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I provided an answer to this question that had an open bounty for 100 points at the time. I responded a couple days before the bounty was set to expire. I put in a fair amount of work into understanding the question and coding up a solution and believed I would probably earn the bounty as I was the only one putting real work into coding a solution to exactly what was really being asked.

The bounty deadline comes and goes. The OP never responds and never awards the bounty. No other answer showed two or more upvotes. It appears that the OP abandoned the question and the bounty was never assigned to anyone. I've read here on meta that if there are no automatic qualifiers for the bounty, then it just isn't awarded.

Something seems wrong with this process. It seems like when someone offers a bounty, they should be required to finish it in some way, if not in a timely fashion, then some time later when they come back to the site and try to participate some more. They should either select an answer to award the bounty or select a "no acceptable answer was offered". If the readers disagree with their choice of "no acceptable answer was offered", then they can report that action for moderator attention.

Don't the people who offered their answers under the promise of a bounty deserve some sort of resolution? Otherwise, it feels kind of like a bait and switch. The reward is offered, but never paid. I know the OP loses the bounty rep points either way, but this post is meant to be more about fairness to those who put up their answers under the promise of a bounty.

Obviously, there isn't a lot that can be done to "force" the OP to do anything. But, it seems that their privileges on the site could be reduce or restricted in some way if they don't handle the bounty. Or, they could lose double the bounty points if they just ignore their responsibilities entirely. There certainly could be more consequences than there are now (which is none).

Edit: Interesting response here. I guess by all the downvotes, nobody thinks this is worth any attention - that there's no interest in making more of an incentive for someone who offers a bounty to follow up on their bounty and either award the bounty or indicate that no answer solved their issue.

That surprises me. I would have thought people would have wanted to seek improvements that would make it less likely that someone would offer a bounty and never return because that isn't the best use of the site or the best for the site or the best for the bounty system. I'm fine if people don't like my particular ideas for improving it, but this whole exchange felt like people dumped on the idea of even trying to improve this. I certainly felt personally dumped on here. I tried to delete my post a couple days ago, but the system won't let me delete it, so I guess it just gets to sit here and accumulate downvotes.

Well, one thing I learned here - bounties may never be awarded and that doesn't seem to bother anyone. In fact, I may not even bother looking at them any more.

Another interesting observation - the only answer here that actually has much real thought in it has the fewest upvotes. In this case, witty responses seem to garner more popularity than real content.

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Why the downvotes on the question? Isn't this a legitimate problem with the site that I'm trying to suggest something ought to be done to improve? Why should people put a lot of effort into writing code for a bounty question if the OP can just disappear and never award the bounty? If that's allowed and people get burned by this, won't people just start to ignore bounties and reduce their effectiveness? Is that good for the site? –  jfriend00 Apr 29 '12 at 1:17
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A downvote on Meta mean that the user disagrees with you. Of course it's bad for the site if users disappear after offering a bounty. But awarding bounties by force without any requirements will effectively convert feautured questions into spam magnets. –  Dennis Apr 29 '12 at 1:28
    
@Dennis - how does this discussion have anything to do with "spam magnets"? –  jfriend00 Apr 29 '12 at 1:40
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Users would start to provide halfhearted, unhelpful or even plain wrong answers to featured questions just in case the bounty sticks. If the OP has to award the bounty, he might as well award it to me. My answer is less wrong than the others. It even got pictures! –  Dennis Apr 29 '12 at 1:43
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@Dennis - I think it's perfectly fine if the OP has a bounty disposition choice of "no acceptable answer was provided". At least they would show that they think they've handled their side of the contract and didn't just skip out. If the answerers thought they were wrong for not awarding the bounty to one of the answers, then they could flag that action for moderator attention. –  jfriend00 Apr 29 '12 at 1:51
    
