As of today, "Autobiographer" will be awarded to anyone fills out the free-form "About Me" field on their profile.

We will be awarding it retroactively, so you don't need to do anything if you already filled out your "About Me" to receive it. (But be patient, we're awarding them in batches for the next day or two.)

Why the change?

Previously, getting the badge required you to fill in all the profile fields, some of which were public (website, location, etc.) and some of which were private (age, real name, etc.).

But, those requirements weren't aligned that well with the two main goals we have for Autobiographer:

  • It's a great introduction to the Badge system. It's one of only two badges ("Informed" is the other) that a new user, with no rep, can go earn instantly, without relying on others doing something, or having a specific question or answer. It did a nice job of giving those users who click the (top-level) "badge" tab on the home page a way to experience the re-enforcement system at work: Do something the community encourages, get a shiny thing as feedback - "keep that up."
  • We think having an "identity" in online communities increases your desire to treat those communities with respect, and care about how the community views them. Don't get me wrong, we have some amazing users who are completely anonymous, but at the end of the day, we think the more you have an "identity" here (even if it's not linked to your real-world one), the less likely you are to be a jerk. At least in ways you think are jerky, anyway. For the most part, the more anonymous a system is, the higher the percent of nonsense and nastiness gets.

So if you like identity so much, why not encourage more of it, by giving the badge for filling out all the fields?

There were a few things that felt off with the old requirements:

  • "Website" was a frustrating, dumb requirement, since many people don't have one (using the traditional meaning). So they either put gibberish, a twitter handle, hacked the system with a space in the field, or just figured they must not belong here, since everyone else here must have one.
  • A lot of the fields felt too personal to many people. "Age" and "Real Name" in particular rubbed some people the wrong way as a "requirement" for anything, even something as silly as a badge.
  • It made some people's first introduction to the "feedback reinforcement system" (okay, the "game") feel like the game was to drive behaviors that help us gather data, maybe so we can someday turn it into data-dollars.

The last one is particularly unfortunate for two reasons:

  1. The game is supposed to reinforce behavior that supports the community. We have to make a buck to keep things going, but the reinforcement system shouldn't go anywhere near that side of the business.
  2. And it wasn't - we don't use that data in any real valuable way. Or almost any way at all. The only thing I could find that we ever use most of it for is an annual aggregate survey/report on what our users look like. Put another way, we don't even care much about it, so making users think the game was part of some monetization scheme made them less enthused about the system based on something we weren't even doing intentionally.

If the badge is supposed to encourage you to feel more like you've chosen an identity here, it should be based on what you choose to share, not a bunch of stats that we might think are useful to others.

So, those of you who took the time to share something about yourself in "About Me" in the past, but didn't fill out some other fields, your day has come. And if any of you dreamed of seeing that badge glinting on your profile page, but resented some of the fields, go put what you want to share with the community in the "About Me", and it's all yours.

Note: We're awarding these in batches, so it may take a day or two for it to show up on your profile.

  • 10
    man, my course starts out with earning the autobiographer badge. Not even published yet and now it's out of date? :-( – Kate Gregory Sep 24 '14 at 20:45
  • @KateGregory if it makes you feel better, that really reinforces our view that this is a key "introduction moment" for new users. Hmm. That probably only makes ME feel better. Well, now at least we'll definitely feel guilty enough to have to tweet it out when you launch. :) – Jaydles Sep 24 '14 at 20:47
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    @MartijnPieters, sure, why not - feature isn't that big a deal, but what drove the change is probably worth highlighting! – Jaydles Sep 24 '14 at 20:55
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    I picked up Autobiographer years ago ... by filling in all of the fields with data, then deleting the fields I didn't want public. And, yes, I was really irritated at the time. It's nice to see that you've finally relented ... after 6 years. – Craig Trader Sep 24 '14 at 22:00
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    Is there a badge for those who actually filled everything, then? Perhaps some sort of Self-Promoter? – StorymasterQ Sep 25 '14 at 2:18
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    I think few things should be compulsory for autobiographer badge like age because sometimes it comes important while giving answer.(especially in science S.E. were there are lot of homework question) – Freddy Sep 25 '14 at 5:50
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    It's a gold badge....right? – OverMind Sep 25 '14 at 15:36
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    @OverMind - only if your are Jon Skeet. – DVK Sep 26 '14 at 22:19
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    @hey: Not punishing users for omitting age is critically important. Many users are reluctant to enter their age because they'll find themselves banned from sites enforcing stupid legal requirements, and if forced to enter an age, they'll just enter a fake one. – R.. GitHub STOP HELPING ICE Sep 27 '14 at 13:19
  • @StorymasterQ I think 'not a paranoid/lazy bastard' has a nicer ring to it, 'though it's too long for a badge name. – Agi Hammerthief Sep 27 '14 at 23:13
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    "Give a man a mask, and he will tell you the truth." Your point #2 is nonsense. – Masked Man Sep 28 '14 at 14:56
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    @Happy, I agree with the implied point in your quote, that anonymity can increase one kind of truthfulness - the kind one wants to share, but might not out of fear of repercussions. But, even on the truth scale, it cuts both ways, as it can increase deliberate dishonesty, for the same reason. But neither relates directly to my point - I was talking about civility, and one's likelihood to take pride in and feel accountable for one's behaviors, which anonymity usually hurts. It may be completely "truthful" to tell everyone you meet that they're a jackass, but it's not good for the community. – Jaydles Sep 29 '14 at 0:35
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: If the law unjustly requires the website to exclude a certain class of people from participation, then yes. How would this be any different than if the law in an apartheid state required exclusion of people by race, or if the law in some place forbid women from using the internet and required sites to enforce this? Yes, there is value in a law that forbids collecting private, personally identifiable information about children, but it should not apply in situations where users are not identifying themselves as such (and thus not sharing any personal information). – R.. GitHub STOP HELPING ICE Sep 29 '14 at 15:20
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: Not equal in impact on systemic oppression (and perhaps my comparison was offensive in that regard; if so, sorry) but wrong on the same basic principles. And your idea for the right way to deal with it is a joke; how can the people affected by the policy debate it when they're excluded from the forum for debate? That's how injustice always works - it creates a "proper" channel for grievances and excludes the people likely to actually have grievances from being able to use that channel effectively. – R.. GitHub STOP HELPING ICE Sep 29 '14 at 16:05
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit: It doesn't have to include all seven billion people. Nobody's asking to include trolls, spammers, people who repeatedly post bad questions, or people who have nothing to offer with regard to the site's topic, etc. What I am saying is that there is no legitimate reason to exclude a 12 year old who has legitimate programming (for SO; or other on-topic matters for other SE sites) questions or answers and who is not exposing themselves (and thereby the site) to risks by publishing their real name, age, address, etc. – R.. GitHub STOP HELPING ICE Sep 29 '14 at 16:18

