I used to think that rich profiles were dumb—that they were really only something that were only used by teenagers hell-bent on getting the latest and greatest AIM virus.  Then I saw the Xbox.com Forums.  Wow.  Now those were great profiles.  Why?  The profiles mattered.  It was more than just a bunch of stuff somebody else typed—profiles were the home base of reputation.  There are two very powerful elements that make these profiles so interesting:

1.)    Recent Activity – In Xbox Live land, this is really more about your recent game activity.  Little glyphs are next to my profile showing the past games I’ve played (Hexic HD, Marble Blast Ultra, and Bankshot Billards 2, if you must know.)  Clicking on those glyphs leads you to a richer view that actually shows a user’s achievements in that individual game.  Expand this to Microsoft communities—a community profile has glyphs indicating the past few communities you’ve participated in.  Click on any one of the glyphs and it automatically brings up a page with your personal reputation and roles in that community, along with your recent activity (posts, bug submissions, wiki changes, etc.)

2.)    Community Score – In every way, shape, and form, the community score is visible in both the mini-profile that shows up next to somebody’s post, and their richer full-page profile view.  Whenever you read a post, you know a user’s gamer score (how many achievements they’ve made in games), community forum ranking (how “good” they are on the forums), and gamer “reputation” (how well other people liked playing with them.)  Not only does this let other people know quite a bit about who they are talking to on the forums, but it also gives more for a user to care about all of those numbers.  For example, if reputation exists for other community channels at Microsoft (say, product bug submission websites, wikis, chat, and blog), there could be a rolled up “Microsoft Community Score” displayed, alongside their MSDN Forums reputation.

3.)    Comparison – It’s great to know that you have 1,200 points on the forums, but what does that mean if you don’t know where you stand against others on the forums?  Clicking on another user’s profile should bring up a page that shows a side-by-side comparison of your reputation with theirs.  In addition, you should be able to quickly see your ranking on the forums, along with a list of the people who are above and below you.  For example, you want a “Top 100” icon next to your name, and find out that you’re currently in 103rd place…but if you answer just 14 more questions this week, you could move into 98th place.  It’s probably enough incentive to answer those extra questions!

4.)    Avatars – I know.  Avatars can be very…well…lame.  In fact, the avatars are my least favorite part of the Xbox profile system, but mainly because I think the pictures are fairly lame and I’m not going to pay any extra money to change the little picture next to my name.  Of course, if those avatars actually helped you find experts in a technology area, they’d probably make more sense, right?  You know those questions you answer when you register a new product—the ones that ask what technologies you are interested in and what year you were born in?  Why not tie the results of those questions into a custom avatar on the forums?  Enjoy C#?  You get a C# icon next to your name.  Feel like you’re an expert on the Visual Studio IDE?  You get the cool little Visual Studio infinity icon.  You get the picture.

5.)    Make it and Take it – People spend quite a bit of time in the community trying to build this reputation, but it really only is visible when you’re on the forums site itself.  Why not take it with you?  The “mini profile” displayed next to your posts should be available as a web part that you can plug into your personal or professional webpage.  What better way of showing potential customers that you are passionate about technology than displaying your contributions to the Microsoft community?