Sometimes, on older American barns, particularly German farms, one could see a large decoration in the shape of a star mounted on the face of the barn. These were called barn stars. Sometimes they were just aesthetic, but sometimes they represented the trademark of a specific barn builder. Although they go back to at least the 1820s in Pennsylvania, they were most popular after the WikiPedia:American_Civil_War. This [reference] on these types of barn stars contains a very nice [gallery] as well.
Another type of barn star, at least according to Barnstar Subterfuge (see [below]), is a fancy style of bolt washer used in early America to secure a long steel rod spanning the whole structure for support.
Either way, in modern times, barn stars have come to be known as signs of good fortune and luck.
Here at Meatball, one of our most central values is BarnRaising. We believe in building things collaboratively and collectively. To do this, each person plays their part, for sure. Some people create content. Other people edit. Some reorganize. Others bridge Meatball to other communities. Some write software. Others manage projects. There are as many ways to contribute as there are hands helping.
Occasionally, a person stands out above the rest and does something none of us would have thought of doing or were too lazy to do. They give a large gift to the community that shines against the background of our daily smaller gifts. Sometimes we thank them and maybe even congratulate them for a job well done. Sometimes we merely appreciate their contribution silently. Certainly people here know their work is appreciated and respected, but that isn't always enough.
To commemorate MeatballWiki's third anniversary, we have created the BarnStar award for BarnRaising excellence. Whether one prefers to symbolize this as the more public role of a BarnStar as a trademark of work well done, or the quieter unknown role as the source of our internal strength and support, or simply as a gold star for BarnRaising like when you were a school-kid, this award goes to those that deserve a good solid pat on the back for an outstanding effort.
To win an award, someone just has to write it on your name-page. To give an award, you just have to decide someone deserves one, and then give it to them. Don't hesitate, just give one in the typical wiki fashion. And, hey, if you want to give it to people from other communities, go right ahead. Meatball doesn't have a monopoly on good people, even if it does look like it some days.
This image may be used elsewhere without restriction. ( hence WikiPedia:image:barnstar.png )
For those who are interested, I took the original image of a barnstar from Barnstar Subterfuge (see [below])--mostly because I liked its shape more than the traditional ones--and then shrank it, smeared out the noise, and then tinted it to give it a brighter rusted look:
Another cleaned-up one, from WikiPedia:
WikiPedia has taken up BarnStars quite readily. See WikiPedia:Wikipedia:Barnstars (note the interlanguage wikilinks on the left). Apparently the Portugese Wikipedia takes them very seriously. They vote on BarnStars rather than handing them out as a kind of thank you. ItalianWikipedia uses both systems (the one with votes is experimental): see WikiPedia:it:Wikipedia:Scherzi_e_STUBidaggini/Sondaggi/Wikioscar.
Cathy Ma counted BarnStars as one dimension to measure the level of community acceptance of a user on English Wikipedia.
The [CIA] hands out [shovels] for gardening efforts on their Intellipedia wiki, both virtually and physically.
Some web-designers during the DotComBubble thought it would be fun to plant a sort of Easter egg on the web pages they designed. The idea was simple enough: plant the barnstar shape on clients' web-sites without letting them know. The game was to see how creatively one could get away with this little subversion.
If you happen to notice the following shape on a web-site, you've caught someone playing the game.