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It seems to be the number of posts. I'm not sure if you get additional ones from participating in other things here besides posting and replying. Just found one post on this at How do I accumulate Milestone Badges?
it's equivalent to other sites. For instance on eBay when you buy or sell an item, the more you do this, the star they give you changes colors. Here they give you bars/point status based on the number of posts/replies. I just ignore it, others think of it as some sort of status.
Thanks gk17 for the FAQ link. The participation meter (those colored bars) automatically update for each Insider based upon the amount of their activity and contributions. What is my Participation Meter?
Nope, those participation levels haven't changed. But we're working to add a bit more granularity than just an overall participation point total with a series of participation badges. Once you complete an action, like answering a question, you’d earn the corresponding badge. We’ll have more information soon but this will be nice for new or infrequent Insiders to learn more about the community.