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It seems to me that there are some good reasons to have badges: making new users aware of the site's functionality / giving them a stake in the site; and incentivizing / rewarding pro-social behavior. I'll admit that I like getting badges, especially when I was new and when I feel like I've earned them. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that more badges are always better: there can be diminishing returns, and they could even have a corrupting or disruptive effect in the extreme.

Under this general heading, I can think of at least three subtopics:

  1. Should we have badges that people don't want to get? Do we want to incentivize behavior that doesn't enhance the site? Some concrete examples:

    • Why on Earth is there a Cleanup badge? Do people need to be incentivized to rollback edits? Is this basic site functionality with which new users need to be made aware?
    • Does anyone want to have a Peer Pressure badge marking for all time that one of their posts was terrible?
    • How about the Tenacious, Unsung Hero, or Disciplined, are these badges that anyone wants? Do we want anyone to want these badges or actively pursue them?
    • These do seem tailor made to induce badge hunting.
    • I do think there is some value to the Tumbleweed badge: I often skim the recent badges on the main page to see if there are any nice questions / answers that I have missed, and I sometimes to to tumbleweeds to see if there is something that can be done. However, I don't know how many people do this, and I wonder if there might be a better system to notify people that a question has been missed than awarding a badge.
  2. Do we need badges for things people are going to do anyway? One concrete example:

    • Why were the new Constable and Sheriff badges created? I want to be clear that I very much appreciate our moderators and acknowledge their massive, unenviable workload. But they weren't doing it for these badges; no one expected them. Moreover, we aren't short of people wanting to be moderators (e.g., there were SO elections a while back with a huge list of candidates).
  3. From the perspective that we want to incentivize certain behaviors, the ideal amount of badges is what will lead people to develop good habits and no more. Anything beyond that will tend to focus those activities towards badge hunting rather than benefiting the site. Some concrete examples:

    • Why is there still a proofreader badge now that we have a plethora of reviewing badges?
    • Why does the Analytical badge still exist? Why not just transform it into the Informed badge, or issue the Analytical badge for reading the about page instead of the FAQ?
    • Do we need six Stewards? Why not just one with a complicated rule, like Electorate, where you need a certain minimum in each category and a certain cross-category total?
    • Here on meta, there seem to be an unending number of questions asking for new badges for something or other, or another level of badges like platinum or sapphire badges. These suggest to me that people are more motivated by badges than would be optimal.

Some parts of this question have been asked / covered before. I have tried to include some relevant links to other threads. But I wanted to put it all together here in one place (perhaps loosely analogous to how List of all badges with full descriptions brings together information from many other threads).

It has been argued that it doesn't matter if people game badges. But it's also been argued that such behavior is disruptive (e.g., see here). But another perspective is, if these don't matter, why have them at all?


I'm not against all badges or arguing such. I think there are several worthwhile categories:

  1. New user badges, such as Informed, first vote, edit, etc. These encourage people to become familiar with site functionality, reify their actions, and by awarding some badges provide a sense of becoming a part of the community and having a stake in it. As Martha Stewart would say, 'these are good things'.
  2. Badges to incentivize things that need to be done to keep the site functioning smoothly, should be rewarded. This includes things like Fanatic, Electorate, Copy Editor, Marshal, and perhaps one Steward. I think we should have just enough to build these habits and no more. (For example, many users, including I, have voted, edited, reviewed, etc., many more times than were required for the respective badge.)
  3. There very much should continue to be badges that reward excellence. This includes the nice / popular / favorite question / answer badges, the tag badges, etc. It seems to me that once someone has been here for a while, this category is where all of their additional badges come from.

My suggestion is that there should be a minimum of badges. Outside of the excellence badges, there should be a few beginner's badges and just enough badges to motivate the behaviors that are necessary for the site to operate smoothly, but no more. I have no problem with people having hundreds of badges--they should just be for producing excellent content. The problems I see with possibly having too many badges are: gaming, badge hunting, disruptive behavior, and inflation. But mostly it's just inconsistent with the site's mission of building a repository of useful knowledge in the form of excellent questions and answers.

