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I have an idea for dealing with a question you badly want to be answered, which no one will answer, even after you've offered a large bounty: cash.

Users can offer cash, and whoever has the accepted answer can be paid, possibly via PayPal.

Does this sound like a good idea?

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Just a note: Downvotes can simply mean someone disapproves of your feature request. – Troggy Oct 12 '09 at 19:30
@Troggy: I think it was suggested on uservoice (probably several times). I don't know if that suggestion was ever migrated here. – Joel Coehoorn Oct 12 '09 at 20:38
Similar questions (but not quite dupes): and – John Rudy Oct 13 '09 at 2:48
@Troggy: The second one's the closest, but I guess if it's a real dupe it's not been migrated here from uservoice. (Not that I ever participated in uservoice ... So I don't know for fact it was there, but I'll readily take Joel Coehoorn's word on that.) – John Rudy Oct 13 '09 at 2:56 is attempting something similar (see – ripper234 Mar 24 '11 at 15:38
You could just "donate" to Stack Overflow by sponsoring a tag or placing some advertising. That way you get to spend your money and SO gets some income. – ChrisF Mar 30 '11 at 14:47
The fact this question still doesn't have the status-declined tag makes me wonder... – cregox Apr 14 '11 at 19:41
What's to say that you actually pay them when you get an answer? – Cole Johnson Apr 18 '13 at 23:19
In fact, real money were once offered on MathOverflow, but it was before it joined the SE network.…… – Martin Aug 23 '14 at 7:08
Bad Idea! Things get messy when money is involved. – Salman A Nov 14 '14 at 8:00
Isn't bribery illegal? – PythonMaster Mar 8 '15 at 16:01
How about for-fee questions have answers only visible to the OP? That would stop the flaming and down voting. Let the OP decide which answer is of the highest value. – Mark Richman Apr 12 '15 at 2:13

If I know the answer but am not willing to put the time in to answer your question for free... then I'm probably not gonna do it for $20 either.

But someone will.

Guaranteed, someone, somewhere has time to burn and needs cash. No guarantee they know the answer, mind you... but they'll take a guess at it. And since they really need that $20, they'll likely hang around and down-vote any other answers, while picking fights with anyone who criticizes theirs. Just look at the little fights people get into over rep now, and spice it up with some desperation...

So if you just want answers, and lots of 'em, but don't really care if they actually answer the question... And if you love flame wars... Then yes, this is a great idea.

If you like anything about the way the site works now, then it's a terrible idea.

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That's a valid concern, but it's only an hypothesis. I'm not familiar with any websites when you can offer rewards for crowd-sourced tech advise. Either they tried and failed, in which case you're probably right, or nobody tried. I think bad behavior can be discouraged. You can detect unreasonable down-votes and spamming. – Sjors Provoost Jul 25 '11 at 4:10
@Sjors: actually, I'm aware of several sites that have tried this. Google Answers was probably one of the larger attempts... That you aren't immediately aware of this speaks to the lack of success they achieved. ;-) – Shog9 Nov 12 '11 at 2:47
I had this idea (question) and after reading this answer, the answer makes so much sense. – TJ- Nov 30 '12 at 9:25
This answer just won $100000 (unicorn dollars) – Shadow Wizard Jan 27 '14 at 7:47
@Shog9. Just saw this question linked in a duplicate. After reading it, for a second I though of putting a paypal donation link in my profile page "Donate 5$ for buying extra ram for our SharePoint server".... :P – SPArchaeologist Jan 27 '14 at 9:48
I wish I could upvote this multiple times. It's the answer to every "why can't SO answers be rewarded with real money" question that comes up. – Marco A. Feb 25 '15 at 15:59
The OP can award the bounty to any answer he likes, it does not depend on the voting behavior of others. – emcor Jun 13 '15 at 15:47
I wonder: could you even prevent (technically or legally) a third party running their own platform with such a reward system? It doesn't take more than a link to SE and Stripe integration to offer a cash bounty, and one could use SE OAuth to authenticate answerers. – Raphael Jun 13 at 17:26
In theory, you could hire someone to do anything legal, including answering questions on SO @Raphael. In practice, someone actually did set up a site based on SO data for this exact purpose. Last I checked, it wasn't doing all that well, but hey - give 'em props for ignoring the haters and actually trying it I guess. – Shog9 Jun 13 at 18:24

Joel and Jeff talked about this on one of the podcasts... they believe offering financial incentives reinforces the wrong behavior.

