Nir Eyal shares his views on what really motivates people to contribute to online communities, by looking at both some successful and unsuccessful services.
Like Quora users, Stack Overflow users are not rewarded with money, but recognition within the community. Each time a user submits an answer, other members have the opportunity to vote the response up or down. The best responses percolate upwards, accumulating points for their authors. When they reach certain point levels, members earn badges, which endow special status and privileges.
Stack Overflow works because, like all of us, software engineers find satisfaction in contributing to a community they care about; turning a seemingly mundane task into an engaging, game-like experience. But on Stack Overflow, points are not just an empty game mechanic, they confer special value by representing how much someone has contributed to their tribe. Users enjoy the feeling of helping their fellow programmers and earning the respect of people whose opinions they value.