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I got me an email for a bounty that was going to expire in 23 hours, so I went to see if I could award it. It turns out the question has only been answered by myself, so I can't award a bounty. Which means the email was essentially spam. (Or if you prefer, one more worthless automated reminder of the type that I train my spam filter to hide from my inbox.)

It's bad enough that my bounty will expire worthless—does the system really need to get my hopes up that an answer arrived only to dash them when I actually follow the link in the email? Could the system add one more check to see if a bounty could be awarded before encouraging users to go out and award it?


For reference, here is the text of the email minus emphatic formatting:

Reminder: Your Bounty Is Ending Soon!

Your bounty on the question …

Option to disable “share a link to this question” popup?

… ends in 23 hours.

Don't forget to review the answers and award your bounty by clicking the bounty icon to the left of each answer. If you don't award your bounty, the highest scored answer (with a minimum of 2 score) provided after your bounty started may be automatically awarded half the bounty amount!

For more information, refer to the bounty faq.

Questions? Comments? Let us know on our feedback site. If you no longer want to receive mail from Meta Stack Overflow, unsubscribe from all Meta Stack Overflow emails with a single click.

Stack Exchange Inc. 55 Broadway, 26th Floor, NY NY 10006 <3

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Did the email actually say "You haven't awarded a bounty to this question yet"? Or was it merely a reminder that the bounty was going to expire? If it is the former, it can be easily solved by simply changing the wording of the email. I'd personally like to get reminded 23 hours prior to expiration, whether there's an eligible answer or not. Simpler is better. –  Robert Harvey Apr 13 '12 at 20:00
    
@Robert: I included the text of the email for your perusal. (It does not use those words, but that's the impression I got from the email.) –  Jon Ericson Apr 13 '12 at 20:05
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@Robert: I would not prefer the reminder if there's no action I can take. It's discouraging. –  Jon Ericson Apr 13 '12 at 20:07
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3 Answers 3

One solution would be to ditch the email. Our new Global Notification System already covers the notification aspect and I don't really see the need for an email. Presumably someone who already uses the site enough to offer a bounty will also be visiting the Stack Exchange network often enough to not need the extra notification. (This assumes that at least one of the reasons for the email was to cover the case where the bounty-offerer does not return often enough to see the late Big Slidy Orange.)


A second solution takes a page from Facebook's playbook and allows users to configure which notifications they have emailed to them as a global setting. It could easily default to send the notification. This would provide a more general solution, require a fair amount of work, but be totally worthwhile.


Finally, if we must send this email (because it's in the email robot union contract or whatnot), let's divide the notification into two use cases:

  1. The situation where a user has offered a bounty, gotten at least one answer (not their own), and has not awarded the bounty. That's more or less the use case the above email seems to assume.

  2. The situation where a user hasn't gotten an answer at all and might benefit from Jeff's advice.


Here's the text I propose for the second case:

Bounty reminder

Your bounty on the question …

[Question title]

… ends in 48 hours.

As of this email, nobody has provided an additional answer. But don't despair! It could be that someone right now is working on a masterpiece to submit at the eleventh hour (give or take).

In the meantime, have you considered:

  • Editing the question for readability and clarity?
  • Adding more examples and data?
  • Adding descriptions (and results, even if partial) of any additional research you undertook to get an answer to your question?
  • Reducing its scope so that it is easier to answer?
  • Retagging it to more appropriate tags that might get more (or different) eyeballs?

Remember, if someone does answer the question before the bounty expires, you'll still have at least 24 hours to award it. For more information, refer to the bounty faq.

Questions? Comments? Let us know on our feedback site. If you no longer want to receive mail from Meta Stack Overflow, unsubscribe from all Meta Stack Overflow emails with a single click.

Stack Exchange Inc. 55 Broadway, 26th Floor, NY NY 10006 <3

Note that the notification needs to be sent a little earlier in this case since it takes time for:

  1. The user to read the email.
  2. The user to act on changing the question.
  3. Other users to notice the question changes.
  4. Other users to write an answer.

There's no grace period in this case for these actions and since many people don't do Stack Exchange stuff over the weekend, they need a little more time.

(Not on-topic to this question, but maybe the bounty can be extended automatically in this case. That way this mostly bad-news email could have a silver-lining purpose.)


And since I'm feeling generous, here's a slightly less obnoxious version of the original email for your consideration:

Bounty reminder

Your bounty on the question …

[Question title]

… ends in 23 hours.

Please review the answers. If you feel one of them deserves you bounty, award it by clicking the bounty icon to the left of the answer. Otherwise, you might consider providing feedback in the form of comments or edits. If you don't award your bounty, the highest scored answer (with a minimum of 2 score) provided after your bounty started may be automatically awarded half the bounty amount.

For more information, refer to the bounty faq.