People should be motivated to answer questions because they are interested in the field, not because they are offered some money.

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A bit like paying blood donors. – pavium Oct 12 '09 at 23:40
Blood donors get paid? And here all the while in Australia, it's done out of some social good. Pfft. – random Oct 13 '09 at 0:35
Yeah, people do start a bounty for rare blood groups. I know college students who sell blood once in a while and buys alcohol with the bounty :) – Amarghosh Oct 13 '09 at 9:59
"they believe offering financial incentives reinforces the wrong behavior." - So... they don't pull a salary/shares from Stack parent company? :) – DVK Mar 22 '10 at 2:37
Does anyone have a link about this? – Aaron Digulla Jul 21 '10 at 8:40
By the same reasoning, we should do away with rep bounties. – Raphael Jun 13 at 17:27

Yeah, and after you answer, if the person refuses to pay up, Jeff and Joel should have to mediate the dispute. Or, maybe we can just migrate the question to LawyerOverflow?

Sorry, but no...

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I would have suggested – user27414 Oct 12 '09 at 19:34
I agree that dispute resolution risks being very expensive. Escrow can solve part of that problem, so does having clear rules about how a question should be phrased and how an answer is considered correct or incorrect (the latter two being useful in a free system too. – Sjors Provoost Jul 25 '11 at 4:18
That's silly. A trustee system could clearly work: the person offering the bounty would have to pay upfront and wouldn't get it back. Every purchase on the web paid for with PayPal or credit card works that way. – Raphael Jun 13 at 17:29

The Economics of Selling Information:

This may sound like an overgeneralization, but it seems that when you pay to have humans answer your questions, you often talk to so-called experts, and when you get answers for free, you either talk to a librarian, a random stranger, or an open source aficionado. The difference between the Google Answers' model and the public/academic library model appears mainly that when a librarian gives a patron a response to their reference query, the patron tends not to argue with her. If she tells the patron the question has no definitive answer, that response is more likely taken as fact rather than a personal failing on the librarian's part. The fact that all library patrons share the time of the librarians tends to encourage a polite acceptance that each patron's specific question is one of many needing to be answered.

In the Google Answers arena, I have seen researchers insulted, sworn at, and otherwise degraded by people not happy with the responses they received, when you might think that just not paying for the answer would be reprobation enough. Part of the Google Answers standards of conduct include politeness and friendliness at all times and not discussing Google policies or pricing with question askers. Catering and kowtowing to upset customers at the expense of explaining to them that their question was priced too low or phrased too poorly became a trade-off I had difficulty making.

While I enjoyed my time at Google Answers, I was soured by people asking $4 questions and not being satisfied with the depth of the responses they received, responses that had clearly taken a fair amount of the researcher's time. One of the strict rules at Google Answers forbids discussing the amount of money offered for a question. If the questioner offers too little, the researcher should simply refuse to answer their question. Of course, in the competition for scarce questions, this never happened, except in extreme instances. It seemed indelicate or rude to point out to a questioner that if they had placed a higher price on a response, they might have gotten better research and more time from the researcher. Is the customer always right if they want skilled research for $4 an hour? This "customer is always right" philosophy that pervades marketplace interactions seemed to override personal senses of reasonableness in many cases. Google Answers is currently working on guidelines for what kinds of questions most appropriately fit into the various price ranges. Researchers will welcome this tool.