Changed title of question. –  jfriend00 Apr 29 '12 at 1:53
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That's a suggestion I like. This would also waive the deadline for awarding a bounty, in case it was impossible due to some unforeseen circumstances. –  Dennis Apr 29 '12 at 1:53
    
I added a little recap to the end of my answer. I wish I could just delete the whole discussion, but the system won't let me. –  jfriend00 May 1 '12 at 8:02
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Hope the OP didn't get hurt in a car accident and is laid up in a hospital. Imagine you're making such a big deal out of this, and there he is, beaten and broken, his arms and legs in traction, his car destroyed, his mortgage in jeopardy... You should be ashamed of yourself! –  Won't May 1 '12 at 14:12

3 Answers 3

Unless you want us to drive to their house, armed, and strap them to a chair... I don't really see how we can force them to do anything.

Yeah, offering a bounty and then skipping out is a dick move. Some people are dicks.

Of course, it's also possible his mother died and he got sidetracked arranging the funeral. Or he was kidnapped by Honduran freedom fighters and is awaiting ransom. Or he just forgot. Those things happen too.

Chalk it up to bad luck and move on.

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Their privileges on the site could be reduced or suspended until they "handle" their bounty commitment. That's probably the only practical way to try to "force" anything. –  jfriend00 Apr 29 '12 at 1:36
    
Offering a bounty is a plea for significant time investment from potential answerers and it is an implicit contract that the questioner will hold up their end of the bargain. If they fail on that contract, they should be held accountable in some way. If they really believe that no answer deserved the bounty, they should be able to specify that so at least it shows that they finished what they started. If lots of people disagree with their lack of awarding the bounty, then they people shoudl be able to report their behavior to a moderator's attention. –  jfriend00 Apr 29 '12 at 1:36
    
Do you not think there should be any accountability for an OP who offers a bounty and skips out? None? –  jfriend00 Apr 29 '12 at 1:38
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If someone repeatedly abuses this, you can report them (well, technically you can report them anyway, but moderators will know). As for suspending their privileges until they award the bounty - this effectively creates an unbounded bounty (no upper limit on how long before it's awarded), which - depending on the situation - could even be worse. By the way - this is hardly the only or worst situation in which users can abuse a bounty - at one time, you could award the bounty to yourself! –  Shog9 Apr 29 '12 at 1:39
    
I get that it's not great to have an unbounded bounty time. But, automatically awarding it based on some formula doesn't seem any better to me either. The idea here is that the OP should be held accountable for holding up their end of the deal in some way and now there is zero accountability. They can just walk away and feel no pain. How about they lose 5x the bounty points if they don't handle the bounty in a timely fashion - either award it to an answer or mark it as "no answer deserving of the bounty"? At least then there would be a consequence for skipping out. –  jfriend00 Apr 29 '12 at 2:06
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@jfriend00: "it is an implicit contract " You are seriously becoming too obsessed with your rep if you believe that anything that happens on Stack Overflow constitutes a contract, implicit or otherwise. A bounty is neither a contract nor an agreement. It is simply an offer. One that you know going in does not have to be given to you. If you didn't know the rules of a bounty before your "significant time investment", that's your fault. –  Nicol Bolas Apr 29 '12 at 2:19
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The OP's last activity was Apr 19 at 17:27 (an hour or so after offering the bounty) . My vote is for "kidnapped by Honduran freedom fighters and is awaiting ransom". Who's chipping in? –  Wesley Murch Apr 29 '12 at 2:36

Maybe.

