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I hope I'm not alone in admitting that I often take into consideration a user's SCORE when I consider their answer. I really try not to, of course, but it's hard. If they're a 20K+ user, I sometimes expect that they probably know what they're talking about -- which, of course, doesn't mean the other person who answers with a score of 1 knows any less! But I find myself doing this... but I tend to ignore badges.

Are badges useful in gauging a user? Or are they primarily rewards?

Are badges possibly a better gauge of a user than their score?

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you know ,it's not easy to get badges. –  Vamsi Feb 16 '12 at 14:54
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There are definitely users with not much knowledge but quite substantial rep. –  Flexo Feb 16 '12 at 15:03
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When you consider their answer for what purpose? (Voting, accepting, actually using code...?) –  Bill the Lizard Feb 16 '12 at 15:07
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Badges and reputation are two different things. It's better to not leave the context of the question itself. Usually the highest voted answer is the best answer to that question, regardless of the reputation of it's author. A smattering of silver or gold tag badges indicates that the user consistently provides good answers in those fields, but how difficult were the questions they answered? :) –  Tim Post Feb 16 '12 at 15:11
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I'll just leave this here. stackoverflow.com/badges/260/announcer?userid=106224 –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Feb 16 '12 at 16:01
    
@BoltClock - how?!? Do you have a million developer Facebook friends or something? –  Adam Rackis Feb 16 '12 at 16:27
    
@BoltClock'saUnicorn Lol. –  Django Reinhardt Feb 16 '12 at 16:55

5 Answers 5

The main reason why badges and rep are a poor indicator of an answer's quality is that there's nothing stopping a user from posting an answer in an area about which they're utterly ignorant.

I've got 20K and a respectable number of badges, most of which earned from C# and JavaScript, so if I were to post about PHP or Ruby it would certainly be crap, since I know next to nothing about those languages.

The one badge that might be of some value is a tag-specific badge. If you ask a question about C#, and a 20K user who has a gold C# badge gives you an answer, there's decent chance the user knows what he's talking about.

Still though, even the best of us have bad days, so at the end of the day just judge the answer on its merits, regardless of who posted it.

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On the one hand you're saying that badges and rep are a poor indicator, but then you go on to say a Gold C# Badge and a 20K rep would be reasonable indicator that the user knows what they're talking about :) –  Django Reinhardt Feb 16 '12 at 15:56
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@DjangoReinhardt: Don't forget the context: "If you ask a question about C#" –  H.B. Feb 16 '12 at 16:00
    
@Django - what H.B said :) In the right context, some badges might be a decent indicator. But at the end of the day don't waste time looking at them - just judge the answer –  Adam Rackis Feb 16 '12 at 16:01
    
Just seemed a little contradictory :) The problem with just judging the answer is that a user may not be in a position to know what's best. For example, a question relating to "Best practice". –  Django Reinhardt Feb 16 '12 at 16:09
    
@Django - for sure, but that's where upvotes come in. A good answer (hopefully from any user) will be upvoted highly, and vice versa with poor answers containing bad advice. –  Adam Rackis Feb 16 '12 at 16:16
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@DjangoReinhardt: Best practice questions aren't such a good fit for the site, they could be closed as "not constructive". –  H.B. Feb 16 '12 at 16:17
    
@H.B. I mean questions that pertain to things like "best practice". Someone could offer a perfectly awful solution that works for the user, whereas another answer may be the "right" way to do it. A user may wish to know the "right" way and then fall back on Reputation on gauging who is most likely to be offering the best solution. Adam, Very true, but there can be times when there's a lack of upvotes making it hard to distingish a good answer from a cheap hack. –  Django Reinhardt Feb 16 '12 at 16:20

I'm seriously tempted to post another nonsense-answer just to show off my 12k...

On a more serious note, if you're looking through the answers, the author should not matter. There was a discussion if authors should be identified at the top of the post, but the consensus is: It doesn't matter who wrote it.

If it comes to upvoting, I can only quote the tooltips again:

This answer is useful

This answer is not useful

As it goes with accepted answers, choose that one which answers your question. Not the 200k-answer which goes into detail why the flowers are blue, how the sun effects their metabolism and how complex the roots are...accept that answer which tells you where you can buy blue paint. ... But do not forget to upvote that other awesome answer.

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-1 This answer is obviously not useful. You don't have any gold badges. –  Dennis Feb 16 '12 at 15:06
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The author shouldn't matter, but at the same time -- if they've given lots of good answers, their score should be reflective of their knowledge. The community has deemed them "wise"... at least that's the theory. But as people have pointed out, a big score doesn't always equal big knowledge. –  Django Reinhardt Feb 16 '12 at 15:13
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@DjangoReinhardt I think you underestimate how easy it is to answer hundreds of very basic questions while collecting heaps of reputation points and badges. Rep doesn't mean much without the context of how difficult the questions someone answered were, if your goal is to gauge their ability by that score. –  Tim Post Feb 16 '12 at 15:16
    
