10

I can personally relate to the role of reputation in shaping and reflecting SO behavior, but I have no such perspective when it comes to the role of badges, as they've yet to capture my interest to any significant degree.

I understand the mechanics of badges and thanks to comments on the initial version of this question, I've read Stack Overflow Badge Feedback and Purpose and use of badges and now understand their design intent (e.g. motivators for positive behavior, adding a bit of fun).

But since new badges are often proposed as a mechanism for addressing current SO issues, I'm curious as to whether/how this may have been validated. For example, has anyone done a survey to measure the significance of badges across the SO population?

  • 4
    You may find this interesting - in particular the podcast mentioned blog.stackoverflow.com/2008/07/stack-overflow-badge-feedbac – Oded Dec 3 '13 at 20:39
  • 2
    As seen in the number of reviews done - there are people who specifically do things to get the badges. I'll admit to going out of my way to vote on questions to get an Electorate badge (its gold!). – user213963 Dec 3 '13 at 20:40
  • @Geobits I'll update to clarify. – Peter Alfvin Dec 3 '13 at 20:45
  • @MichaelT I agree - I started looking for things to flag way more when I saw there was a gold badge for it. Well over halfway there! – neminem Dec 3 '13 at 22:20
  • They can certainly have a negative effect - I used to review a lot of suggested edits, and not to get the badge, but very soon after I did, I totally lost motivation to do it for some reason. Not to mention robo-reviewers, who may be reviewing just to get the badge. – Dukeling Dec 3 '13 at 23:52
  • @dukeling That's not surprising at all. The demotivating impact of the withdrawal of extrinsic rewards (to below the level of motivation prior to the rewards being introduced) is well researched/documented. Daniel Pink talked about the phenomenon in his book "Drive". – Peter Alfvin Dec 3 '13 at 23:58
8

For a small percentage of users, badges are extremely motivating. As a case study, consider the introduction of the Reviewer badge. The badge was first awarded on Nov. 7, 2011, but it was not announced until Nov. 20. Here's the number of reviews per week on Stack Overflow:

Review badge response

The Strunk & White badge is a prerequisite for getting Reviewer and here's the number of people who were awarded each over the same period:

Review badges awarded

The numbers practically speak for themselves: a small number of users were suddenly motivated edit in order to get S&W so that they could have an opportunity to earn Reviewer. Review tasks increased noticeably after the badge was announced. The evidence strongly suggests that if you want to increase certain behavior, a badge is a fine place to start.

It also stands to reason that once someone earns a one-time badge, they will no longer be motivated to do whatever it is the badge encourages. I don't currently have the data to support that claim. I would want to look at a badge, such as Copy Editor, that is awarded just once and check how much the rate of the triggering behavior slows after individuals get the badge.

On the other hand, we might not be much concerned if people don't continue to do whatever it was they did to earn the badge. Certainly, all other factors equal, we'd like to have people do more of the things we encourage with badges. But if some (or even most) people lose interest in doing a particular task after the badge is earned and enough new people arrive to do what needs to be done, there's no particular reason to be concerned.

  • Love this post! W/R/T "losing motivation" once the badge is earned, I suspect that you may well keep some of it. Habit is a surprisingly strong motivator, for some. Also, some people may try the task, and keep at it, because the badge pulled them in, but learn they like it. So I'd guess that some significant percent of those who start doing something for the arbitrary goal may keep doing it because they come to feel fulfilled by it or enjoy it. And sometimes it feels weird to stop. My son no longer gets candy for using the potty, but seems content to stick with it. Usually. :) – Jaydles Sep 18 '15 at 17:17

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .