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This is probably going to get me a lot of flak, but I honestly think that the concept of the Unsung Hero, as a badge, was a bad idea. I don't oppose its design; the ratio makes sense as it is in fact rewarding the unsung heroes of S[OFU]. The fact that it is not luck-based and that it is pretty much impossible for some high reputation users to get it is both acceptable and fitting for its purpose. I think that mechanically speaking the badge works very well at its job. What I am concerned is whether the decision to implement it at all was wise. Because seeing design motivation like this really makes me bothered by the implications:

This is not meant to be another badge amongst the 1400 badges Jon Skeet already has, its about giving these users that contribute in a less popular way an incentive to keep contributing.

When I see Unsung Hero and Tenacious, I don't see the encouragement of good activity like other badges are designed for. I see praise for users who missed out, users who work hard where others don't look, users who are unsung heroes. To me, this conflicts with the very nature of the site and the badges - when did we shift our focus onto the users instead of the content?

Is a user who participates more often in overlooked subjects more valuable than a user who gives the same kind of answers but also is extremely active in popular subjects? Is unseen content of relatively unspoken users truly of greater importance to the site than the unseen content of well known users? On the other side of this user focus, why has Jon Skeet become an actual reason to decide on the implementation of new features and rewards? Aren't we supposed to be weighing our decisions on the content of the users, not the users themselves? I always figured the general idea was that while Jon Skeet has a lot of praise for his popularity, beneath all of that was excellent content that was continually contributed.

What behavior does this badge encourage? Posting in low-visibility questions? Create a new version of the badge that lacks the ratio. Is it to encourage avoiding high profile subjects? If the specialist badges aren't enough then an antithesis to Generalist as devinb suggests is perfect. No matter how I read this badge, it is focused entirely on the concept of rewarding eccentric users instead of good behavior and content in the community. To me, this is little different than the people who give Jon Skeet upvotes just because of his reputation, which I always figured was discouraged.

I think it's great to highlight the people who tirelessly work without any reward. But the existence of these badges is basically stating "Participation in low-profile subjects is good, but only if you avoid high-profile subjects". Which is a horrible, horrible idea. Why can't we just encourage everyone to participate in low-profile subjects, especially the well-recognized experts who may know the answers?

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6 Answers 6

Badges should encourage behaviour not life-style

From the question:

Is a user who participates more often in overlooked subjects more valuable than a user who gives the same kind of answers [...] in popular subjects?

This is the most important question, and it is the reason why the badge exists. The fact is, yes; users who participate in low-interest tags are relatively more valuable in that tag than most users in high-activity tags. We have tags where there are few-to-no experts, which makes the chance of getting a semi-difficult question answered very low. This is a deficiency in Stack Overflow which is worth addressing.

The resolution for individual tags is the same as the resolution on Stack Overflow itself: critical mass.
In order to get more interest and activity into a tag, there must already be activity in the tag. This is why most low-interest tags remain low interest.

So, to fix this issue, we must attract more users to low interest tags, and give them more reasons to look at questions with low views.

But, onto the full quote that Grace provided

Is a user who participates more often in overlooked subjects more valuable than a user who gives the same kind of answers but also is extremely active in popular subjects?

NO. There is no reason to believe that someone who participates in a bunch of high exposure questions would be some sort of detriment to low-view questions.


Badges should encourage behaviour not life-style

It should be noted that questions and answer which receive no upvotes are not necessarily good questions. But, this badge requires that not only do I help the questions with no answers and low-views, but that I don't help others.

This is presuming that the badge is a goal and not a medal.

With nearly all other badges, I can switch gears and decide to achieve it. This is good because we want a low buy-in for the site. There are a lot of questions which have not been active in a while, so I can decide that I'll get my [necromancer] badge by answering a bunch of them. However, I cannot do that with this badge, it is not something which I can achieve.

It means that all my behaviour up to this point will be considered in whether or not I'm worthy for this badge. Apparently, my many upvoted answers mean that no: I am not.

