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Why (Beer) App Badges Are Bad

Are beer app badges good?
Are beer app badges good?

Article co-authored by Seth Mellin,

We live in a world of life of demand. Entertainment is on demand. Food is on demand. We communicate on demand with phones that don't just connect our voices but relay whatever we want to say to a person or the world through a text or a Facebook entry. We can even tell people where we are through mobile phone applications (apps) like Foursquare.

The craft beer world is no exception. There are apps upon apps for finding beer, researching beer and even counting beers, just in case we've had too many to remember.

Now there's an app that thoroughly documents our beer drinking; not just how many we've had but what style, what brewery, what label, where we drank it and even let's us earn a badge for drinking it.

But is this a good thing? I think not.

In this modern day of technology we tend to over share. It's not just an on-demand world. It's a voyeuristic world. People like to see what everyone else is doing and craft beer lovers like everyone else to know what their drinking, especially if it's some uber-cool rare beer.

The Untappd mobile web app is only a few months old and has rapidly earned a solid fan base. I won't get into the technical issues with it (all apps take time to work out the kinks) but let's just talk about the app itself. I like this app as a beer lover because it allows me to check in and keep track of what beers I have tried. This is good for me because I don't have to write down a beer I found at a bar in order to remember I had it. I can come back to the app later and there it is.

And I have to admit, I enjoy seeing which beers and bars are trending and I like seeing what my friends are drinking. Remember, it's a voyeuristic world.

The thing that really irritates me about all of these apps are the badges. Online badges from these apps have become a major thing with people clamoring to collect as many as possible and doing whatever they can to add to their collection. Some people even complain when they don't receive a badge that they believe they've earned. Keep in mind that these badges are electronic trophies that have absolutely no meaning, no value and no purpose to the earner.

Additionally, these badges are also very easy to obtain. And when I say they are easy to obtain, I don't mean that completing whatever action it takes to earn a badge is easy. I mean that you don't even have to complete the required action to get a badge!

Almost any badge can be earned through strategic check-ins or outright lies. For instance, Seth earned the "I Voted" badge on Foursquare on election day and he actually never voted. However, by simply mentioning the word 'vote' during a check in, the badge was earned. He also once checked into a friend's apartment in Washington, DC on Foursquare while sitting in his office in New York City just to prove a point to him.

On Untappd, if I want the Big Three badge, I can lie and say I drank a Bud, Coors, Miller, etc but I don't drink those beers. But because there is no way to verify what I'm actually drinking, I can earn this badge without actually earning it. This is the case with all of these badges. There is absolutely no way to verify what someone is doing or drinking and whether or not they earned their badges honestly.

And while I've heard some people say they had a taster or a sample of a beer, that's not how these badges are earned. They are earned for drinking a beer. I believe that if you don't have a proper serving of a beer, it doesn’t count.

Another aspect of this is how many beers people are checking in on Untappd which is also part of the badge earning process. The following are actual numbers from actual users on the Untappd website. Decide for yourself if they seem reasonable.

As of January 6:

· User A: Joined October 4th, 2010 and drank 700 beers - roughly 8 beers a day. If this person is drinking full beers they might want to consider joining AA.

· User B: Joined October 25th, 2010 and drank 515 beers - roughly 7 beers a day. Once again, if these are proper servings, this person has an issue.

· User C: Joined November 10, 2010 and drank 278 beers - that is roughly 5 beers a day, not as bad but still questionable.

· User D: This one is so absurd it's funny. This user joined Uptappd on December 23rd, 2010 and drank 332 beers. This is almost 22 beers a day!! If these were proper servings and for their sake, I hope they are not, they should be dead or in a rehab center.

I'm certainly not trying to make this particular app out to be a bad one. It's not. I said before, I like it. I think there is some real potential for this to be more than just a beer register/social application. But without some sort of control over how these badges are earned, this sort of abuse will continue.

And to Untappd's credit, users do have to wait 15 minutes between beer entries, presumably so they can savor the beer in front of them. And if a user has as many as 12 beers or more in a day, they get a warning and another badge called 'Take It Easy'.

Overall, these apps are good. They promote businesses and help marketing and in our current economy, that is a great thing. But these easily earned badges or mayorships (on Foursquare) encourage false check-ins and inflated numbers which dilute what could be good information. Because of this, social apps like Foursquare and Untappd essentially make the data useless to a business or a brewery.

And if an app is useless then it's a toy and I don't think the inventors of these apps worked as hard as they did to develop these apps to be toys.

Got a thought on badges and apps? Leave a comment below. Cheers!

Check out my response to all of the reactions this article stirred up!


  • The Girl 4 years ago

    I see your point, but being a beer lover and a gamer I'm a fan of badges. There is nothing wrong with virtual trophies, they are what you make them, and for me it's a new beer game.

    As for cheaters, in most games cheaters quickly lose interest and quit playing, I can't imagine this being any different. Besides since it's an infinite virtual award and we don't play against each other, we don't suffer because people lie.

    How ever I'd like to see a taster option on the app, that is exempt from the 15 minute rule. :)

  • A.J. (@wortandyeast) 4 years ago

    This is an interesting argument. In the case of Untappd, I frown at users who may be falsely claiming check-ins in order to earn badges. In agreement with "A Girl & Her Beer" though, I don't feel that these users will continue to exploit the system for long. And if they do, what of it? I have no interest in earning a badge dishonestly, and I don't believe any of my friends on the app do either (personally, I don't let badge criteria determine my behavior at all, but rather earn a badge of I happen to based on whatever I'd do regardless). As there are currently no real rewards, other than having a nice little tweet, I don't see that the app rewards dishonest behavior. The "honor system" may become an issue if check-ins are used in contests, however.

    In such contests, or other marketing and promotional applications in connection with mobile apps, the most successful ones avoid awarding dishonesty anyway. Rather than rewarding mayorship or badges, the most successful promotions involve providing an incentive to patrons each time they check in, while they're there. This reaches more customers than rewarding mayorship (which may be out of the reach of many) and provides an immediate reward, rather than one that could provide an incentive to someone who falsely accumulates check-ins..

  • A.J. (@wortandyeast) 4 years ago

    As these apps and social media evolve, new ways to monitor behavior may become necessary. Just as some customers currently use coupons to exploit promotions and create an almost profitless relationship with retailers, some may eventually find ways to do this with these apps. It will be interesting to see, as this happens, the analytical tools that will develop to focus business on truly profitable and beneficial patrons.

  • WC 4 years ago

    1. I use Untappd, I am not an alcoholic or drunk driver

    2. Untappd will not make me an alcoholic or drunk driver

    3. Who cares if people "cheat"? I use the app for me.

    4. If your life is so sad you need to "cheat" to get badges then I feel sorry for you.

    5. It doesn't matter what you think about what qualifies as a "proper serving", you didn't create and probably don't use the app.

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