I'd like to float a modified version of this idea as a 30k (10k beta) privilege.
Stack Exchange sites (and especially Stack Overflow) intimidate new users who might become exceptional contributors if only they got over the hump of asking and answering questions. Meanwhile, top users have plenty of sticks to correct bad behavior from new users, but lack sufficient carrots for rewards.
After gaining the necessary privilege level, high reputation users may initiate a mentor/mentee relationship with any user having less than 100 reputation. This produces the following effects:
Mentors may award a new user a mentor bonus of 50 reputation. This gives the new user a basic package of privileges, including being able to vote up, comment everywhere, and participate on meta and chat. (It's like the association bonus' younger sibling. The mentor bonus won't count for purposes of awarding that bonus on other sites.)
All mentee activity and responses are pushed to the mentor's inbox (or perhaps a new indicator on the top bar). That way the seasoned user can monitor the progress of their protege.
Mentors gain special access to some moderator actions over their student's content:
- Immediate deletion of any post or comment. (They should already be able to see deleted posts.)
- Immediate closing of questions.
- Editing of comments within the 5 minute window. (They should already be able to edit posts.)
Mentors and mentees will be unable to vote for each others' posts. (Or, perhaps, such votes are invalidated by an automated process.)
Both users get a note of the mentor agreement in their profiles that is only visible to themselves and moderators.
Mentors initiate the relationship (with a canned system message) and mentees must accept the arrangement for it to begin. Either party can end it at any time. The mentor relationship also ends if either user is suspended or deleted. On a happier note, the mentor relationship ends successfully as soon as the mentee reaches 300 reputation. In this case both users would receive a badge (gold for the mentor and silver for the mentee, I think) to commemorate the accomplishment. No matter how mentoring ends, all effects, including the 50 reputation bonus, are removed.
Co-workers: At my previous job, someone noticed that I had respectable reputation on Stack Overflow. The conversation sorta got awkward at that point since I didn't want to give the impression that I'd upvote his stuff. If the mentoring privilege were available (and if I had sufficient reputation) I could offer to guide him through a few posts until he had established himself.
Anonymous benefactor: An established user notices a post from a new user who shows promise. At the moment, the veteran can try using votes and comments to encourage the newbie. But she can't easily monitor responses that user receives (which might contain bad advice) or notice problems with new posts. With the mentor privilege, she can give new users a helping hand and keep tabs on their experience.
Why 30k/10k and not sooner?
Partial moderator privileges give mentors the ability to quickly step in to fix problems new users might run into with unearned powers. This requires the high-reputation user be familiar with the 10k moderator tools. If the program proves successful, I can picture moving the privilege level down to 15k (which is a bit disappointing) to expand it.
Why hide the relationship from other users?
Well, it should be obvious with a bit of digging that the new user was gifted the mentor bonus. (There will even be an entry in the reputation accounting.) And if some 30k+ user suddenly close one of their questions single-handedly, it'll be clear what happened. But the identity of their sponsor should be generally secret to minimize social pressure on them:
"Hey, why didn't you close that crappy question? You're the OP's mentor!
"You gave my friend 50 rep. Why not help me out too?"
Won't this let people create spam accounts and sock puppets?
Maybe. But high reputation users have considerable investment in the site and would risk long suspensions when caught. In any case, it doesn't take much work to get 50 reputation on a dummy account if you already know the system. I don't suspect this will ever be a problem.
What about mentors griefing new users?
I can think of a few ways that might happen, but this is a problem we can solve if it ever comes up.
Why start before 100 and end after 300?
The main benefit to the new user is that they get past the initial privilege earning stage quickly. Once they earn it organically, there's far less benefit to having a mentor. Meanwhile, we don't want them to lose privileges they've enjoyed just because the mentoring process has ended. At 300 reputation, they will retain 250 privileges (view close votes) when the 50 reputation bonus is removed.
Meanwhile, the primary benefit for the community is that mentors can guide users to being productive. Once someone has earned 250 through their own posts, they should have a good handle on how things work and are ready to leave the nest.