I don't believe that an automatic algorithm can consistently pick the right questions to feature. However, I do agree that this is a good idea. Why not delegate the task to the moderators or users? On [Electrical Engineering], Kortuk and I occasionally feature random questions that we feel are exemplary to help shape the community. We've collectively expended about 1.5k rep on this task. We've still got 18k between the two of us, so we should be able to continue picking two questions per week with 200 or 300 point bounties for quite a while. Moderator status is already detrimental to rep gain, this practice actually takes away rep. At least our privileges are independent of rep...
A problem with automatic detection is that the general population of the site will visit, improve, and upvote low-hanging fruit and bike shed questions. If you run a civil engineering site, you want to feature the nuclear reactor question. It will attract the experts, educate the general users that this is an interesting engineering problem, and inspire the new users to grow. However, all the metrics that I can think of would favor the bike shed question.
Oh, and the choice should be announced somewhere prior to finalization, perhaps in the mod tools. This could give mods a chance to clean up before the traffic hits, and to stop the community user from choosing wrong questions.
The Theory of moderation describes the the duties of a mod as:
- As a moderator, your actions now represent the community, so you
will be held to a higher standard of behavior. You are an ambassador
of trust, with the same sorts of rights that the official development
team and community coordinators have.
- Your goal is to guide the community with gentle — but firm —
intervention. Respect your fellow community members at all times;
demonstrate fairness and impartiality in your actions.
- Whenever possible, try to leave frequent comments on posts where
you’ve taken (or considered taking) a moderator action, explaining the
reasoning. This is important so that community members can learn the
norms of the community and the moderation policies.
- Keep the site reasonably on topic by closing, migrating, or
removing blatantly off-topic questions.
- Regularly check for flagged posts, and decide if further action is
- In the case of serious disputes, communicate directly with users
via email to help mediate and resolve those disputes.
In the spirit of guiding the community, I propose the following addition to the list of duties:
- With the help of your community and fellow moderators, each week choose one question which you consider exemplary to receive a bounty.
Where this rep would come from and who would delegate the bounties is problematic. Reputation sourced from nowhere and delegated purely by individual mods would be likely to lead to complaints (but we can and do deal with complaints...). Perhaps a vote-to-award privilege for mods and high-rep users would be satisfactorily democratic? That, or allowing the post owner to delegate, but that restricts the posts that I'd assign bounties to down to those whose authors I trust to make good decisions.
Moderators currently guide the community with sticks. Offering them this ability would be an unprecedented carrot. Perhaps we need more carrots?