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Interesting research from Yahoo research, circa 2011
Badges in Social Media: A Social Psychological Perspective
Abstract: Representing achievements as badges or trophies is a standard practice in online gaming. Awarding badges has also become a key ingredient in “gamifying” online social media experiences. Social systems such as Foursquare, StackOverflow, and Wikipedia have popularized badges as a way of engaging and motivating users. In this paper we deconstruct badges and present five social psychological functions for badges in social media contexts: goal setting, instruction, reputation, status/affirmation, and group identification. We argue that future research should further explore these five functions and their application in specific contexts.
Link to PDF: