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I'm wondering what the effect of the badge system (and to a lesser degree the reputation system) has had on participation and directing users how to use the family of sites. What have been the advantages and disadvantages? How would things be different without the badge system?

What were the goals of the badge system and has it met these goals?

Is there any evidence of perceived effects or a way to gather such evidence?

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See also: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/37203/… and meta.stackexchange.com/questions/34377/… for an overview of the Electorate badge specifically. –  Ether Feb 18 '10 at 16:12

6 Answers 6

In Podcast #56, Jason Calacanis called Stack Overflow an "expert economy."

Reputation and badges are the compensation in that economy. Reputation rewards good questions and answers. Badges cover the rest.

Public disclosure of that compensation "gives every programmer a chance to be recognized by their peers. Recognized for their knowledge, their passion, and their willingness to help their fellow programmers get better at their craft." [Stack Overflow is You]

Without it, programmers would be asked to contribute in virtual anonymity.

How would Stack Overflow work without that compensation? Hard to say. Near-anonymous contribution works for Wikipedia.

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That's an interesting remark concerning Wikipedia - I wonder what a badge/rep system would do to their participation (if anything at all). –  Ryan Elkins Feb 18 '10 at 16:38
    
Wikipedia does in fact have a kind of unofficial badge system - the barnstar. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Barnstars –  ire_and_curses Feb 18 '10 at 16:59
    
@Ryan: it would make it skyrocket, imo. The percentage of contributors of wikipedia is much smaller than the percentage of contributors of stackoverflow. Wikipedia though has many more users so the end result is that there are more contributors there. –  Andreas Bonini Feb 18 '10 at 17:00

I'd say the badge system is working - it provides a backup to reputation, punctuating and peppering the experience while both are intangible. The only disadvantage would be gaming the system to get them, but most of those are lowly ranked anyhow.

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Personally I find the whole badge thing is an irrelevance, and I can't say I even bother looking to see what I got or what anyone else got for that matter. Maybe it's an age group thing.

I use Stack Overflow to help folks out (and occasionally pose my own questions) and I'm not really here for some badge collecting exercise.

That said, I can't deny the satisfaction was seeing a rep bump every few days :)

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I stopped voting on answers ever since the electorate badge came into existence

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that is a problem with that badge –  Ian Ringrose Feb 19 '10 at 8:23

Badges were created specifically to give incentive for wanted behaviors. It definitely works at giving incentive to do what it takes to earn the badge. It helps build habits (mostly good, some bad).

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What would you consider bad habits with regards to badges? –  Diago Feb 18 '10 at 16:15
    
@Diago - sloppy edits/retags just for the sake of it. –  The Anti-Santa Feb 18 '10 at 16:44
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@Diago, I was thinking about the new question upvoting badge, that can cause people to not upvote good answers like they should. –  Lance Roberts Feb 18 '10 at 16:58
    
It does help answer the question in a way if badges are perceived as directing how users participate. People seem to believe that if a badge encourages bad behavior or discourages good behavior, then actual behavior will follow. –  Ryan Elkins Feb 18 '10 at 17:07
    
@Ryan, yes, badges were created specifically to give incentives for wanted behavior. I'll edit this in. –  Lance Roberts Feb 18 '10 at 17:23

I found some interesting data regarding SO stats. Towards the bottom is a graph called "Votes per question by week" which does show an increase in the number of votes questions were receiving starting in January, which should coincide with the electorate badge.

Interestingly, while votes for answer did dip slightly, it doesn't look like it took a very noticeable hit.

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