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A handful of the less big sites in the network have no active bounties:

For example: http://ux.stackexchange.com/

Trouble is that this hides the featured tab in the main UI on the home page, and makes discovering the bounty feature much harder.

We are considering adding a feature where the community user automatically picks a question to bounty when the list is empty (and only if the list is empty)

The goal is to improve some old questions on the site that need improving and increase the awareness of the bounty feature.


We are not considering this feature for Stack Overflow, Super User or any other site that always has active bounties


For those who participate in some of the smaller sites and may be affected:

  • Thoughts and reservations?
  • How should we pick a question to automatically bounty?
  • Do we need to amend our bounty automatic award mechanism in any way for this?
  • Should mods be allowed to manually assign these bounties?
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I had suggest the ability for the moderators to keep 1 question with a bounty at all times to keep one old question with attention and give some sight. Sadly, I never suggested in meta, only in TL chat months ago. –  Kortuk Oct 7 '11 at 3:40

7 Answers 7

Automatically adding bounties on posts is fine, but why is the featured tab hidden if there are no bounties? Can't it just be made visible all the time, and turned into a short explanation of what bounties are for if there's nothing else to put there? Actually, I just realized it already does the second part:

Screenshot of an empty featured tab

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well why fix a problem that will not be there when we implement this :) –  waffles Oct 7 '11 at 3:01
    
@waffles: You mean, why spend 5 minutes fixing a problem cleanly when you could spend 5 days introducing a complex, awkward, polarizing, and possibly counterproductive feature instead? –  Aarobot Oct 8 '11 at 0:22
    
@aarobot for the record, this is Jeff's idea, if its polarising enough it is going on the back burner and I will add that tab in –  waffles Oct 8 '11 at 2:34

There are a few annoying things about Stack Exchange bumping and bounty mechanics that would make me really hesitant to support anything like this:

  • Community user bumping is noise. When you zip through a low-activity Stack Exchange site by checking the front page, you're looking for new activity: did someone ask a new question? Add a new answer? Revise a post? Checking out a bumped Community post is a waste of time. Oh, I already saw this question and nothing's happened to it.

  • Community user bumping isn't really smart. The community bumping right now doesn't have the ability to determine if a question really needs attention or was, say, too localized and is never going to get an answer that's useful.

  • Regular users can't close bountied questions. At least when Community bumps a question normally, if it's a question that just slipped through the cracks, it can be closed pretty easily. Bountied questions require moderator intervention. So now there's a question that was bumped for no good reason other than to have something bumped and there's nothing regular users can do about it.

I'd rather see moderators or high-rep users encouraged to bounty questions through regular community building. Most sites seem to have an active bounty culture: I'd much prefer questioning why some sites don't and trying to fix that culture problem over instituting another potentially annoying automatic feature.

But if there's going to be automatic assigning of bounties, I'd like to see this only applied to questions that have a high likelihood of still being useful and novel:

  • Questions that don't have an accepted answer, and
  • Questions active in the last couple of weeks.

Any questions outside of that should require someone to look at them and explicitly decide to offer a bounty with their own reputation and reason for offering it.

I don't think the automatic bounty award mechanism should be amended: these aren't "real" bounties, they're free points to expose the feature to people who don't know about it. Awarding half the bounty to whoever gets the most votes is probably the best compromise between offering free points for not really helping anyone specifically and offering a bounty that doesn't actually award anything.

Finally, to moderators offering the bounties (on Community's dime): this seems toxic per Michael Mrozek's answer. If moderators want to offer bounties on their own as part of their community-buidling activities, that'd be the way to go about it.

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note that community bumps are lightly ordered by views, so only things with no upvoted answers and in the top (n) by views are eligible for a community bump. The effect will not be pronounced on smaller sites though. –  Jeff Atwood Oct 7 '11 at 3:07
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also the mechanics of the community unanswered bump and the 'select a worthy question for a bounty' would be absolutely totally different, for the record. –  Jeff Atwood Oct 7 '11 at 3:11
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@JeffAtwood But that's the thing: on smaller sites, there are only a few questions a day. If you visit relatively often, it's very unlikely you're going to miss a question. Community bumping is in effect, "Hey, remember that question you didn't care about the first time you saw it? Here it is again!" (Example on SciFi). I'm skeptical there's some automatic algorithm that would make bumping via bounties more signal than noise: I'd prefer if it was done organically. –  user149432 Oct 7 '11 at 3:16
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the bounty bump would be strongly related (but not exactly identical) to scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/greatest-hits so have a look. –  Jeff Atwood Oct 7 '11 at 3:22
    
@JeffAtwood Would there be any filters to a list like that? Like, for example, requiring a question not have an accepted answer or some amount of recent activity? –  user149432 Oct 7 '11 at 3:28
    
that is what is under discussion now per the OP –  Jeff Atwood Oct 7 '11 at 4:30

If we do want to award bounties via Community, my main concern is how it's going to pick the questions. The system already tries to pick top questions for other things (e.g. to tweet), and it picks bad questions all the time -- on sites like Programmers it seems like that's all it picks (now that I'm reading over the list that was apparently unfair, but it definitely misses often enough that letting it assign bounties would probably be bad). I'm not sure how an automatic bounty system could do any better, and the last thing we need is to draw more attention to terrible questions while locking them open for a week. I'd like a system where the community votes on it, but that's just re-voting on questions that already have a vote system, and I assume those scores are a big part of how the aforementioned top questions are chosen, so we end up with the same problem.

