community April 12, 2021

Stack Overflow badges explained

Badges have been around since the beginning of Stack Overflow. But what badges do we have, and how did they come about in the first place?
Avatar for Medi Madelen Gwosdz
Content Strategist - Former

Badges have been around since the beginning of Stack Overflow. They are our way of recognizing our contributors for engaging with the community in meaningful ways. They are a little bit of motivational fun that helped us create the largest place for programming knowledge with over 20M+ questions. But what badges do we have, and how did they come about in the first place?

The origin of badges

When asked why they contribute on Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange sites, people give many answers. Some do it for the eternal gratefulness of developers everywhere, some to practice their writing, others simply to become better developers. Then there’s folks like this:

We have built a “dusting of gamification” into Stack Overflow with the reputation points. And badges add to that. They are inspired by our founder’s love for systems like Xbox 360 Achievements. 

A cheap trick? No, an elemental part of human nature. Some rightfully asked, “Just why exactly are we driven to want to earn them?” But even our most prolific contributors are far from above it. 

*Jon Skeet has long surpassed the 1M+ reputation mark. And at the time of writing has over 18k badges.

We have 95 badges in total. Over time new ones were added and others were retired, often based on suggestions from the community. One reason to have them has been explicitly stated as to “have fun,” all of them serve the purpose of encouraging behavior that helps programmers and technologists to share knowledge, engage with the site, and learn in the best way possible. Each badge is a means to that goal. But let’s look at some examples.

What badges can I earn?

There’re bronze, silver, and gold badges, and you guessed it, you need to work the hardest for the gold ones. They are mostly earned by achieving measurable numeric goals queried out of the site database and themed around questions, answers, participation, moderation, specific tags, and more. 

To this day we have awarded over 66 million badges to more than 8.6 million users. The most common badge is the “popular question,” which has been given out over five million times, and is awarded to users who ask a question that is viewed 1000 times. The rarest general badge is the Illuminator, someone who not only wrote answers but also improved the question with edits a whopping 500 times. This club has a short list of 139 members. 

People who complete moderation and curation actions have a set of their own badges to recognize the contributions they make to the community. For example, the Taxonomist badge is given for creating a tag that gets used on at least 50 questions. If you are a listener of the podcast—sorry there is no badge for that yet—you might have heard us discuss the Lifeboat badge, given to those who save questions from drowning by helping a question with a score of negative three or less get to an approved answer with a score of positive 20 or more. 

So all badges serve the site? Well, there are around 600 people who earned themselves an Autobiographer by the less noble act of copying the placeholder copy into the about me section. These users must really prefer “to keep an air of mystery about them”. But, we know who you are. 

Stack Overflow employee favorites

Stack Overflow employees use our internal Stack Overflow for Teams instance to discuss proprietary knowledge regarding the business, but they also interact with the community through Meta Stack Exchange and Meta Stack Overflow. Almost all of them are also Stackoverflow.com users. We asked them about their favorite badges.

In many ways, the badges, next to the reputation points, are a way to put quantify appreciation from the community. David Haney, Director of Engineering at Stack Overflow, names the Great Answer badge as his favorite. “It makes me happy to know that I provided answers that were helpful to many other developers struggling with similar problems. I love knowing I’ve made a positive impact.” 

“My favorite badge is the Necromancer’, says Jarrod Dixon, Web Developer at Stack Overflow “Not only is the name awesome, but getting one means you’ve improved an older question, usually with a more relevant, contemporary solution.”  

Another Stacker said he was most proud of earning the golden Bug badge. A tag-related badge that comes from discussing bugs on the Meta site dedicated to all Stack Exchange-related discussions. It’s mainly current and past employees and the most active community members who earned it. No wonder, since it requires answering 200 questions and earning a total score of 1000 under the bug tag. Could they have created the bugs in the first place in order to earn this badge?  

Jon Chan, Engineering Manager, Public Platform admits the badge he would most like to earn next is “Fanatic,” which is awarded for coming to the site for 100 days in a row. “I really only use Stack Overflow for work but come to it when I’m working on personal projects over the weekend. If I’m coming to the site that frequently, probably means I’m making progress!”

You can see a list of all the badges you can earn here, and you can see how you are tracking towards a tag badge with this query. Let us know your favorite badge in the comments.

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