Blizzard recently mentioned they were making changes to how reputations work. I'd really like to see something more radical.
I suppose you know your reputation with the Order of the Cloud Serpent (I'm neutral, 606/3000), or the Zandalar Tribe (I'm exalted, 20/999). You can give me the exact figure. How about your reputation with your manager? Or your colleagues? It isn't so easy to say. You might be able to make a guess, but you have no way of identifying a precise number. You might be able to tell that certain actions on your part increased your reputation with them, but for other actions, you'll probably never know.
I wonder, in Azeroth, whether it is so important that faction reputation be visible. Perhaps if it was private information only known to Blizzard, it might be better. I know Blizzard designers are so thoroughly burnt out that they feel that all they're doing is building a maze for us lab rats, or a Skinner box, where pressing keys in a certain order gives us the instant reward of +141000XP, +400 reputation with the Golden Lotus. And perhaps they are. But wouldn't it be a more engaging game if you helped questgivers because you wanted to help them - you identified with their problems - not because you wanted the XP and rep gains?
The first quests in Kun-Lai summit were in Binan village, where the villagers were fighting the yaungol. The mayor asks me to do stuff for him. But I don't care for him, and I don't see why I would fight for him rather than for the yaungol. I do his bidding, anyway, for fear that I might be unable to progress an important storyline in the zone. But it left a bad taste in my mouth. How great it would be if I would be able to skip helping the villagers, but unknown to me, I lost standing with the villagers, with Loremaster Cho and Admiral Taylor (who I later discover to be in the village) and to have gained rep with the yaungol (I don't know why I was hated by them, anyway).
In real life, when we gain or lose reputation, we may not notice it; or we may notice a difference in the way a person talks to us, or smiles, or stops by. This is a more realistic way of signalling rep than 606/3000, and it would be great if such changes in behaviour occurred in the NPCs.
A digression about attunement
The first epic rep grind (or attunement, if you like) was for Onyxia. The storyline is at first intriguing and then enthralling. You're doing some quests for an average Joe questgiver. Quests like any other. You might have not even bothered to do them and moved on to another zone. But it turns out that unknown to you, he's testing you. He wants to see if you're competent and trustworthy and diligent. If you say you'll do it, but don't, then you've missed out on the greatest quest chain since Frodo's, and you don't even know what you missed. Isn't that how real reputation works?
Once he trusts you to do the job, he draws you into a story that leads to Bolvar Fordragon and the discovery of who is really running Blackrock Mountain, the daring rescue of a captured alliance marshal, the unmasking of a traitor, and at last the final confrontation in Onyxia's lair.
You were doing these things for the epic adventure of it, for the patriotic love of the Alliance, or simply to help your friends; and slowly your standing in the higher echelons of Stormwind rose, and you were more and more trusted. What a fabulous story to have taken part in, made all the more fabulous by your acceptance into the ranks of greats like Bolvar Fordragon.
But this attunement was as a result of following a particular quest chain, and I know you wouldn't necessarily feel the same epic quality on a second or third alt. What if you could do different things to earn Bolvar's trust? Like the hearts in Guild Wars 2, wouldn't it be great if it wasn't only one quest chain that mattered, but that you could earn reputation by whatever means, and then, when Bolvar trusted you enough, you could (for instance) skip the "True Masters" questline or perhaps be directly offered the key to Onyxia's lair (the amulet)?
The Onyxia attunement series was greatest story in Azeroth. It was killed, in my opinion, mostly by player burn-out. It was only certain players who burned out. But they were the most influential: the developers themselves and vocal top raiding guilds. For both groups, the epic saga of the story paled through repetition, and dwindled to a chore. So now it is forbidden to everyone to do these quests. It would be great if such epic stories could be brought back, but with a way of skipping them once they're no longer epic to you.
We do not measure real reputation as a number. Of course all software is about manipulating numbers, but there is no need to show the internal workings of the fantasy world. It cheapens the world, and gamifies concepts that it should be encouraging, like chivalry. I mentioned in Tesh's article "Closed Fist, Open Hand" that players are more helpful in Tyria than in Azeroth. I don't believe that the players who helped me in Tyria did so because of a selfish cost-benefit calculation, they did it because it was the right thing to do. The honourable thing to do. To me, GW2 is a game that de-emphasizes numbers and emphasizes our common experience. A bond forms between players who don't even talk, based on mutual help. This is the basis of respect, honour, reputation.
By the way, my local primary school no longer encourages readathons (which is an event in which children are encouraged to read books to raise funds for worthy charities). They say that it leads to kids not reading unless there is a reward dangled before them. They stop reading for the love of reading. That sounds awfully like a lot of questing in WoW. We should be doing quests because we genuinely want to help the characters in our story, not because we want to earn something external to the quest (such as fat loot, XP, or rep points), the same way we want our kids to read books because they love the writing, not so they can earn gold stars or money for a charity.
Every now and then the Horde come to Stormwind, and there is an almighty fight. Or we go to Orgrimmar. Reputation and honour is earned there. Real reputation, and real honour, on both sides; not "reputation points" and "honor points".