This also means if a user were to join SO in a low-interest tag and start upvoting other people's answers, he would ruin their chances at the badge.

As I said in a comment to Jeff:

Upvoting others, working in low-interest tags, helping new users, helping SO regulars, these are ALL positive behaviours, why should I have to choose between them in order to get the badge?

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+1: Exactly my thoughts! –  Daniel Vassallo Jul 13 '10 at 17:46
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-1: Badge goal vs medal issue. Say there was some user whose goal was to get badges. Would trying to achieve this Hero badge not prevent you from achieving the multiple other badges we have? If your goal was to get many badges, what would you go for? I don't think this will encourage people to stop posting good answers, even for ones who make badges a goal. It is immature to assume you can achieve every possible badge there is :-) So if someone stops participating in SO because of unattainability of the badge, I would say it is not a big loss. –  Aryabhatta Jul 13 '10 at 19:22
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@Mor The purpose of badges was initially to encourage good behaviour. That is, they are meant to be goals to achieve. This particular badge is a reward for past behaviour. I don't think anyone would stop participating, but it certainly won't cause users to participate more often in low-view tags, because the users who don't already do that, are already excluded from getting the badge. BUT as gnovice points out, this badge is simply a consolation to those users who already do that, it is not meant to try and encourage anything. –  devinb Jul 13 '10 at 19:38
    
@devinb: How is this consolation badge not encouragement, especially when it come is gold with the letters 'HERO' on it? If it so happens that things don't change because of this badge, nothing is lost. –  Aryabhatta Jul 13 '10 at 19:50
    
@devinb: It can be encouragement for people who have already been active in low-view tags. –  gnostradamus Jul 13 '10 at 20:35
    
@gnovice Correct. My critique was that it does not help the people in low-view tags because this badge does not encourage migration. However, you explained to me that the badge was simply to reinforce existing behaviour. At which point I sat back on my haunches and looked awed and puzzled. –  devinb Jul 13 '10 at 20:41
    
@Mor My claim was that consolation badges don't change behaviour, which I still stand behind. But this badge isn't about modifying future behaviour, it is about recognizing past behaviour. Which is a completely separate thing. I still feel that even that could have been done better, but I'm too tired of controversy for today. You've excellently argued your points. Doesn't mean I have to agree, but it does mean that I look forward to the next chance we get to spar. –  devinb Jul 13 '10 at 20:43
    
@dev: It might change future behavior, too. Consider two niche users in the same domain who both got the badge. Perhaps they will now be encouraged to see what other badges are available (which might give them further encouragement :-)) and perhaps even get them to start voting old questions/answers and current questions/answers proactively. I suppose it is too early to tell, in any case and we might end up agreeing 3 months later :-) –  Aryabhatta Jul 13 '10 at 20:58
    
@Mor I look forward to the chance to agree with you too! I love having my mind changed, but I'm pretty stubborn, so it doesn't happen often. –  devinb Jul 13 '10 at 21:04
    
@devinb: well said. –  Otaku Jul 14 '10 at 1:06

I really don't see what all the hubbub is over this badge. It seems perfectly fine to me. I'll point out a few situations you hit upon in your last paragraph:

  • If you're a user who posts answers exclusively in high-profile tags, you're likely to get more votes on answers, and thus more votes on accepted answers. Your reward is Rep, so you don't need a badge to reward your participation.

  • If you're a user who posts answers exclusively in low-profile tags, you're likely to get few votes on answers, and thus few votes on accepted answers. You don't get much in the form of Rep (except the +15 accepted answer), so the badge is a nice little consolation prize to reward your participation.

  • If you're a user who posts to both high- and low-profile tags, you're likely going to be getting most of your Rep from the high-profile tag answers. This will reward your participation on SO, and specifically in that tag. You probably won't be able to get the Tireless or Unsung Hero badges for your activity in the low-profile tag, since you will likely have too many upvoted accepted answers from the high-profile tag. But then again, you probably don't need another badge, or any more incentive to take part in the low-profile tag. Activity in the low-profile tag is not something you are doing necessarily for the Rep or the badges, but just for enjoyment.

