Beyond badges: currencies for online newspapers

When I see the Foursquare-style badges sprouting up in different places (most recently on Huffington Post), I can’t help but think of a section of Montesquieu’s satirical Persian Letters which is a collection of fake letters sent by two persian noblemen who are traveling through France. The section speaks about how the kind of France uses title of honour to finance his wars.

The king of France is the most powerful of European potentates. He has no mines of gold like his neighbour, the King of Spain; but he is much wealthier than that prince; because his riches are drawn from a more inexhaustible source, the vanity of his subjects. He has undertaken and carried on great wars, without any other supplies than those derived from the sale of titles of honour; and it is by a prodigy of human pride that his troops are paid, his towns fortified, and his fleets equipped.

Then again, the king is a great magician, for his dominion extends to the minds of his subjects; he makes them think what he wishes. If he has only a million crowns in his exchequer, and has need of two millions, he has only to persuade them that one crown is worth two, and they believe it. If he has a costly war on hand, and is short of money, he simply suggests to his subjects that a piece of paper is coin of the realm, and they are straightway convinced of it. He has even succeeded in persuading them that his touch is a sovereign cure for all sorts of diseases, so great is the power and influence he has over their minds.

Humor aside, there is this interesting connection between badges and actual money: sometimes titles/badges are a better way to have access to scarce resources, sometime they are the only way. More importantly, both are issued by the sovereign of the community and distributed by its agents.

I’m curious as to the actual benefits the badge holders will enjoy on the Huffington Post community. Will these badges unlock scarce resources ? At this point, their FAQ does not answer this question. I sent them an email and looking for their answer.

Also, I’m wondering how an actual Huff’ Post currency and balance could be computed, and work as an internal virtual currency. Sharing articles, commenting, writing articles, viewing ads and buying products advertised with US$ or donating US$ money would earn you Huff’ Post currency. On the other hand, reading articles would cost you Huff’ Post currency. Perhaps some advertised products would be available at a discount payable in Huff Post currency, which would cost Huff Post currency as well.

So if you are a big reader, you’d have a big negative balance and to not be viewed as a free rider by your social network, you could choose between participating more, buying more products advertised by the newspaper or giving money.  This would only require all users to be registered.