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So, if this were the only answer to your bounty question, should you be required to award it? –  Dennis Apr 29 '12 at 1:12
    
Obviously, there are edge cases, but look at the question I'm talking about. There are plenty of answers to choose from. I might also suggest that if bounties were always rewarded, the only question that wouldn't have at least one reasonable answer would be a question that couldn't be understood. In the extreme, wouldn't it be a lesser evil to force the OP to pick one of the answers (even if none of the answers are great) rather than let them never award it at all? –  jfriend00 Apr 29 '12 at 1:15
    
I'm not saying that you shouldn't have received the bounty. Actually, I think you should have. But in general, the mere presence of answer(s) just doesn't mean that the bounty has to be awarded. The answer could be nonsense like this one or just plain wrong. As you already know, if your answer got at least two upvotes while the bounty was offered, it would have been awarded with half the points offered. Besides moderator intervention (which will be polemic, since even declined flags have made users literally leave the site), this is as good as it gets... –  Dennis Apr 29 '12 at 1:21
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Oh... you must be Spolsky's sock puppet! Hey there, welcome! –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Apr 29 '12 at 4:08
    
@BoltClock'saUnicorn: No. If I was, I would get 700 upvotes for this. –  Dennis Apr 29 '12 at 4:17

Obviously, there isn't a lot that can be done to "force" the OP to do anything. But, it seems that their privileges on the site could be reduce or restricted in some way if they don't handle the bounty. Or, they could lose double the bounty points if they just ignore their responsibilities entirely. There certainly could be more consequences than there are now (which is none).

The way you phrase this is telling: "their responsibilities". Allow me to say this very plainly:

Users do not have responsibilities to Stack Overflow.

You are not required to upvote posts you like or downvote posts you dislike. You are not required to accept answers to your questions, nor are you required to answer any particular question. Stack Overflow is purely a volunteer service; if you don't want to use it daily, that is your prerogative. If you want to drop a question every week and only come back for the answer a week later, that is up to you.

You are only sanctioned on this site under one of two cases: you post trash (spam, offensive posts, etc), or you ask a lot of trash questions which are repeatedly downvoted and closed. What's important to note that both of these require manual intervention from the community. The community downvotes and closes questions; this eventually triggers the automatic question block once some arbitrary metric is reached. The community flags posts that are spam, offensive, or whatever, and then actual human beings decide what to do about this person.

What you are suggesting is a system that harms a person without any sort of human intervention. Mere inaction, simply forgetting something or getting busy with real life, or any number of real-world conditions, causes them to be sanctioned. Because you believe that they are "[ignoring] their responsibilities" by not giving you your rep.

Sorry, no. A system where we punish people for mere accidents or events beyond their control is not worthwhile. Yes, our current system means that, every now and then, a bounty will be unawarded to people who really wanted them.

Tough. Deal with it.

I prefer that to a system that actively harms someone for a simple mistake or circumstances beyond their control.


Isn't this a legitimate problem with the site that I'm trying to suggest something ought to be done to improve?

The downvotes are saying that either they don't want the solution you propose or that the problem you suggest is not really a problem.

I'm in the latter camp:

Why should people put a lot of effort into writing code for a bounty question if the OP can just disappear and never award the bounty?

I have plenty of answers I put a lot of effort into that didn't get "rewarded" with a healthy number of upvotes. I've put little effort into some answers that got lots of upvotes.

Ultimately, we cannot judge how much effort you put into an answer and reward you based on that.

Take your particular case. Why should you be rewarded with the bounty? Your answer is no more highly upvoted than anyone else's? The only person who could judge the worthiness of your post, the guy who posted the bounty, opted not to judge anyone worthy.

In those cases, our algorithm for assigning the bounty passes the burden on to the community. The community weighed in... and your post didn't pass muster.

Life isn't fair.

Yes, it's unfortunate that you spent time and effort for a bounty you won't get. What would you suggest? Pick any post that just happened to be posted in that period, without any regard to whether it's a good answer or not?

Two upvotes is not a large burden to reach. If your answer can't reach that, then why should it deserve half the bounty rep?

