Reputation is a rough measurement of how much the community trusts you; it is earned by convincing your peers that you know what you’re talking about.
I believe that the term "reputation" was not chosen on a lark, but was done with purpose and reason aforethought.
I'm not aware that Martin Fowler or Douglas Crockford have profiles on the Stacks, but I know that they are some of the most respected voices in computer science and programming, at least in their respective niches. For what it's worth, I don't think there are any Stack Overflow users who don't know of at least one of those two gentlemen.
Sometimes a person has already put in the effort in their field to achieve a level of mastery and recognition that it would be nice to recognize in them without asking them to have to answer a slew of questions to begin with. If you were to ask the SciFi or Literature crowd if they had someone with the reputation of John W Campbell Jr. or Lester del Rey*, or for that matter if Sheila Williams were to join their site today, that they would want to hear that person's opinion right away.
And there is no contesting the fact that reputation does impact a person's immediate view of an asker or an answerer. That's been proven on Stack Overflow and on many of the other sites.
Having said all that, the point:
I want moderators to be able to nominate/assign honorary rep to a user to give them an initial boost in visual rep on the stacks, at least for starting off.
Yes, just like how honorary degrees are given by colleges. Well, mostly like that.
Here is the process I envision: A person of status can be nominated by the moderation team (the volunteers who help keep the sites tidy, hereafter "mods") for a site and presented to the StackExchange Team ("team") with a suggestion from the mods for a certain rep level and documentation of some sort to back up the suggestion. Then after review, the team can assign this rep or send it back to the mods.
This once again relies on the fact that the community is really the one driving the sites. They are the ones who would best know that a person is indeed worthy of such effort.
That could be the extent of it, but I'm not quite done yet, not in my own eyes anyways. The idea is that we all have to earn our way, and they, while having earned their ways in the rest of the field, have not quite earned their way on the stacks. So I propose that to be a "virtual rep" that gives them a minimum baseline, but which they have to build up to to surpass.
Here's a pseudo table to explain it:
User MFowler Date Act. R Hon. R Shown R 2011-01-01 1 1 1 2011-01-05 16 1 16 --a user notices that this is _the_ Martin Fowler, flags the Q for a mod. 2011-01-06 21 1 21 --a mod system messages to confirm _the_ MFowler 2011-01-09 41 1 41 --MFowler responds yes, indeed 2011-01-10 81 1 81 --Mods ask Team to endow Honorary 3k 2011-01-15 141 3000 3000 --Team endows 3k honorary 2011-06-01 2485 3000 3000 2011-06-30 3001 3000 3001 --Notice he has finally overtaken his honorary rep 2011-07-01 3001 1 3001 --Not needed anymore, so it reverts by the system
Notice that actual rep is still tracked the same way, so they can't really use that rep to do things like give rep bounties, etc. The idea is just to say
hey, this person has some notoriety and reputation, they are a figure worth listening to, we as a community already respect them.
I also chose 3000 because that seems to be a point at which users start listening to people, anecdotally. If it werent' for the anecdotes I might have chosen another number.
*All these names chosen because I'm pretty sure all the elder geeks and people of influence on the stacks have heard these names before.
I know a lot of you are going to tell me right off that this is a crap idea, or that those people should be able to get a lot of rep really quickly, but that's not true, not on the lower volume sites. I also think this should only apply to sites with elected moderators, nobody who is a pro-tem should be able to do this. However, if you have feedback after that then I would love to hear it, especially constructive feedback on why this doesn't encourage "normal stack users" (which none of you reading this are) to listen to the advice of someone who we're giving an honorary status to.