Mods doing it is the least error-prone solution since it's completely manual, but it seems orthogonal to other mod abilities and essentially amounts to "mods can give people rep". Possibly the question owner should be responsible for awarding the bounty (even though the rep doesn't come out of their account), and mod questions or questions by inactive users shouldn't be eligible

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You'd also have to throw in a rule where mods can't answer questions that they placed a bounty on with Community rep (although I'm sure this would just backfire and they'd get downvoted into oblivion if they tried it). –  Bill the Lizard Oct 7 '11 at 3:18
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@Bill I'm sure 500 free rep would sooth the pain of those downvotes. Technically there's no reason mods can't answer, since the question owner is the one awarding the bounty, but it probably would look bad –  Michael Mrozek Oct 7 '11 at 3:21
    
Yeah, it would go (bounty) -> (wait 2 days) -> (answer, award bounty, delete answer all within 3 seconds). –  Matthew Read Oct 7 '11 at 4:33
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It's not the downvotes I'd be worried about, it would be the loss of trust from the community. The visit from the dev team would also be...unpleasant, but my reputation within the community as a guide and leader would be a much bigger loss. –  Kevin Vermeer Oct 7 '11 at 16:35

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Keep the site reasonably on topic by closing, migrating, or removing blatantly off-topic questions.
  5. Regularly check for flagged posts, and decide if further action is warranted.
  6. 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:

  1. 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?

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I've bountied a bunch of questions since the new bounty feature and it can be really challenging to find a good question -- Even just having a list of "possible good questions that need help" that can then be vetted by users would be useful; it doesn't even need to be tied to moderators if there are enough high rep users interested in helping. –  Jorge Castro Oct 8 '11 at 14:17
    
@JorgeCastro - Agreed! I really like the idea of having a list of questions for this. And, it doesn't have to be mods-only. I was thinking, though, that high-rep users are also those who write answers to these questions, and there could be a conflict of interest. –  Kevin Vermeer Oct 8 '11 at 19:24

Some random thoughts to find eligible questions:

  1. Obviously: there should be no accepted answer.
  2. Question has some upvotes.
  3. Question quality score is okay.
  4. Total score of all answers is less than some minimum.
  5. Question asker should be an active user with some minimum accept rate. (This filters out questions that actually should have had an answer accepted. Also, finding the answer helps the question asker; it is nice to help active users.)
  6. Many visitors, preferably from search engines. (Just like Community isn't bumping just any question since September. New users might then see an opportunity to earn some reputation quickly, hopefully making them come back after they have found their answer elsewhere!)
  7. Question has been posted more than 2 weeks ago, to give the author a chance to start a bounty. It has not had any previous bounty. (I'd think it doesn't matter if a question is quite new or quite old. This might be the only difference with the random poking of old unanswered questions.)

I don't know if tagging has matured on new sites, so I'd not take tag popularity into account.

I'd say Community should assign the full value of the bounty; if the question asker accepts an answer during the bounty period, then that answer gets the bounty. So: no changes from the current auto-accept, except for awarding the full amount.

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As an aside: I'd really like some way to award new users who come to these sites, do not find their answer, and then come back later to share their findings. A community bounty would only be one question per 7 days, at most, so I guess that won't have that effect. –  Arjan Oct 7 '11 at 18:40
    
"Some way?" You have the ability to create a bounty on any question/answer. Use it. –  Aarobot Oct 8 '11 at 0:27

I'm not sure "making the tab appear" should be the driving motivation behind this proposed feature. Bounties are already heavily advertised on questions that do not have an answer. The author is prompted to add a bounty, and other users are solicited to add bounties where they are needed. So you don't need the 'featured' tab to make the feature visible.

I don't think we should be necessarily encouraging bounties where they are not needed. When there are no bounties, it may simply mean the site is doing really well. Questions are getting answered and nobody has to escalate to get the extra help.

But there is a case for when system-created bounties are warranted. When questions go unanswered for a significant amount of time, the system can step in an add a bounty simply because the community failed to do so. Add bounties ONLY when they are useful.

To use an analogy, when a city has full employment, you don't sit around lamenting "how are we going to get people into our jobs programs?"

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Unanswered questions don't always deserve bounties, in fact, they frequently do not deserve them. No one wants to answer it, because it's a poor question. But, +1 for the rest of your answer. –  Kevin Vermeer Oct 8 '11 at 0:18
    
I'd agree with this, but also take into account question score; weed out the questions that didn't get attention because they sucked - require at least +1 or +2. Also by unanswered I hope you mean "no upvoted answers" as opposed to "no accepted answer". –  Aarobot Oct 8 '11 at 0:25

Please do not bump anything tagged with $THING_IDENTIFICATION; I really really don't want "oh hey I played some game / read some book / watched some film / etc and it had this thing that did this thing, or maybe it did something else, and it was in 2005, or perhaps that's 1998, but the main character was definitely a man, maybe, uh, perhaps a girl, but there was a lot of blue. And a lot of green. And this like blob thing too. etc etc".

I'm gently wary about algorithmic bumping of content. But the greatest hits feature is pretty good, and should be of interest to users with accounts.

You could tie this into making chat more popular / useful on the smaller sites - deciding the questions to be bumped and bountied could be decided in chat from an auto-generated selection?

Finally: The answer getting the bounty really should be, as far as possible, an excellent answer, with links to references and details and possible dupes etc. Close to canonical as possible.

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I'm not sure I can identify with your $THING_IDENTIFICATION question. Is that exclusive to the Gaming, Literature, or Writers? That said, I think I understand your problem: We had an interesting, quality, highly voted, unanswered question on Electronics that we decided to add a bounty to. Answering it required access to a datasheet that wasn't public and/or a phone that not everyone had. That was a bad decision; the bounty went unanswered. (Question is here if you're interested). –  Kevin Vermeer Oct 8 '11 at 0:26
    
@KevinVermeer - (scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/5489/…) (scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/5854/…) etc; (gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/31803/…) etc etc - plenty of awful awful questions that really do not need bumping –  DanBeale Oct 8 '11 at 9:10

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