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From the FAQ on the bounty system (emphasis mine):

Twenty-four hours after the end of the bounty period, if the bounty starter has not manually awarded the bounty, an eligible answer can be automatically awarded half the bounty amount. The criteria for an answer to be eligible for automatic awarding are as follows:

  • The answer must be given after the bounty was started
  • The answer must have a score of at least +2

Fine by me, but why exactly? The reasoning behind it is not explained in the FAQ, it's just stated as fact.

As for the main reason for the bounty system, according to the FAQ it's this (emphasis mine):

This feature was designed to motivate answerers, and help questions get the answers they deserve.

If and when the bounty is awarded automatically, there is no motivation for the original answerers (to improve their answer) since in that case they are 100% certain they will not be awarded the bounty. Of course, answerers don't know up-front if this will happen, so this point may be irrelevant.

Now deserved seems subjective to me. If the total number of votes is a deciding factor when the bounty is awarded automatically, then doesn't that mean that the most deserving answer is decided on by the community? In that case, why would original answers (given before the bounty period) with a even more votes not be 'deserving' enough?

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3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

One of the main reasons for starting a bounty is to try to get better answers to the question. If one of the existing answers was good enough then there'd really be no need to post the bounty.

If you are starting a bounty to reward an existing answer then there's nothing stopping you manually awarding the bounty at any time before it expires.

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If no better answers are given during the bounty period, then what would preclude the original (answers) from participating in the automatic rewarding based on score with all the other answers? If the original answer has a score of 10, and during the bounty period 3 new answers are given, scoring 1, 3 and 5 points respectively. Then it's obvious that the bounty did not result in better answers. It is my understanding that the question with 5 points will be rewarded the bounty if the OP doesn't manually award the bounty. That seems not entirely justified. –  michielvoo Jan 19 '12 at 17:38
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@michielvoo I might ask a question and there is some specific aspect that your answer with 10 does not address. To draw attention to this, I might place a bounty on the question. In doing so, I'm essentially saying that your +10 answer is not what I want, so why would you deserve any bounty points? –  Michael McGowan Jan 19 '12 at 19:40
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What if the original answer is edited during the bounty period? –  michielvoo Jan 19 '12 at 20:05
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Also, about why it would deserve any bounty points: perhaps 1) because the original answer was not motived by a bounty, 2) because the community still deems it better than any answers given during the bounty period, and 3) because it may contain information that is the best information available in all answers (even though asker was hoping for better). –  michielvoo Jan 19 '12 at 20:32
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@michielvoo It may be worth making answers edited after the bounty was placed eligible, but beyond that I think ChrisF has it right. Note that the bounty's owner always has the option to award the bounty manually. Waiting for a part of it to be awarded automatically shouldn't be the norm. –  Anna Lear Jan 19 '12 at 20:53

If the person who set the bounty wanted to award an existing answer, they would have done so.

Making the system give a bounty to an existing answer when the OP obviously didn't feel it deserved it would be a bad choice.

The people who answer the question after the bounty know that they will not be competing with an existing answer which has obviously been rejected by the OP. This is important because if the bounty might be auto-awarded to an excellent existing answer, they would be less likely to compete for it.

Lastly, the only case in which a bounty is automatically awarded is if the OP doesn't choose a winner and if NEW answers get NEW votes. The person who set the bounty wants this encouragement so they can get new perspectives on the problem.

It's a balance between making sure the bounty encourages new answers, making sure the OP doesn't feel their bounty is going to be thrown to an existing, yet insufficient, answer, and giving bounty-seekers assurance that if the OP doesn't like their answer, but others do, then some of the bounty will be awarded to someone who made the effort after the bounty was posted.

If you have an existing answer on a question with a new bounty, you should consider commenting on the question and finding out why your answer fails to meet their needs, then updating your answer to resolve their problem. If you solve their problem you'll probably be awarded the full bounty, rather than half of it.

At the end of the day, the bounty should go to the person who actually resolves the problem. The OP wouldn't place the bounty if the existing answers solved their problem.

Of course, this doesn't count bounties placed to award existing answers - but that should be awarded relatively quickly, and if the person who placed it forgets then the fault is theirs, not the systems.

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To make you repost your answer and delete the old one.

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oooh, nice loophole! Of course you lose all the votes you got up until that point, and there's no guarantee you'll get the 2 votes needed on the new answer. Still, interesting technique. –  Adam Davis Jan 19 '12 at 19:23

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