Wikipedia offers some "Barnstars" which are a different but complementary award mechanism to SE's badges. The key differences are that badges are awarded by the system, and automatically, whereas barnstars can be awarded or credited to one user by another user, at their discretion.
This is a sort of Wikilove feedback, which is related with Wikiquette Among these barnstars, the Random Act of Kindness Barnstar is a valuable one, which is awarded for doing a help without being said, or taking the load of a lengthy help operation.
My suggestion is to create a parallel system of "barnstars" to complement the existing badges, where barnstars are awarded user-to-user at discretion, and to install the "Random Act of Kindness" barnstar as the inaugural award, which can be presented by a user to another to acknowledge voluntary, unsolicited good works on behalf of others, for example:
- help in chat,
- helpful comments,
- edits and improvements to posts,
- migrating question to more appropriate community with specific expertise,
So, my question is, How would it be, if we adopt such an award for Stackexchange?
It could encourage people to help others and be gentle. Also the person who gets the help would develop a habit to acknowledge helps they received. And people who like do help to others will get a recorded feedback.
Many Stackexchange members are often afraid of "help vamps", and I suspect a question may arise if this activate help vamps? In this matter, my opinion is, a simple and little award for doing help, will not develop more help vamp behaviour because we the volunteers could still be able to avoid a lengthy help request, or to leave the task for some other volunteers, or to explain what could be the proper place for asking, or to explain why a particular type of help can not be done.
I have doubt on the concept of "help vamp", because not all help seekers are help vamps, and there is no realistic way to distinguish who is real help vamp and who else is real help seeker. Often a person skilled in some field of expertise may be unable to basic use of computers/mobiles (such as some elderly people) or a highly skilled technical person could have a cognitive trouble at some level.
There is a structural difference between upvote/ticks and barnstar. Upvotes and accept-ticks are signals for quality/clarity of particular questions and answers. They are not for acknowledging helps including chat helps, comment-helps, edits-and-improvements, moving question to more appropriate community, etc.
There is a structural difference between badges and barnstars. A wiki-barnstar is awarded by another user. Badge is not awarded by another user but it is based on automation. Also, you could easily measure the numbers of contribution or number of edits through an automated bot, but a bot/formula won't be able to which one action is help and which one action is not.
There is a functional and psychological difference between Wikibarnstars and Stack Exchange votes and badges. Barnstars (and other Wikiloves such as kittens, cup of coffees, cup of tea etc) are more of a sort of "gift" than a voting or reward-earning mechanic. Earning a badge or score evokes greed and competition (at least in me), but Wikiloves (including barnstar for random act of kindness). It only puts an acknowledgment of one user to another for doing help.
I do not necessarily propose the barnstar as a "absolutely new feature request". We can adopt the psychological qualities of an Wikilove by slightly modifying the existing feature (such as creating few badges that only one user can gift to another user).