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Yeah, I know I didn't get many upvotes. My answer came in long after the question was asked (with only a couple days to go in the bounty) and there just wasn't much traffic - so just not many voters period. It's not like anything else got many upvotes either. –  jfriend00 Apr 29 '12 at 1:38
    
@jfriend00: So on what basis, besides the effort you put into it, do you believe that you deserve that bounty? –  Nicol Bolas Apr 29 '12 at 1:41
    
Whether I deserved that bounty or not is not the point of my post. My post is about bounties in which the OP is just silent. The bounty expires and is never rewarded. –  jfriend00 Apr 29 '12 at 1:43
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@jfriend00: This only happens if no post added since then gets 2 or more votes. Which means that there's no conclusive way to pick a winner. –  Nicol Bolas Apr 29 '12 at 1:56
    
personally, I don't think automatically awarding the bounty to a post with 2 upvotes is necessarily a good solution either. The OP should be REQUIRED to finish the bounty. If they don't there should be some consequences for them. –  jfriend00 Apr 29 '12 at 2:01
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@jfriend00 By placing the bounty in the first place, the OP forfeits that rep whether or not he awards it. So what consequences could there be? –  simchona Apr 29 '12 at 2:15
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@jfriend00: That's patently ridiculous. You can't force someone to do something on a free website. I think you're getting way too attached to your reputation if you want to sanction someone for not awarding a bounty. And as others have pointed out, why sanction someone for what might be innocent reasons, like having to be away from the computer due to an illness or whatever? It's just rep; it's not money. –  Nicol Bolas Apr 29 '12 at 2:15
    
@NicolBolas - Why shouldn't someone be sanctioned for offering a bounty and then never coming back? The sanction can either be a multiplier of the bounty (2x, 3x) or a loss of privileges. –  jfriend00 Apr 29 '12 at 2:18
    
@simchona - use your thinking cap here. There are lots of possible ideas for consequences. They could lose additional rep points if they skip out on their bounty. They could lose privileges until they handle the bounty. SO already has lots of ways of dealing with people who don't follow the rules - use any one or combination of those. There are lots of tools if anyone thinks it's worth providing some accountability. –  jfriend00 Apr 29 '12 at 2:20
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@jfriend00: "Why shouldn't someone be sanctioned for offering a bounty and then never coming back?" Again, illness. Death in the family. Power outage. Anything. Why should someone be sanctioned for something that they couldn't change? –  Nicol Bolas Apr 29 '12 at 2:20
    
@NicolBolas - so you think there is no advantage to the site AT ALL by having some accountability for finishing your bounty? By either awarding it to one of the answers or declaring that no suitable answer was provided in the time period of the bounty + a grace period? So you think it's good that there is no accountability? –  jfriend00 Apr 29 '12 at 2:23
    
@jfriend00: "So you think it's good that there is no accountability?" No, I think you idea would be worse. Until you can explain how your system would not harm people who had good reasons not to be on SO awarding a bounty, your system is potentially doing far more harm than good. –  Nicol Bolas Apr 29 '12 at 2:27
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@jfriend00: Extending the "grace period" effectively means extending the time the bounty is active, because people can still post and be awarded a bounty. "It's like running a photo contest with a promise of a prize..." No, it's not. The purpose of SO is not just to help yourself or the person asking the question. The better answers help anyone who reads them. –  Nicol Bolas Apr 29 '12 at 2:53
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@jfriend00: Yes. Just as user's aren't forced to accept answers, they shouldn't be forced to award bounties. Indeed, I would say that not accepting answers is far more damaging to the site overall than an unassigned bounty. It leaves the question in an indeterminate state; nobody's sure if the OP has been satisfied or not. –  Nicol Bolas Apr 29 '12 at 3:36
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@jfriend00: "you have steadfastly refused to answer my question" I did answer your question. It was the first word in my post: Yes. Yes, I think that, just like accepting answers, users should not be coerced into awarding bounties. Any system you have come up thus far either significantly increases the bounty length period (thus working against the purpose of having bounties expire) or harms people who might have a reasonable excuse not to award the bounty. Perfect is the enemy of good; you shouldn't harm people just because they don't do everything exactly as you would like. –  Nicol Bolas Apr 29 '12 at 3:46

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