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No, gimme MOARRRRRR! –  Danny Beckett Jul 19 '13 at 3:50
11  
Gold's gotten a bit boring. We need some unobtainium badges. –  Shog9 Jul 19 '13 at 3:59
    
@Shog9, indeed. I would like to propose a new ultimate badge to rule them all. We should simply call it "The Badge" –  Old Checkmark Jul 19 '13 at 4:14
    
This post rambles a bit. I get what you are saying, but I don't think its that we have "too many" badges but some of the badges could be replaced with better ones. Tenacious, Unsung Hero, Tumbleweed and Disciplined I think were intended to be pity badges, but they just encourage bad questions and answers if people try to get them. Close votes could use a nice big gold badge. I noticed SE has 61,000 close votes that nobody wants to touch. Yikes. –  trav1s Jul 19 '13 at 4:18
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What's with the Unsung Hero hate? It's the sole reward of the thankless job of answering questions in unpopular tags. I may only have 2030 reputation for 130 answers, but I have a gold badge to make up for it. There is already a lack of incentive for hanging around unpopular tags, why make it worse? –  jmac Jul 19 '13 at 6:47
    
I gave you +1, it's a reasonable question and you've done your research ;) Even though I am motivated by badges :)))) –  user223277 Jul 19 '13 at 7:38
    
Did Gauntlet have too many levels? –  Ben Collins Jul 19 '13 at 15:41
    
I don't hate Unsung Hero, @jmac, I just think it's weird to have a badge that a user wouldn't want to get. On some level, the existence of a badge implies that it's a good thing & that people should aspire to / pursue it. But you don't want to have a lot of answers that no one upvotes. UH ends up being some kind of consolation prize. If we think about it, something has gone wrong: either those answers should not have been accepted, or those answers should have been upvoted. Rather than giving people an ambiguous consolation prize, we should find a way to correct the underlying problem. –  gung Jul 19 '13 at 15:42
    
@trav1s I think a lot of people want to deal with more close votes than they are allowed to due to the daily review limit. –  jball Jul 27 '13 at 22:42
    
No. I like to have many badges. It's keeping people engaging. –  KJC2009 Apr 7 at 21:52

2 Answers 2

I can understand why you would think there were too many badges, there are a lot. When I was new, it was overwhelming and I didn't understand what most of them were about. Which is one point in favor of the badges, as it's not until a new user becomes oriented around the site and, perhaps, starts to earn badges, that they really strive to earn particular badges.

For badges like "first rollback" I achieved that unaware that there was a badge reward for such. It was these kinds of things that started to pique my interest in badges and helped to create a drive in me to do more on the site.

Yes, for obsessive and pedantic (em, like myself) it takes a mindless dedication to get a lot of the gold badges.. for instance the editor badge, which involves editing 1000 posts, which means, I've (99.9%) improved 1000 posts on the site, it's a good incentive for goal oriented people.. it actually helps to get more done on the site. It must be part of the human condition, wanting goals and completion, also these things serve as a distraction in our stressful worlds.

Regarding the gold badges, yes I am not skilled enough in programming to get this for good answers, but figure, while I'm learning and gaining gold on editing etc, I hope that I will gradually be good enough to get silver and gold on actual programming posts; it's win win. The more posts I see on here, edit, review, attempt to answer, the more I learn.

Another beauty of it is; I am competing against myself not others, it is purely (for me) about self improvement. Whereas reputation tends to rank people, the badges are something that is more difficult to compare, and, I believe, to be a more individual quest.

ps I have 2 gold badges on SO :-)
See, how can something that makes people post smiley faces be bad??

