The award is typically symbolized by an image and given in an AwardRitual. In some communities it is reserved to a particular person (particularly the BenevolentDictator), while in others it may be performed by any CommunityMember.
The key components of the AwardRitual are:
Then congratulations by other members of the community may be given (may join in the praise), making it a small-scale BarnRaising.
However, be aware that those who prefer to be UnsungHeros may be made uncomfortable if too much fuss is made, and others may feel unfairly overlooked. Keep a sense of proportion. Think about those that also deserve the award.
An AwardRitual is the strongest example of RewardReputation. It is used to ensure that a particular behaviour is repeated, both by the recipient and by others who view the recipient as a RoleModel. This is why explaining the reason for the award is absolutely key. Without it, you risk the recipient getting the wrong end of the stick, and reinforcing behaviour that isn't helpful: most people do many things within a community.
In a more altruistic framework, it is a way to show appreciation for special values created or for continuous work as a member.
If you consider to use an award in your community, make it something special, something that is unique. Look for a nice image that has a special connection or that goes with a story.
In a wiki where only the founder may give the award, there might be the option that a member having more than one award may have the right to give one of his awards away in an AwardRitual.
...explaining the reason ... is absolutely key ...
This doesn't seem the case (cited from MartinHarper):
Of course an award must be justified, especially in the eyes of the other community members - because otherwise it is devaluated - but it seems that no specific reason need to be given.
Wiki:NeverIsNeverNever. Sunir knew he was breaking the pattern a little, but even then he gave some reasons. It's for "contributions" over the past "few weeks". Without that Martin might have thought it was for agreeing with Sunir over the LionKimbro thing, perhaps. Thus, if no reason had been given, Sunir might have inadvertantly fostered the very GroupThink / BenevolentDictator model that he seeks to avoid.
For a slightly askew analogy, we have Mother's, Father's, Brother's, Sister's, and Secretary's Days to show appreciation for all the little things people do for you in life that aren't so big that it would be awkward to give thanks for each time. Martin has been putting a lot of cool work into MeatballWiki, so I thought I'd show my appreciation for the sum total. I'd appreciate more BarnStars given from not just me. Right now it looks as if MeatballWiki is for me as I am giving out the vast majority of the awards, and that is only fostering the BenevolentDictator model. Now that it is January 2004, we only have four months before it's been the first anniversary of the BarnStar. Let's show the love, eh. Kick me out of first place here. -- SunirShah