Completely rewritten. More specific, more complete. Give it a chance.
I have rewritten the question in hope of salvaging respect with my peers.
One commenter below helped me find an analogy that I think will clarify my intentions, and make a more specific proposal. I'll re-tag the question accordingly.
The intention of this discussion is strictly to consider how reputation is handled, in particular when an existing accepted answer is unaccepted... nothing more.
If there is confusion yet, or parallel details I may have overlooked, please ask questions in the comments section and I'll edit this Question to address them.
As It is Today:
When the OP has already accepted an answer to his/her Question, and at some point another user comes along and provides a new answer. The OP finds the new answer more suitable, so he/she unaccepts the current answer and accepts it instead. The new answer's user is awarded
+15 reputation, and the original answer's user
If the purpose of earned user reputation on Stack Exchange is to encourage users to participate in an online community and to convey to their peers the expertise in their answers, then is it appropriate to revoke the reward earned for their accepted answer when a new answer is chosen?
- Should unaccepting the original answer cause reputation loss?
- Should a Question be worth a finite
15 reputation, or should accepted answers be considered independent?
As there can only be one accepted answer to a question, the scenario of a business contract is fitting.
A company (
OP) defines an offered contract (
Q) with a certain criteria, and awards the agreed contract (
AA = Accepted Answer) and its compensation (
Reputation) to the bidding company best suited to their needs.
Company A and Company B then come along and bid, and the contract is awarded to Company A. They are awarded the contract until it's term is up or the criteria has changed. Later, Company C comes along and the offering company is impressed.
Using this analogy, SO currently rewards Company C with the new contract and compensation, and revokes the contract from Company A. While this may seem fair at first, the issue is SO also revokes their compensation.
In the real world, the contract is honored until the criteria changes or the term of the contract expires. Meaning when the offering company awards Company C the new/altered contract and takes it back from Company A, but they do not ask nor can they expect their money back... services were rendered... the answer service its purpose.
My suggestion is that Stack Exchange limit questions to a single accepted answer, but that previously accepted answers honor the compensation offered... to treat them as separate contracts if you will.
As this would mean a question could produce an indefinite amount of reputation, I propose that some kind of terms be put it in place (much like the terms on a contract) to prevent exploitation. Ideas:
Time Period - if the accepted answer stands for X Days or Months, the user retains his/her compensation, else it is revoked.
Criteria Changed - if the question is edited the existing answer retains its value, as it was right for the original question.
OP Decision - let the OP decide/provide reason why the answer was unaccepted, and that reason determine whether or not the user keeps his reputation.
I suggest #1 as it seems the most unbiased, subject to the least exploitation, easiest to implement.