UPDATED 12:00 EDT / JULY 06 2010

Lunch.com Eats Foursquare with New Custom Badges

Lunch.com is making social games more fun, with the option to create your own badges. The social media site for sharing information and opinions has added a new feature to its Communities- social game badges can now be created by groups, incorporating more custom rewards for activities specific to that group. The move not only takes Lunch.com in a slightly new direction, but it speaks on the expansion of virtual rewards, social games, and their practical applications.

With the new feature, Communities group administrators can create custom social game badges, awarding them to members as they fulfill each requirement. A group of sushi fans may earn badges as they visit pre-determined restaurants, and trying a spicy tuna roll may earn a member a special “wasabi” badge. The idea is to extend self-managed ways in which groups can engage their members, as demonstrated by the Cafe Libre community. From Lunch.com,

With the explosion of addicting social games from Foursquare to Farmville, and all the buzz about the game-ification of the web, Lunch’s feature opens up the “funware” trend to anyone who wants to recognize members for accomplishments in a Community. In this case, the “game” activity also has the real-world benefit of helping others by sharing useful reviews, tips, and lists.

Lunch.com’s Communities feature, also relatively new, was the startup’s first major step in its current, rewards-based plot. As a community-driven site, Lunch.com has always had several engagement incentives built into its network. So while the social rewards system is a bit of a departure from Lunch.com’s original format, it’s a sensible move for the startup to make. Extending ways in which groups can individualize their site participation makes for a more relevant experience overall.

The trend is far-reaching, with Foursquare getting $20 million in funding and Yelp adding badge check-ins to its Android app. Social networks have become the convergence point for gaming, commercialism and marketing, making room for virtual rewards programs to manifest in countless ways.

This will generate a number of opportunities for socially-oriented sites to layer in more outreach, engagement and monetization, particularly as the mobile scene enables geo-location integration. Already, businesses are turning to apps such as Foursquare to reach consumers and generate revenue as well.

While geo-location is currently a major aspect of social gaming rewards, Lunch.com isn’t focusing on it for now. The rewards system is different from those used on Foursquare, as they’re incentives created and governed by each group. This format reminded me of the badge system many non-profits used in the early days of social networking. Often created as shareable widgets, these early badges have an updated set of interest points, thanks to Lunch.com.

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