I love this change. Because SE is not a social network and you have proven it - don't pull out excess info from users. And because "It's a great introduction to the Badge system".

Except.. when I saw this badge appeared in the my profile (it was before I saw this post), I thought my account was hacked to fill profile fields :D.

  • 61
    In the interest of full disclosure, we briefly discussed hacking your account to fill in your real age - but went with this idea instead. – Shog9 Sep 24 '14 at 21:23
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    @Shog9 Discrimination!!! Disrespect!!! Wait. You gave me an idea. Hack age limiter. – nicael Sep 24 '14 at 21:29
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    @Shog9 while we're all here, can you check why his global flair is borked and showing a fallen panda? :) – Shadow Wizard is Vaccinating Sep 24 '14 at 21:41
  • @Sha because they hacked my account. – nicael Sep 24 '14 at 21:55
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    @nicael who, the NSA?? – Shadow Wizard is Vaccinating Sep 24 '14 at 21:56
  • @Sha yay, works again! – nicael Sep 24 '14 at 22:39
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    Totally agree. There are enough social network sites out there. – Celeste Sep 25 '14 at 9:32
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    0 is enough social networks. – bjb568 Sep 26 '14 at 2:03

I have mixed feelings about this. I am actually one of the "victims" of this - I too filled-in all the fields when I signed up, except web site, because I don't have one. But you know what? I was OK with that. It actually helped me internalize that "it's OK, I don't need to desperately try to achieve every single badge."

In my own eyes, not having the Autobiographer badge - was a badge unto itself.

However, I agree that the new behavior makes more sense, particularly for new users. I applaud the team for being willing to review even the oldest and most established design decisions, and not be afraid of changing them for the betterment of the sites.

  • 2
    Way to go to promote laziness ... I might as well have filled that field with base64_encode(str_rot13("Spam! Spam! Spam! Wonderful spam!")) and earned the 'autobiographer' badge for doing so. – Agi Hammerthief Sep 27 '14 at 23:16

This is great, but can we have fields that are left empty hidden from view/layout? I don't want to see "website" and "real name" if I don't have anything there.

  • 15
    Instead of burying this here, you should make a separate feature request. – Fish Below the Ice Sep 25 '14 at 14:25
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    Agree with @FishBelowtheIce, but want to add that you could at least add a link here then. – Palec Sep 25 '14 at 21:36
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    We'll do one better. We're working on changes to the user page that will stop cluttering up your default profile view with your own stats, including the ones you did choose to fill in. We're probably a couple of weeks from having something ready to get some feedback and suggestions, but it will very likely address this concern. – Jaydles Sep 26 '14 at 16:56
  • This is [status-completed] btw. – nicael Jan 10 '16 at 12:31

Okay, so I got me a heap of Autobiographer badges just now. Fine.

But the point is, I did not fill in the "About Me" field on those sites that I visited once. The field just got copied over from my main account and I never edited anything. So why did that still earn me the badge?

  • 7
    That's desired behavior - the badge is meant to be awarded for sharing something about yourself with each community - not for the act of typing in a box. If you choose to present yourself consistently across sites, that's not necessarily any less useful for each community than if you forced some changes site to site. – Jaydles Sep 26 '14 at 16:54

This is my About me field

  L   /---------
 LOL===       []\
  L    \         \
          |     |
 Soi Soi Soi

Thank you for the badge!


Could it be more clear, then, when and how the original autobiography is shared between the other SO sites? I have only filled out one autobiography (once), and only maintain one autobiography as a "master" (SO), but it seems like more or less random if the autobiography "follows" me.

Look at https://webmasters.stackexchange.com/users/24293/davidkonrad, for example .. or look at this -> https://askubuntu.com/users/107445/davidkonrad but then look at this -> https://superuser.com/users/302815/davidkonrad

There is no system or logic in how or when details from the "master" follows me to other SO-sites. There must be some logic in this, or lack of the same. Clarifacation about how autobiographys is shared (automatically) between the sites would be really helpful.

If you want a broader approach to a SO-"identity", then such details - as where exactly you share your info - must be transparent.


Personally, I didn't like the need to enter some minimum number of social media blanks, when I don't use any of that. For Facebook (blech!) I put a family business site.

  • The change makes it so you don't have to fill those out. I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. If you're happy about the change you didn't make that very clear. – Dason Sep 26 '14 at 22:45
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    You dont have to, and please dont mix this up with facebook :) The only reason for the autobiography is the desire for a badge or a "identity". – davidkonrad Sep 30 '14 at 1:19

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