People new to Permies.com notice at some point that certain posts have one or more apple icons at the top. And some people here at Permies.com have the same apple icon at the bottom of their profile information (that stuff at the left beside their posts) and that apple usually has a number beside it. Folks who notice these apples often ask questions like "What's up with the apples? What are they for? How do I get some? Why did I get one? I used to have one but now I don't, what happened?"
This is the place to find the answers to that sort of question.
What does the apple icon at the top of the post mean?
If there's an apple beside the date at the top of a post, it means somebody with the power to award apples gave that post an apple. If you wrote the post, congratulations! It means you're doing well at participating here at Permies.com. At least one person on the staff would like to see more posts like that one, and you were awarded the apple as positive feedback for it.
There's an optional setting in your profile letting you receive an email when one of your posts gets an apple. That email says "Thank you for your quality post" as the subject line. That's really what an apple means: "Thank you for your quality post."
It's rare-but-possible for a post to get more than one apple. Multiple apples usually indicate a pretty special post!
What do the numbered apples in someone's profile mean?
The numbered apples is a running count of how many apples that Permies.com member has received. People with lots of apples have made lots of posts seen as valuable contributions to the discussions here.
Who decides if a post merits an apple?
Forum staff (volunteers, stewards, Burra Maluca the "Mother Tree", and Paul Wheaton) have the power to award apples freely. Pollinators (who are not technically staff, but who have some special privileges) may also award an apple a day as they see fit.
If you see a post that you think should get an apple, it's perfectly acceptable to "report" the post (using the Report button above the post) and enter "I think this post needs an apple because blah blah" into the box provided for the report. One of the staff will see that report and (if they agree) possibly award the apple. You may or may not hear back from anybody and the apple may or may not be awarded. Cautionary note: reporting your own posts to request apples for yourself is unlikely to work and should be avoided.
What kinds of posts get apples?
Any constructive or useful post might earn an apple. One really common sort of post to get apples is a post that's rich with information: photos, useful links, descriptions of how to do a thing, or useful explanations of complex topics. Photo-rich posts about permaculture projects seem to get apples pretty reliably.
Sometimes apples are awarded for social-type reasons. If a thread is getting contentious and your post spreads oil upon the waters, that might earn an apple. Staff here are all human, so if you say something that a staff person strongly agrees with, you might get an apple for that reason.
If there's a common theme to apple-receiving posts, though, it's that they tend to advance the cause of permaculture in some way. What to do, how to do it, useful information, encouragement and inspiration. You can think of it, if you like, as someone saying "Permies.com needs more posts like this!"
Apples are a means of rewarding forum members who have gone above and beyond typical participation, and for those who have performed special projects for Permies.com.
They are also a means of awarding special recognition for posts that offer keen insight, specialized knowledge, are especially helpful or motivating.
Is it possible to lose apples?
Yes. Although it's much less common than giving apples, any staff can remove apples also. A lost apple is probably because a post was unhelpful, argumentative, disruptive, failed to be nice, or contravened the publishing standards here in some way. Lost apples will typically not be announced or explained, but it's usually not hard to figure out what you did. It's possible, though somewhat rare, to lose a whole lot of apples in a hurry (or all at once) for sufficiently unpleasant behavior. Please don't contact staff to inquire about lost apples. However, you are encouraged to reflect and figure out for yourself where you went wrong.
What do the apples do? Or are they just a useless decoration?
Over time, a poster's accumulated number of apples (and especially, their ratio of apples-to-posts, if you have a mathematical turn of mind) is surprisingly useful as a sort of reputation score. People look to the apples, sometimes, to determine how seriously they should take a post or the poster. If a poster has a lot of apples, that might translate into at least a tiny bit of extra credibility.
It also seems that people enjoy their apples and are pleased to have a post recognized in this way. There is even a leaderboard where you can compare your apple collection to the apple collections of other posters.
There is also one very pragmatic benefit to having at least a few apples. A number of controversial topics are not to be discussed on Permies.com except in The Cider Press and its subforums. This is because they tend to be controversial topics (such as politics and religion) that are typically hard for strangers to discuss on the internet without leading to unpleasantness and ugliness. You need to have some number of apples (the number is different from forum to forum, and is given at the top of each one) to post on forums in the Cider Press. The notion is that by the time you've earned some apples here on Permies.com, you've shown that you can post constructively even (it is hoped) on sensitive topics.
But beware! It's called the "Cider Press" for a reason. All of the usual rules and publishing standards apply in the Cider Press, but it's much easier to lose your apples there. Be nice and follow the rules, because if your posts in the Cider Press are problematic, you are much more likely to lose apples as a consequence.
You can't have everything. Where would you put it?