I guess I'll start this thing in the most controversial possible way: discussing the reputation and rating system use by the message boards and now the blogs. Many of you wonder why we have ratings?
Having a system that rates users and their content has several benefits. The two main ones are:
1. Allows us to pick the best content and feature it on our community pages and soon in other areas of the site. When the community selects someone to be in the top 100 or 1000, we can be sure that this content is worth reading, and we can make it available to newcomers to the site. A lot of our users can't spend hours on the site finding the best content, so we use the community ratings as a way to help them do that. By introducing them to some of your best content, hopefully that will motivate them to consume more content and even join in on the discussion.
2. Deal with trolls and other undesirables. Most people will agree that trolls are a nuisance but they are hard to deal with, because attention is exactly what they want. The more attention they get from users and administrators, the better for them. So we want a system that makes it hard for trolls to get full access to the site and to annoy the vast majority of users that do not engage in that behavior.
That said, the system is not and will never be perfect. But we are constantly improving it. Or at least changing it, sometimes the changes backfire. The challenge in doing this is that we want a community that manages itself, but at the same time that it does not let itself be abused by some members. Any system can have loopholes that let some get an advantage. So we are always monitoring it and fixing things as necessary. But also we look at how the community evolves, and we adapt to reward things that the community values.