'leadership', in that process he'd have to create the image, and then when uploading it to NV give it a title with tags. If I then made a 'leadership' badge I'd be told "no" by the server because one, there is a badge already called leadership and two, we might have too many of the same tags under the same badge title. More to the original point, badges become less of an obstacle with time because the subjective use of them decreases once Newsvine picks it from the badge pool. A badge can be given out without being picked, but it will lack a green border and as such have less 'subjective' view (given that the tags and dispersion of it isn't based on things like "this person is my buddy" or this person is a good "Democrat / Republican" - it is to promote objectivity and urge users to look beyond subjective points. I guess the main question that should be asked when handing out a badge is "does the statement have value irrespective of how it makes me feel?". It is something we should be doing anyway, but everyone falls short from time to time - this is designed to help with that.
And I'm sure everyone is wondering (especially Noah Bradley) "What about the RAV"... well the RAV is and isn't in this idea. It's here but not in the current form of being a 6th branch. My idea of the RAV is a custom Newsvine Created Badge that visually represents the action taken to earn it. This badge will be green. My RAV might have been in the shape of a book, and Corey Springs and Top Jedi would've had theirs in the shape of a runner. Becuase each RAV is awarded for something unique, the badges will only be in green, not be on a tier and users cannot submit a badge to be used as the new RAV.
How is the RAV signified if there is no branch system?
Green background. Non RAV get no background... See figure 3 for the user bar at the top of the Newsvine page as I think this might play out.
This is just a really rough sketch of an idea that has evolved from me and Mykola. I'm sure it sounds really complex and in many regards it is, but I also think it is a great way to revitalize interactivity and serves as a way to better help the community police after itself. You may have many questions regarding what some things may mean or how do I think other things would be effected, so I do need feedback on it. I'm not saying that this will happen mainly because I have no say in that, but I do still think it is something that is really needed on Newsvine.