So you see, these badges are more a consolation prize for those who don't already reap big Rep rewards. It is some extra little bit of incentive to keep them answering, even though they aren't getting the big payoffs like high-profile tag answerers already are.

EDIT:

Regarding the point made by devinb in the comment below, there indeed may be better ways to add some positive encouragement to contributing in low-profile tags. Unfortunately, there will always be certain situations that there isn't much else to do for a user other than console them by basically saying "Hey things didn't work out well so far, but if you stick it out things should hopefully turn around for you".

That's what these badges do, along with badges like Tumbleweed. No one can totally control how users vote or view questions. Good answers can get little to no attention, and good questions can get little to no traffic. Since we don't want people feeling discouraged in these situations, these badges help to keep them interested in and contributing to the site even if they have had a less-than-ideal experience.

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I was wondering if anyone besides Jeff and waffles thought this wasn't the end of the world beside me. Glad to hear there is at least one other person that isn't flying off the handle. –  jjnguy Jul 13 '10 at 17:11
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Relating to the issue of goal vs execution. "This badge is a nice little consolation prize to reward your participation" My focus is on positive encouragement rather than consolation. I feel that the target of more digging in low-profile tags could be accomplished in other ways. –  devinb Jul 13 '10 at 17:40
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@Justin, I am, at best, barely on the handle. –  devinb Jul 13 '10 at 17:41
    
@devinb: I added some to my answer in response to your comment. –  gnostradamus Jul 13 '10 at 18:11
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In that case. If the purpose is not to modify behaviour, but simply to pat them on the back, then I'm fine with it. Well, not fine with it, but I'm fine to the extent that the Team has successfully implemented exactly what they want, and I'll have to deal with it. :D Thanks for engaging. –  devinb Jul 13 '10 at 18:24

As someone who works a niche tag, I like the idea. The big problem is that many times the OP accepting will give you a vote, so the badge to be realistic should count either 0 or 1 vote.

I also think the percentage thing isn't such a good idea. We should be rewarding those who work those niche tags, even if they do a lot of work in a popular tag. It doesn't seem like it incentivizes the work put into those niche tags very well.

I certainly don't expect to get one.

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Was the Unsung Hero a bad idea to implement?

I hope not, the only way to get a concrete answer will be to see if the people who got the tireless and unsung heros are now more likely to contribute, its a very complex data mining problem, but before we can answer it we will need to collect a ton of data (Im thinking 1 or 2 months of data)

My hope is that it encourages the people who got the badges to contribute to the site, which will as a whole improve content in less popular areas of the site. Cough ... flex and iPhone devs don't like to vote ... end cough.

Should there be another badge / more badges for participating in less popular tags that high rep users can achieve

Sure, yes, please , make discrete meta suggestions one per badge and we will have a look and try to build it if it makes sense.

The beauty of having http://odata.stackexchange.com is that we can all review the list and counts of people who would get the proposed badge.

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Thank you for the input. In retrospect, I probably could have picked a less confrontational title than I did. But 'tis true, the only way to get a concrete answer is to see if consolation will promote increased activity. –  Grace Note Jul 14 '10 at 0:18
    
@Grace, yeah it wears me out a bit, but its ok, at the end of the day all we are trying to do is make SO more awesome. –  waffles Jul 14 '10 at 1:22

The badges are for the user, not the content. I don't see any answers with badges pinned to their chests.

Badges are meant to encourage participation and to develop habits which are considered good (like Peer Pressure/Disciplined/Strunk&White etc), not to determine what kind of content a particular user posts. I don't see how encouraging users detracts from getting good content!