@DjangoReinhardt: What I wanted to say is, that you should judge an answer on an answer-basis, not a user-basis. It does not matter how much badges or rep a user have, if it posts crappy answers, then those are crappy answers. –  Time Traveling Bobby Feb 16 '12 at 15:25
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@Dennis: Damn you're right...I should have bought that other account from that Jon guy. :( –  Time Traveling Bobby Feb 16 '12 at 15:27
    
@TimPost I think you've misunderstood what I've written -- I was talking about the theory behind this site's scoring system. Not what I personally believe. I don't underestimate how easy to answer lots of simple questions at all, nor is it my "goal" to gauge someone by their score or their badges. This is simply a discussion. –  Django Reinhardt Feb 16 '12 at 15:48
    
@DjangoReinhardt Oh yes, I know we're talking theoretically :) I was saying 'your' in the narrative sense, not really literal. –  Tim Post Feb 16 '12 at 15:55
    
@TimPost Ah, I see. –  Django Reinhardt Feb 16 '12 at 16:10

There are people with a third of my rep and five times as many badges just because they ask a lot of (often banal) questions. Neither rep nor badges mean that much out of context, someone can have earned all the rep and badges in another tag or only by asking questions, that would need to be considered.

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Right, only certain badges are useful to gauge expertise. There are a few badges highlighted in the moderator elections, but we could use a different set as a metric for answers: Going down the list, I see Enlightened, Generalist, Good Answer, Great Answer, Guru, Necromancer, Nice Answer, Populist, Reversal, Revival, Teacher, and Unsung Hero as badges about answers - that's just 12 out of 72 badges. –  Kevin Vermeer Feb 16 '12 at 15:54

Reputation is meant to reflect how useful the community has found a particular user's contributions over time. Reputation is largely a combination of

  • One's ability to write well (good writing always wins out over bad)
  • One's ability to understand the problem and the solution (skill, experience, reading comprhension)
  • One's ability to answer quickly (right place, right time, knowledge on tap, rather than needing a google search)
  • One's ability to spend time on the site (You can get 200 rep a day if you answer 40 questions a day reasonably well, and don't have to be an expert, great writer, or even particularly quick)

While experience is a part of it, a good writer with decent programming skills that can understand and make themselves understood quickly will beat an experienced programmer who is not as able to write well or convey technical concepts easily.

Badges are largely meant to encourage good behavior, and therefore reflect how well a user uses the site and meets the mini-goals set for them.

As you can see, the two have different goals, and exhibit difference aspects of a user's use of the site and value to the community. The two are coupled, so you will often see that high rep users have a large number of badges, and high badge users generally have a large reputation. The coupling is merely due to the fact that being a good user has a lot to do with posting good material other users find useful - so they are not orthogonal to each other, and overlap quite a bit.

Neither can be reliably used to determine which answer is the best answer, all else being equal.

If you're trying to evaluate the likelihood that a given answer is correct based solely on reputation or badges, reputation is likely a better indicator as it's closer to the "other posts have been found useful/valuable/correct by other users" than badges are.

I don't think badge count can tell you very much about answer correctness that reputation can't tell you better, since reputation is more closely tied to answer performance.

However, specific badge counts, such as nice answer, enlightened, etc, could possibly be a better measure since they measure answer performance only, and account for acceptance and speed. Still, it's not likely to be that much better than reputation alone for the majority of 5k and up users. Below that, where question reputation and editing reputation can be significant, reputation might not be as valuable as badges.

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Well said as always. Of course rep is also a measure of how much time you spend on the site. There are plenty of stellar experts who just aren't as addicted to SO as me, and so have lower reps than I do. But anything they do write is likely to be gold. –  Adam Rackis Feb 16 '12 at 17:11
    
@AdamRackis True, I should add that time is also a factor. Rep is unbounded in the long term, so over time (especially given the long tail) those with more time will simply have more rep. –  Adam Davis Feb 16 '12 at 17:18

Like reputation, badges are an indicator of displayed knowledge, but you shouldn't place too great weight on them. If a user has over 2000 bronze badges, for example, you can be reasonably sure even without looking at the profile that a few hundred of them are Nice Answer badges. You may get a handful of those for mediocre answers, but not hundreds. So a user with a high number of badges usually has given many answers earning many upvotes, which indicates they know what they're talking about. On the other hand, even Jon Skeet can theoretically have a bad day and post a totally wrong answer.

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-1 for the crazy idea that "Jon Skeet can theoretically have a bad day" :) –  gnat Feb 16 '12 at 15:11
    
Not necessarily, there are quite a handful of people who are insanely decorated just because they asked many questions ages ago which inevitably hit the views based badge requirements. –  H.B. Feb 16 '12 at 15:12
    
The badges could also be "Nice Question" or "Popular Question" bronze badges... –  Kevin Vermeer Feb 16 '12 at 15:56
    
They could, but someone asking more than 1000 Nice/Popular questions is far more unlikely than getting an answer by Jon Skeet (afaik the only one with more than 2000 bronze badges ;) –  Daniel Fischer Feb 16 '12 at 16:05

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