Within Wikipedia, three types of "achievements" can get recognition:
- Getting a piece of content (an article or an image) up to a high standard
- A pattern of exemplary behaviour, such as diligent copy-editing across many articles
- An increase in total edits to an arbitrary milestone
Each of these results in badges that users can display publicly, but which are optional.
Content that passes a formal quality review (including Good Article, Featured Article, or Featured Picture) reflects well on the users who create or improve it. Users can add badges to their profile to show which quality content they have been involved with. This helps the user’s reputation and credibility within the site.
MediaWiki software records many measures of user activity: edits to articles, comments to other users and so on. So Wikipedia could have been configured to post a colourful badge on a user’s profile announcing each thousand edits they make, or every hundred vandal edits reverted. Instead, it mostly relies on users voluntarily giving each other badges. Barnstars are informal awards that users can give each other. They reward good work in a particular topic area or good deeds such as reverting a great amount of vandalism. Since Barnstars come from other contributors, not automatically from software, the practice encourages positive interactions between users and a feeling of real appreciation. The positive incentivising effect of barnstars has been confirmed by experiment.
It would be technically possible for these barnstars to automatically appear in a trophy cabinet for each user. In reality, the contributor chooses whether or not to show off these awards. This is how differences in intrinsic/extrinsic motivation is handled: those who want to socially signal their achievements can build trophy cabinets; others who are not interested in awards can treat badges as just a personal message of thanks.
Contributors with a competitive mindset can be extremely productive, so long as they do not interfere with or discourage others. Then again, a project built exclusively around competition will repel the intrinsically-motivated people. Some of the awards internal to Wikipedia direct competitive instincts towards collaboration with others: this is visible in some Barnstars, such as the Barnstar of Diplomacy or the Teamwork Barnstar. Getting articles or images reviewed is partly an individual achievement but requires working constructively with a reviewer and responding to feedback. Hence many of the badges and awards that are available within Wikipedia, along with other initiatives such as mentorship between users, incentivise friendly co-operation. This is not to say that Wikipedia has the ideal mix, since more could be done to make it friendly and welcoming.
Service Awards are badges users can add to their profiles to recognise a total number and duration of edits. Although it is a rough measure of seniority, edit count is largely meaningless as a measure of quality: an individual edit can fix a typo, introduce a typo, or add ten thousand words of excellent encyclopedic text. The service awards include “Experienced editor”, “Veteran editor” and similar, or alternatively “Grognard Mirabilaire”, “Tutnum”, and similar deliberately ludicrous terms. So depending on their attitudes to their edit count, Wikipedians have three options for displaying their experience as editors: collect service awards, ignore them as irrelevant, or collect silly service awards. As of January 2014, about 500 English-language Wikipedians describe themselves as “Veteran Editors” versus about 100 for the equivalent “Tutnum”.
- Restivo, M., van de Rijt, A. (2012) Experimental Study of Informal Rewards in Peer Production. PLoS ONE, 7(3) [Online]. DOI 10.1371/journal.pone.0034358 Accessed 17 February 2014
- Algan, Y., Benkler, Y., Morell, M.F., Hergueux, J. (2013) "Cooperation in a Peer Production Economy: Experimental Evidence from Wikipedia" [Pre print]. Accessed 17 February 2014