Background: I recently became an active user on StackOverflow and determined that it wasn't too hard to get 200 rep in a day with a reasonable amount of time. However, before I attempted to shoot my rep into the stratosphere, there was one particular thing that bothered me: Unsung Hero was the only named gold badge that I would not be able to earn just by being very active on the site. I spent my first couple of years on SO answering mostly obscure questions, so I was close to getting it. I determined that I should earn it first before going about the rest of my business, so that I could eventually have ALL the gold badges :)

A couple of days ago, I counted my (non-self) answered questions using the search function: 44 scored and 11 unscored. Based on numerous questions on MSO about what it took to earn the badge, I was faced with two actions:

  • Convert 11 of my answers to community wiki, making the ratio 33:11
  • Collude with someone to downvote 3 of my 1-score answers, making the ratio 41:14.

I decided to go with the first choice as it was something that I could do just by myself and more importantly, I wasn't arguably violating any community norms or rules by doing so. The second is tempting, though, as it is much more efficient (each 1 score answer becomes a 0 score) and even reversible: you just edit your answer and your partner in crime can undo their downvote after you get your badge.

Before you jump to any judgment, I want to make it clear that this is not an opportunity to lecture about "how should I go about earning badges on SO"? I'm familiar with the oft-repeated idea that one should not try to earn badges, but only gain them through normal activities. But, the choice to add gamification to SO means that some people will have incentives to take actions to earn badges or points - even if, in the case of badges, the award has no intrinsic value. (In fact, the effect of badges on SO has recently been a subject of study by Cornell professor Jon Kleinberg.) Thus, I'd just like to discuss the incentives for this particular badge.

Now, for the questions:

  • Is there some other (legal) way to get this badge that I didn't think of? :)
  • Are their rules for whether the second type of behavior is allowable or not?
  • How can we minimize gaming of this badge? Clearly the primary intended behavior (getting zero vote answers to obscure questions) is one of the least easy ways to get the badge, so how can we fix it?
  • Are the behaviors induced by this badge beneficial to the community? A first guess: perhaps making more questions CW is helpful, but the downvoting is purely gaming...
  • If the behaviors are not helpful, is the Unsung Hero badge really good for incentivizing anything?

Related to the above ideas:

P.S. I waited until I earned the badge before asking this question, to avoid any serial upvoters who wanted to ruin my day :)

  • 2
    Well, technically option 2 is voter fraud which is highly frowned upon (not related to badges though). The fact that it would be used to game a badge makes it sound even more fraudulent.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Mar 17, 2013 at 3:14
  • Related: Was the Unsung Hero a bad idea to implement?
    – animuson StaffMod
    Mar 17, 2013 at 3:17
  • 1
    Do we really care this much about badges? Just do a good job writing answers and enjoy your ever-increasing reputation numbers.
    – Sparky
    Mar 17, 2013 at 3:17
  • 5
    @Sparky I anticipated your comment and I believe I addressed that in my question. Regardless of your purist position, some people enjoy earning items of no intrinsic value in addition to gaining points. Why do so many other games have "achievements"? Like it or not, badges incentivize behavior, so even if you don't pay attention to them, they inevitably affect how others behave on the site.
    – Andrew Mao
    Mar 17, 2013 at 3:20
  • 1
    I read your whole question. My point is that maybe, for the common good of the community, don't spend so much time thinking about this.
    – Sparky
    Mar 17, 2013 at 3:21
  • 1
    I disagree with the "don't try to earn badges" nonsense. If there were no badges or reputation (another thing people say you shouldn't worry about), this system wouldn't exist. Go for those badges! I find almost every one I earn teaches me something about the system. That being said, the Tenacious and Unsung ones are pointless, and don't encourage any behavior or teach you anything. Mar 17, 2013 at 3:22
  • I'm not saying "don't try"... I'm saying, why are we discussing it to the extreme point where methods of fraud are considered?
    – Sparky
    Mar 17, 2013 at 3:23
  • No one's discussing fraudulent behavior (yet), I just included my thoughts for the sake of completeness. Besides, this fraud would be so easy to do, it's close to undetectable. It's also a victimless crime. Does that matter?
    – Andrew Mao
    Mar 17, 2013 at 3:26
  • Your OP clearly talks about ways to achieve this badge through collusion with another person. Your words, not mine. The community is the victim of any such action.
    – Sparky
    Mar 17, 2013 at 3:28
  • 1
    I'm proud I don't have this badge at WordPress Development, and, by now, I think I'll never get it!
    – brasofilo
    Mar 17, 2013 at 3:29
  • @Sparky If I considered it, then someone else probably already has. Are you saying it doesn't matter?
    – Andrew Mao
    Mar 17, 2013 at 3:30
  • One option you left out is to get more zero-vote accepted answers. Go answer some more obscure questions of new users who can't upvote. If no one is looking at these questions because the are a few days old, or obscure topics, it's fairly easy to get zero-scores. Mar 17, 2013 at 3:30
  • @ThinkingStiff Yes...you would have to answer questions where you are unlikely to get upvoted, then wait 10 days for them. I personally wanted to get on with answering real questions after I got the badge in a legal way as fast as possible.
    – Andrew Mao
    Mar 17, 2013 at 3:32
  • 1
    Thinking more about this badge... maybe Unsung Hero was only intended to be a consolation prize. I doubt it was ever intended as something that would incentivise writing an answer just good enough to get accepted but not so good that it earns up-votes.
    – Sparky
    Mar 17, 2013 at 4:00
  • 1
    And The badgers push forth, extracting badges under hedges and ledges. Godspeed Mar 17, 2013 at 4:48

1 Answer 1


Both the methods you listed are gaming the system and you're not going to get a lot of meta-love asking the best way to game a badge.

You can still actively try to earn this badge without gaming it, though. Answer unanswered questions in obscure tags. That's the intent of that badge. For even more success, chose ones that are a little old (off everyone's radar), by new users that can't upvote.

I don't think the Tenacious/Unsung Hero badges effectively incentivize any behavior, though. They more just throw you a bone after the fact.

The only time you can get either is when you're relatively new. The description is so confusing that a new user is most likely not going to fully understand what it takes to get it, and there is no way they are going to translate that into: "Oh, I need to answer questions with obscure tags". Not ever.

I have no data to back this up, but I think the majority of people that get it do it by total accident, meaning they didn't learn any behavior from it.

  • +1, Good point about answering questions in obscure tags as being the main incentive, if any. Only because of this thread, I calculated my percentage... I'm just under 21% and answering a lot of questions for 1 rep newbies is why it's even that high. My preference would be to drive it down, not upward for the booby-prize badge.
    – Sparky
    Mar 17, 2013 at 4:13
  • 1
    I don't see why the up/down-votes on this question are out of meta-love (or -hate) for me rather than the content, which is asking if the behavior (if any) incentivized by these badges is useful and if it does anything for the community. I don't understand why people are against discussing how badges can be gamed; don't we precisely want to MINIMIZE the gaming of badges?
    – Andrew Mao
    Mar 17, 2013 at 4:20
  • @AndrewMao Good points. I think your question was worded pretty neutrally, which is why it didn't get buried in downvotes. Mar 17, 2013 at 4:23
  • @ThinkingStiff Edited the questions and title to perhaps be a little more meta-loved :)
    – Andrew Mao
    Mar 17, 2013 at 4:26

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