Reputation is an important concept in online communities because it lets community members and moderators know who can be trusted and it allows members, who have invested their time and effort into building the community, accumulate reputation capital which can bring real-world benefits such as influence or employment opportunities.
An engaged community is one where people are creating content and interacting with each other in a meaningful way. In Vanilla, reputation points are earned for participation and for creating content that is liked by others. When a member performs certain actions or receives praise, she is awarded reputation points and in some cases badges. For example, uploading a profile photo gives the member the Photogenic badge and ten points. Getting a positive reaction on a comment gives 1 point. Getting a negative reaction on a comment, such as 'off topic' takes a point away. If a moderator 'promotes' a comment, the member will receive 5 points. There are about a dozen actions that will trigger a badge award and close to 70 badges that can be earned.
Moderators and admins have some control over how reputation is awarded: they can promote good content, modify badge values and create custom badges that can be awarded manually. Whereas points earned for reactions are fixed, points associated with badges can be easily edited in the Dashboard.
Reputation is used in two ways in Vanilla. The first is simply to provide a reputation score via the member’s profile page and on leaderboards. The other is to award members with a Rank based on reputation. As a member’s reputation score increases, so does their Rank. Rank is not just a vanity label, Ranks can be tied to abilities such as being allowed to have a signature or use the /me action in comments. Comments made by members of different Ranks can be formatted differently so that, for example, higher ranked member comments stand out in the discussion thread.
A note on gamification
Gamification is a hot buzzword that is associated with badging systems like the one in Vanilla. Many companies are using it to attempt to motivate people to do tedious work and reward them with badges instead of money or other useful forms of reward. Gamification in Vanilla communities is about making something that is already fun and rewarding even more so. Gamification and reputation are important ingredients for community success but won't make a community vibrant on their own. A community's success comes from enabling meaningful interactions with a community of like-minded people.