Questions? Comments? Let us know on our feedback site. If you no longer want to receive mail from Meta Stack Overflow, unsubscribe from all Meta Stack Overflow emails with a single click.

Stack Exchange Inc. 55 Broadway, 26th Floor, NY NY 10006 <3

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that's a very nice suggested email, I'll recommend that we make it so. Maybe it'll make it less spammy as well? –  Jeff Atwood May 24 '12 at 0:40
    
@Jeff: Gmail still thinks this is spam, for what it's worth. –  Jon Ericson May 31 '12 at 20:19
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I would not prefer the reminder if there's no action I can take

No actions you can take? I beg to differ.

As a result of this email reminder, did you consider improving the question so that others can more easily answer it during the critical 24-48 hours at the end of the bounty period, when the most eyeballs will be on it?

  • Editing it for readability and clarity?
  • Adding more examples and data?
  • Adding descriptions (and results, even if partial) of any additional research you undertook to get an answer to your question?
  • Reducing its scope so that it is easier to answer?
  • Retagging it to more appropriate tags that might get more (or different) eyeballs?

Is the question so perfect that it cannot be improved in any way? I find that questions I ask that don't get answers are flawed questions, and I take responsibility for them because, well, that's the first rule of coding: it's always my fault.

A bounty is the beginning of a battle you instigated, and a bounty ending notice is a battle cry, a call to arms for the final resolution of your question and your bounty.

Nobody should be more motivated to discover the answer to your bountied question than you -- by any means necessary.

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Personally, I improve questions to the best of my ability before I spend my valuable reputation on a bounty. In this particular case, I even answered the question myself. Further, the email offers none of your excellent advice. It just tells me to review the answers and award the bounty. I suppose if the system sent a different email for people who need to edit the question, I would have less to complain about. –  Jon Ericson May 23 '12 at 9:37
    
I don't understand this bit: "the critical 24-48 hours at the end of the bounty period, when the most eyeballs will be on it". Don't bounties have the biggest impact on the first 24-48 hours when the question has recently been bumped and might start receiving answers and/or edits? I suppose you mean the featured tab, which sorts in Ebay order. I can't say I use that tab very often. But even so, the best time to edit a question is before issuing the bounty if you want to get the most eyeballs. –  Jon Ericson May 23 '12 at 10:19
    
@JonEricson if you take a look at featured questions tab, you'll notice that older bounties float on top => get more visibility. With this in mind, it looks reasonable to assume that question get more attention closer to the end of bounty period –  gnat May 23 '12 at 16:47
    
@gnat: That's what I meant by "Ebay order". ;-) I started digging through data.stackexchange.com to see if I could get a median-time-to-answer when a bounty is started, but my database chops aren't (or at least weren't in the middle of the night) up to it. The way I work through questions means that if I don't respond to a bounty within 48 hours or so, I won't likely answer it at all. Any edits to the question (to bump it to the top of the default queue) would have to be substantive for me to change my mind. –  Jon Ericson May 23 '12 at 16:55
    
@JonEricson wrt substantive edits, sorry for being blunt but your fault looks spot on to me in this case. I think you missed at least two perfectly reasonable opportunities for edit-bump: 1) by enriching tags (share-this and usability seem to match really well) and 2) by enriching question text with a screen shot of the annoying popup –  gnat May 23 '12 at 17:12
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@gnat: Oh I agree. The trouble is the email I got gave me no such advice. Perhaps I would have done something to salvage the bounty if the email hadn't been presented with the happy-go-lucky, everything's-fine, don't-forget-award-your-bounty! tone. (The -1 is not from me, FWIW. I think Jeff's advice is so good, it should be included in the email when appropriate.) –  Jon Ericson May 23 '12 at 17:22
    
@gnat: In case it isn't clear, the particular bounty I wrote about was probably more about stress-relief than an actual desire to get an answer. I'm less of a crazy person (I hope) on non-MSO sites. But even on more legitimate bounties, I find the email to be a complete waste of time. –  Jon Ericson May 23 '12 at 17:28
    
@JonEricson interesting. Now that you pointed at that, I too feel that mail text lacks an advice like that. Tone of the mail is too blindingly optimistic to offer a constructive help –  gnat May 23 '12 at 17:36
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@Jeff: The link to it's always my fault bugs me. When you write programmer to programmer, that's great advice. In this case, it was my fault. But when taking to Joe User, linking to that post is functionally blaming the user. The odd thing is that I've already solved this problem to my satisfaction. –  Jon Ericson May 23 '12 at 18:35
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We have implemented the second email suggestion by Jon

http://meta.stackexchange.com/a/133422/2

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I like the change, but it doesn't get at the core of my concern. +1, but not accepted. ;-) –  Jon Ericson May 31 '12 at 20:20
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