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There was an an earlier meta-discussion about allowing moderators to skip the "bounty refund" step when closing a question that was declined, but I wanted to spin off waffles's comments into a separate feature request:

I am open to amending some of our close logic to allow for casting close votes on bountied questions (even if we require mod intervention for the final closing). A close sends a much more powerful message when multiple users are involved.

It is a weird thing that users can vote to close any question except bountied questions: it allows a single user to short-circuit the community moderation process, and in many cases, forces a moderator's hand to act unilaterally (or appear to act unilaterally).

As the earlier discussion showed, allowing bounties to go away without some thought is not ideal; a bounty is meant to be, as Shog9 put it, a "contract": additional reputation is offered in exchange for better quality answers. Making it non-refundable ensures the people writing those answers don't get the rug pulled out from under them.

Because of this, bounty refunds are an extraordinary action that—if done too often—could potentially undermine the system as a whole. They should require moderators to look at and see if taking such a drastic step is warranted.

Instead, I'd like to formally propose the following:

  • Allow users to vote to close bountied questions.
  • If a bountied question attracts 5 close votes, generate an auto-flag that alerts a moderator to deal with the question.
  • Moderator uses a magic button that removes the bounty and allows the closure to go through.
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+1, I'm pretty sure I saw at least one bounty that was used to "protect" a bad Q from closure recently and a custom flag is currently the only thing that can be done - less than ideal. –  Flexo Feb 6 '12 at 21:00
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Oh a magic button? I say make it a big pink button, with a rainbow unicorn, and lots and lots of glitter. –  animuson Feb 6 '12 at 21:22
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Aw man I was totally going to close this question, buuut.... –  Ben Brocka Jun 23 '12 at 18:07
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This question is crap! Voting to clos--oh, wait... –  Alex Lockwood Jun 23 '12 at 22:00
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Another example which I think fits into this: How to create Mutable java.lang.String?, where the asker even admits it's more like a puzzle and knows an answer. –  Arjan Jun 24 '12 at 11:32

4 Answers 4

I definitely agree that we should have the ability to vote to close bounty questions. Nearly every time I look through the featured tab on my favorite tags I find at least one terrible question...

The only alterations to the existing proposal that I would make would be:

  • Add some mechanism to ensure that the Mod flags are handled quickly.
    • Bump these flags to the head of the line, as these probably should be handled before the bounty expires, and before the question draws too much attention.

and...

  • Give moderators some amount of discretion as to whether the bounty is refunded or lost entirely.
    • Not that I think that all bounties on bad questions should be forfeited, but I do think there should be some additional sting to discourage blatantly abusive and/or habitual offenders.

Related: Will work for rep. / Closing bounty questions

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Here in August 2013, I strongly support making this change. I found a question today that is utterly and blatantly off-topic, but had somehow survived a few days without being downvoted and closed, and now the asker has added a bounty, which protects it (I flagged it for moderator attention.) I think this is becoming more common as SO grows -- the sheer number of questions is such that things like this can slip through more often.

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Question has been closed, thanks @Shog9! –  Ernest Friedman-Hill Aug 5 '13 at 14:09

A question with a bounty has already been opened for at least 48 hours. In a busy community like StackOverflow, this is more than enough time to reasonably determine if the question is a good fit for the community.

On a smaller site, like Project Management SE, moderators see every question that comes in; thus, we have a 48 hour window to figure out if we need to unilaterally intervene when the community cannot.

Once the bounty starts, as Shog9 mentions, there is a contract that exists between the asker and answerers that offers X amount of reputation in exchange for research and effort invested in providing the best possible answer. It makes sense during this time period to allow the question to remain open, at least for the duration of the bounty period.

This is a temporary state. Once the bounty period ends and the answerers have an opportunity to receive their bounty award, the community can then take a hard look at the question and determine it's future.

It's been established that any rep earned for answers with a least 3 votes will be preserved if a question is ultimately removed. Thus, if the same rule applies to bounties, then this shouldn't be a problem in terms of violating this bounty contract.

UPDATE:

Once a bounty is posted, it is locked until the end of the 7 day period. The contract has started, and we shouldn't violate that contract.

However, one possible solution could be to prevent bounties being offered on any questions that contain a single flag or close vote. A moderator would have to clear these flags before the bounty period could begin. This would effectively prevent an answerer from losing time spent researching the solution.

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FWIW, the post needs to be visible for at least two months for the normal rep preservation rules to kick in - but bounties are preserved regardless. Provided they're actually awarded. –  Shog9 Jun 23 '12 at 22:06
    
@Shog9 - Then I think that sounds fair to just keep things as they are. There is no need to do anything different here IMHO. The bounty is the reason people pay attention to bounty questions, not the upvotes they may or may not get. Any upvotes on a bounty answer is really just a little extra icing on the cake. Lastly, the bounty is what the contract is about, so as long as we continue to preserve that then I don't think the bounty system would be impacted should a question be removed after this period ends. Those questions would still continue to get the extra attention from the community. –  jmort253 Jun 23 '12 at 22:11
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When I initially made this request, I was speaking from my experience as a mod on Programmers, where even though we got a small fraction of the number of questions SO gets, we didn't see every single question as it comes in. I don't think it's reasonable to expect moderators to a) be aware of every question and b) act within 2 days of it being asked, especially unprompted. I also don't think it's reasonable to expect the community to act definitively on every single question within 2 days of being asked, either: if that is the expectation, we should just disable the close button after 2 days –  user149432 Jun 23 '12 at 22:15
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A bounty doesn't make an otherwise crappy question good: a bad question 3 days later is still a bad question and should be subject to community moderator whether or not it has a bounty. Heck, one of the reasons bounties exist is to get attention for questions that slipped through the cracks: attention can be both positive and negative. Right now, it requires a moderator to act unilaterally to close based on a private flag, which is decidedly worse than letting the community decide to close a question on its own and register that publicly in the close message. –  user149432 Jun 23 '12 at 22:16
    