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+1, I think this is a legitimate argument in favor of badges. I do agree w/ badges like Copy Editor, though--those aren't the badges I disagree w/. (Side note, I think you only need to edit 500 posts for CE.) –  gung Jul 19 '13 at 15:46
    
@gung you're probably right, I think it's the gold review badges that a 1000 per review queue hahahaha ps thnx for the vote –  user223277 Jul 19 '13 at 15:52

Not gonna do a point-by-point reply here, but believe it or not we actually discussed this internally fairly recently in preparation for the badge page redesign. Let's refer back to the original goals:

  1. Bronze badges. Bronze badges are awarded for basic use of the Stack Overflow site; they encourage people to use all the typical, routine functions of the site: posting questions, answering questions, voting up or down, tagging posts, editing, filling out your user profile, and so forth. Bronze badges are relatively easy to get and provide immediate positive feedback to new users.

  2. Silver badges. Silver badges are for experienced users who regularly use the Stack Overflow site. They encourage continued participation and returning to the site by awarding longer term goals. Silver badges are uncommon, but definitely attainable if you’re interested enough.

  3. Gold badges. Gold badges are for the hardcore and the completionists. They reward the most difficult feats; you’ll have to not only participate but be skilled and knowledable about topics to earn these. Gold badges are something of an accomplishment.

Those are some pretty solid guidelines, although we haven't always kept strictly to them when designing badges. Still, they line up reasonably closely with what you're suggesting - with a few notable exceptions:

  • There are badges for most of the basic ways you can interact with the site. They're not hard to get - they're not supposed to be; they simply recognize that you're able and willing to look around a bit and figure out how stuff works. That includes things like picking up after yourself when you post a really stupid answer. Limiting these to stuff everyone does sorta misses the point - we want folks to learn how to use everything they can.

  • There are badges for things that, while you might not be actively working toward them, are generally considered to be evidence that you're being helpful - answering obscure questions and creating necessary tags for instance.

  • And there are badges that simply take a crapload of work to get. You're supposed to grind for them - everyone with an ounce of sanity goes home and does something else long before that point. Congratulations, you reached the kill-screen - now go home.

Since some of these aren't things you should actively work towards, it's arguable that they shouldn't even be displayed in the normal badges list. But there are relatively few of these, and it's not like they wouldn't be visible on other users' profiles or documented here on meta anyway; so that concept's on hold until someone comes up with some better ideas for more "secret" badges.

share|improve this answer
    
Yes, for obsessive and pedantic (em, like myself) it takes mindless dedication to get a lot of the gold badges.. for instance the editor badge, which involves editing 1000 posts, which means, I've (99.9%) improved 1000 posts on the site, it's a good incentive for goal oriented people.. it actually helps to get more done on the site.. even though it doesn't exist outside of cyber land, look at farmville - one of the biggest online games and people go to great lengths to complete quests. It must be part of the human condition, wanting goals and completion –  user223277 Jul 19 '13 at 5:58
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re the gold badges, yes I am not skilled enough in programming to get this for good answers, but figure, while I'm learning and gaining gold on editing etc, I hope that I will gradually be good enough to get silver and gold on actual programming post ;) it's win win (for the clinically insane ;-) hahahahahah –  user223277 Jul 19 '13 at 6:04
    
That is a really compelling perspective, @Yve. Why don't you turn it into an 'official' answer? –  gung Jul 19 '13 at 15:17
    
@gung OK. If an Op asks for that, always happy to oblige. , both comments?? –  user223277 Jul 19 '13 at 15:20
    
I suppose, you should put whatever you think is relevant @Yve, but I mostly meant the latter comment that I upvoted. I think the idea that the badge motivates you to remain active, which in turn has the side effect of enhancing your ability to produce excellent content later, is a very worthwhile point. –  gung Jul 19 '13 at 15:28
    
Sure, am wiritng an answer now in another tab.. just putting a bt more in it to address the question.. I gave you an upvote anyway, I understand yr point of view, as u will see in my answer brb ;) done .. let me know what you think, It's getting late here, and I'm getting slack with my proof reading ;) –  user223277 Jul 19 '13 at 15:30
    
I am disappointed to see that "user223277" is a deleted account. I wanted to watch is journey deeper into "clinical insanity." :o) –  Mr.Wizard Oct 6 '13 at 19:47

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