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Friday, November 7, 2008

Handing Out Badges and Utilizing Reputation Scores

Stack Overflow, a Digg/ Reddit-style site where you can ask & answer programming questions, has an interesting “Badges” system. Badges are labeled with titles like “Guru”, “Nice Answer”, “Scholar”, “Autobiographer”, “Specialist” and so on, and come in the colors bronze, silver and gold. For instance, “Autobiographer” means that you completed all of your user profile fields. “Scholar” means you earned your first accepted answer. A “Self-learner” is someone who answered their own question with at least 3 up-votes. A “Specialist” is someone who’s very active within a certain category/ tag. Quickly when participating on the site, you might earn your first badges, motivating you to show helpful, participating behavior.

Among the creators of Stack Overflow are people you might well have heard of, like Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror and Joel Spolsky of Joel On Software. (Surely not incidentally, Joel is an expert in usability.)

Like other sites, Stack Overflow also makes use of a karma score, called “reputation” here. Reputation shows others how nicely you’re playing along, but it also acts as a sort of “skill level” on the site. While asking and answering questions is “free,” you will need to have a certain reputation score to do things like up and down-voting, flagging something as offensive, leaving comments, or editing other people’s posts (Stack Overflow has wiki features). Earning your right to up-vote, for instance, merely takes achieving a score of 15; a more crucial and far-reaching skill like deleting someone else’s comment will require a score of 2000, though. Karma scores often make a site feel more game like, making you want to increase your level like you would in a role-playing game. (In Yahoo Answers, the terminology used is “Points” and “Levels”, and it determines how frequently you can perform certain actions like asking or rating.)

Sometimes, when a website does not have its own explicit karma system, the community might make up their own karma factors. And sometimes, that’s detrimental to the usefulness of the site, like when people start “collecting friends” in a social network to reach a higher friends score. Instead of making everybody more honest and well-behaved, the goal of reaching a higher friends score now adds noise in the form of friend requests, and dishonesty in the form of false friends.


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