I was trying to explain the current controversy how “welcoming” MO is to a non-mathematician friend. The current best hypothesis for why MO is either attractive or repellent in general is that it has to do with the reputation system. As I was offering reasons for why things are structured as they are, it occurred to me that there are different goals that could be separated in the point system.
Goal 1: Determining good questions and answers. Here, we vote on the questions and answers, and accept at most one answer. This is a crowd-sourced quality metric. Though one may argue about the details, it seems like basically a great idea.
Goal 2: Managing user privileges. When you achieve certain reputation, you get more powers on the site. This allows the editorial work to be distributed among many experts who earn their expert status through their dedication of time and the quality of their mathematical content.
Goal 3: Quantifying users’ credibility. This one speaks for itself.
In my opinion, the above goals are listed in decreasing order of importance; Goal 1>Goal 2>Goal 3. What occurs to me is:
(a) Goals 2 and 3 do not have to be so tightly linked to Goal 1. Goal 1 is an important local imperative, but good questions and answers can be generated by people who are do not have high rep or even participate much, and they frequently are.
(b) Goal 2 is quantified at a second level with a more coarse system of statuses. These could be awarded without the publicly viewable reputation points.
(c) It is debatable whether Goal 3 is worthy or not.
Proposal 1: Make reputation points a hidden feature that only administrators can see. Couple this with an appropriate adjustment to how user privileges are given and announced.
Proposal 2: Allow the possibility of granting user privileges based on verified external credentialing. For example, having an accredited degree in Mathematics (with tiers for BS,MS,PhD), holding an academic position, certain publishing achievements. This could turn out to be quite controversial and require significant work, but it could also be a way of making MO more inviting to more people.