I do believe Unsung Hero encourages participation from niche users and that it is not against the site intent. The fact that some people (not you Grace :-)) might feel strongly about it being unattainable (PeerPressure anyone ;-)) is not reason enough to remove that badge. I think those people will get over that feeling soon.

The way the badge is implemented seems perfectly reasonable to me. In fact, I would say the limit of 25% is too low for the gold badge!

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As I stated at the start, I think the design of the badge, including the very fact it is difficult to obtain, is perfectly fitting and acceptable to me. I don't care at all about obtaining this badge - my concern is that I think it is in conflict with how the rest of the site is designed. Feel free to oppose me and downvote, but please don't group me with people who are complaining about the difficulty. –  Grace Note Jul 13 '10 at 16:30
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@Grac: I didn't mean to include you in that blanket statement. It was just an observation about the recent events on meta. I apologize if I offended you. My opinion is that it is not a badge idea to have this badge. It encourages participation from niche users who otherwise would not. –  Aryabhatta Jul 13 '10 at 16:45
    
Ah, apology accepted. Sorry for jumping out at you like that, I worried that I somehow miscommunicated myself in my post as some sort of greedy, selfish brat. –  Grace Note Jul 13 '10 at 17:02
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(-1) I disagree, give me a moment to collect my thoughts, then I'll post an answer of my own. –  devinb Jul 13 '10 at 17:18
    
@Mor I don't disagree with the concept of the badge. I simply feel that there was a way to make the badge open to any user to gain, rather than restricting it to a certain niche of users. –  devinb Jul 13 '10 at 19:44
    
@dev: Perhaps there was a better way. Now that we have a baseline, start suggesting :-) –  Aryabhatta Jul 13 '10 at 19:54

I'm very new to SO, but I wondered about Unsung Hero and Tenacious, too, from the beginning. At first I thought it was some joke that is more of a curse than a blessing because you would be rewarded for giving inferior answers all the time. But then again, my strengths are not entirely in a niche area alone, I also get along in higher-profile questions. But I noticed right away that votes, even for very good answers, are rare in those unpopulated areas.

I feel that there is no adequate badge (except for the tag badges maybe) for those kind of users that want to participate in the mainstream areas but that could also contribute to some areas of lesser general interest. Actually, in my situation, I'm a bit demotivated by now w.r.t. answering niche questions because it rather disappoints me getting accepted with 0 up votes or not being accepted nor voted for at all by new users that ask this one particular question and are then never to be seen again, not bothering to vote or to accept - but seeing others that get 5 votes or more in a high-profile question for some off-topic remark.

This actually made me answer more in the high profile areas because I want to have that "nice answer" badge, too :) Having a higher overall score is also more motivating , of course, because I assume it's just natural that you want to be where all the fun is.

It's just "easier money" to answer questions where you can be relatively sure to look good than in areas where your answer almost always requires a much more elaborate overall description, so you end up investing much more and at the same time gaining less.

Having just started, in the beginning it feels like that to have your answer preferred over a user that carries a 'k' in his/her score, you have to nail it 100%, otherwise you'll end up being overruled by the heavyweights. That's what made me aim for score first - so that people will actually have a look at my answers instead of ignoring them. And that's why I end up spending much more time in the highly frequented areas than in those where I could possibly contribute much more value.

Of course, it's always easy to complain, and if I wouldn't like it here I wouldn't post this :) And it's hard to suggest something here, but wouldn't it be much more motivating if you could vote for an answer more than once in the "exotic topics" if not only to single out the rare stellar answers in these areas?

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I agree with you. I got my Unsung Hero badge quite early on, since I was mostly answering SSL questions, where 5+ upvotes on an answer is feasible, but not so common. Shortly after, I got the Nice Answer badge, not for any niche question, but for this trivial answer. I got the Good/Great Answer badges more recently, simply for quoting the official documentation... This seems to show some of the limits of SO's reputation model. Not all tags are equals, and outliers can distort stats substantially. –  Bruno May 8 '12 at 0:58

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