@MarkTrapp - It seems like the worst questions, the ones that really have no place here, do get filtered out by the community. The occasional ones that slip through the cracks probably weren't bad enough to warrant actual closure. Still, once the bounty period ends, anyone who has picked this up on their radar can then go in and take action. My concern with closing bounty questions is it may discourage potential answerers from spending time on the question, and no bad question is worth destroying or defacing the current bounty system. –  jmort253 Jun 23 '12 at 22:22
    
[cont'd] - If we went 2 days with a not-so-hot question, then surely we can go another 7 before taking action. –  jmort253 Jun 23 '12 at 22:24
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@jmort253 I'm sorry, but I don't subscribe to the school of thought that if the community doesn't handle something quickly as it comes in, it shouldn't have been handled at all. If that is the case, the entire moderation system should be completely redesigned: flags should expire quickly, moderation functions should be disabled quickly, there's no need for /review or /tools, etc. But putting that aside, there is nothing about the concept of a bounty that implies "this question is good enough to delay community moderation because a person paid rep." It's a side effect, not a feature. –  user149432 Jun 23 '12 at 22:30
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@MarkTrapp - please see the update in my answer. I think this could be solved without invalidating bounties. Granted, this requires that at least one user 15 rep or higher feels that the question isn't a good fit. If the SE team can implement that, we try that out, and we still have garbage slipping through the cracks, then maybe we can revisit the idea of close votes on bounties. –  jmort253 Jun 23 '12 at 22:34
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@jmort253 preventing the bountying of a question that has outstanding community flags or votes is great idea: I'd be for that as an alternative as well. –  user149432 Jun 23 '12 at 22:42

I like the idea of allowing voting and generating a flag, since it need not be acted on right away - potentially the question could be closed after the bounty ends if need be (I can't really think of a use for this off-hand, but...). And I've also found the inability to vote-to-close on bountied questions irritating in the past.

I'm not convinced this is common enough to warrant the additional complexity though. As a rare edge-case, it falls squarely in the realm of "exceptions moderators should be handling" - allowing for voting followed by moderator intervention only makes sense if this is happening so often that it's becoming a drain on moderator resources.

As jmort notes, bounties already have a two-day waiting period. A much simpler solution might just be to generate a flag on questions where a bounty is offered and there are close votes outstanding: a moderator can then review it and, if necessary, revert the bounty and close (without appearing to act unilaterally) before anyone has devoted time to answering.

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To me, I see this as simplifying how questions work: right now, bountied questions are considered to be a completely different class of content that isn't subject to regular community moderation because of the bounty contract. That's counterintuitive: open questions should be handled the same way, and you shouldn't be able to pay to play outside the regular rules. Making a change similar to this request makes it so the bounty is the only thing that's special-cased, not the question. –  user149432 Jun 23 '12 at 22:25
    
The thing that makes this seem ok in my mind is that the exception only exists for a mere 7 days, which is a blink of an eye when you consider that we're pruning most of the content here so that it lasts for years to come. If you really think it's a problem, maybe we can put in a request to restrict bounties on any question with a single close vote or a flag. This would require that the flags be cleared by a mod before the bounty could be posted. –  jmort253 Jun 23 '12 at 22:28
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FWIW: if I'm interpreting the data right, 773 questions with bounties were closed during or after the bounty was offered. That's on Stack Overflow. That's all posts that might've needed to be closed while a bounty was active. For the entire life of the site. To put that in perspective, nearly 44 THOUSAND posts have had at least one bounty during their lifetime on Stack Overflow. This is quite rare. –  Shog9 Jun 23 '12 at 22:36
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Granted, that data may be slightly skewed by the fact that it's a PITA to close bounty questions, which means that only the really bad ones were really acted on. Still, I don't think we really need to do much here. If enough people feel strongly about it then we could require that questions have 0 close votes/0 flags before an op can post a bounty, but even then, I just don't see this as a huge problem, at least on SO or PMSE. –  jmort253 Jun 23 '12 at 22:40
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@Mark: for the record, that's under 2% on SO, while Gaming is 8% and AskUbuntu is 5%. Programmers is... 22%. I can see how this might be more of an issue on some sites. –  Shog9 Jun 23 '12 at 22:45
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@Shog9 Indeed: one of the most frustrating things on Programmers during the period immediately proceeding the antedisciplining era was people using their rep from the antedisciplining to keep questions open during closure sweeps. Still, 5% to me seems big enough to optimize. –  user149432 Jun 23 '12 at 22:52
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What if we simply upped the threshold for bountied questions? e.g. it needs 10 or so close votes and then happens, as if a moderator had done it. Of course this would be fairly SO specific, thoughts? –  Nick Craver Jun 29 '12 at 14:18
    
Hmm... Sounds kinda hacky, but it would tend to let folks vote without actually doing anything in most cases. Probably would've helped the Progse situation at least, by indicating community support for closing bountied questions. –  Shog9 Jun 29 '12 at 15:50
    
@Nick that's a good idea in my opinion. Let users vote to close, and if the threshold is reached, refund the bounty and close the question. :) –  Shadow Wizard Aug 5 '13 at 14:15
    
I'm against an automatic refund of boonties when questions are closed. You just need 5 other people with the privilege "vote to close" and you can close & reopen every question and get the boonty back. (IIRC you can reopen your own questions.) –  Johannes Kuhn Aug 5 '13 at 15:08

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