Scoring Points with Everyday Browsing

New Web services offer rewards for your Internet habits in hopes of encouraging you to spend more time on certain sites.

Two new Web services want to bring the equivalent of frequent-flier miles to everyday online activities, rewarding you for merely browsing the Internet and sharing links with friends.

The services, which launched this week at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco, take slightly different approaches. But both have the same larger purpose: to help websites get visitors to stick around longer. It’s a twist on the “check in” model pioneered by Foursquare, a mobile social network that offers virtual badges and other signs of status to people who regularly patronize physical-world locations.

One of the new Web companies, Badgeville, helps Web publishers build a “game dynamic” into their sites so that users earn points whenever they view or comment on a page. A publisher can also choose to dole out points to people who share material from the site on Facebook or Twitter–with more points allocated if their friends click the links back to the site. Badgeville, based in Palo Alto, California, has signed up 10 publishers, including Comcast Sports, the website of the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the tech news site TheNextWeb.

Badgeville CEO Kris Duggan says the service improves upon standard technologies that track the paths that users take through a site. Sites often try to tweak their design to encourage certain user behaviors, but Badgeville makes it possible to provide direct incentives to use a site in a particular way. “This really changes Web analytics,” Duggan says.

The other new service, OneTrueFan, based in Boulder, Colorado, has its own take on “game-ifying” websites. It works across all sites, not just ones that have worked out a deal with the company. “We’re going to become the reward program for the Web,” says Eric Marcoullier, the company’s cofounder. Users of OneTrueFan download a browser toolbar that allows them to check in to pages, see the points and virtual badges they have, and share their site “check-ins” using Facebook or Twitter. The toolbar also shows any given site’s top-scoring user–the “one true fan.” A version that publishers can embed into their pages will be launched next month.

Badgeville and OneTrueFan say that the virtual badges, the competition with friends, and the ability to get some perspective on your browsing habits will be enough to lure users. Both companies, though, are also working on plans to offer concrete rewards for online loyalty. For instance, Badgeville is talking with a magazine publisher about unlocking premium content early to users with a certain number of points or achievements. Marcoullier says OneTrueFan might offer event tickets, prize entries, or even established virtual currencies like air miles in exchange for points and achievements.

Speaking after Badgeville’s launch pitch at the TechCrunch Disrupt event in San Francisco, Don Dodge, developer advocate at Google, was positive about the prospect of tempting users and publishers by making a game of Web browsing. “It’s phenomenal to have paid customers this early,” Dodge said, referring to the publishers that are taking part. “This speaks to how hot this area is.” However, Dodge pointed out that Badgeville won’t stick unless it can show publishers concrete returns on their investments. Publishers will want to see that Badgeville encourages people to spend enough additional time on a site to translate into additional ad revenue. Whether that is possible is hard to know until enough people have tried the service.

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