The fact that there are people willing to answer a potentially difficult question for $1.87 does not mean that it is a good idea to encourage people to expect more research for less money, especially when supposedly interacting with experts. The Google Answers system prides itself on having talented workers and yet at the same time encourages — though does not force — them to frequently work for a fraction of the price that degreed, experienced experts could earn for the same work. While determining the free market value of this sort of information retrieval and presentation — most of which is available online, for free — is tricky, my experience working for Google Answers made me feel more often like I was being paid to do Google searches that the questioners didn't have the time or the skill to do, rather than using my research background and abilities to turn facts into actual knowledge.

In summary: There is far greater demand for (paid) work than there is for helpful people. Therefore people fight for paid work even when they don't really understand what they are supposed to be doing. Helpful people are a plentiful and easily "exploited" resource on the internet since having a computer and the time to surf implies a prerequisite degree of financial stability and generosity. Paid work and stingy answers go hand-in-hand. I have noticed that the best answers are often posted by individuals who merely researched the question for themselves. An expert well often post a link to an answer as a comment and then a fellow inquisitor who has more of a work ethic than the asker and more interest than the the expert (who already understood) will write up the answer found at the link. 99% of Stack-exchange questions are answered in books. Taken from this perspective the majority of Stack Exchange questions are reference-requests.

The process of creating scientific journals provides significant insights into the lengths that intellectuals will go to both pursue their interests and pad their resumes with little or no financial compensation. They are the antithesis of businessmen. I think a lot of this goes back to the psychology of melancholy individuals who tend to form a majority of the intellectuals: melancholies love recognition.

Stack Exchange currently is a facilitator in the sense that it lowers the transaction costs between an interested individual and someone more knowledgeable. Instead of e-mailing numerous experts I post a question and the available and helpful ones generously share their expertise.

Prestige is its own reward.

"It is the glory of God to conceal a matter, But the glory of kings is to search out a matter. Proverbs 25:2."

Oliver Heavenside rejected financial compensation from Bell Laboratories for his work showing that a transmission line wrapped in a conductor has improved efficiency. He was holding out with the stated goal that he be given "sole credit" for the discovery.

Finally: It is more blessed to give than to receive. Helping on Stack Exchange is giving.

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Nice quote, but what is your answer? How do you see this guy's experience translating into monetary bounties being a good or bad plan for SE? – Caleb Jul 5 '13 at 19:10
I believe you meant Heaviside? – Ben Voigt Dec 28 '14 at 3:46
@Caleb I believe it is a bad plan to offer money. If I want to pay I will ask a real expert with credibility outside SE and pay them properly. There are certain expectations when people pay money, and those would be hard to fulfill. More people would be put off than encouraged. – Dale Dec 30 '14 at 19:29

I think it's a lovely idea and makes sense - from a blind point of view of a person asking the question.

But allow me to sum up what others have pointed: the money would corrupt the community.

Picture an eBay for buying rather than selling. You'd auction for what you want to buy, and interested sellers would browse for buyers. There are actually attempts of doing just that on the web.

I think the whole idea is still in the air (even 5 years later now) for someone to bring a good solution to it, eventually. Just not here, please.

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On a less frequently visited stack exchange site, I asked a question, and put this in as a comment under the question:

0.25 bitcoins to whoever can gets me the best usable answer in the next 2 days. Just put your address in the comment to your answer.

It is totally ad-hoc and left up to my judgement. I probably wouldn't do this in a board where I knew I was going to get an answer anyway in less than a day. Sometimes you need an answer now, and you would be willing to toss in money to get that answer.

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This should be tested

You should at the very least run a limited test of this feature in order to see how it goes and validate some of the assumptions that have been mentioned.

All of of the objections I've seen on this thread and elsewhere sound reasonable, but none of them are good enough to justify writing this feature off entirely without even testing it.

If it worked, it could be an amazing addition to SE, not to mention a minor source of revenue for SE and developers.


People who are desperate for money will abuse the system

Well, sure, people will try. The whole point of SE is that it's very good at detecting and preventing abuse.

The link juice and traffic that SE provides currently is already a massive incentive for abuse, and yet they're able to handle it very well.

The same could be said about point bounties - because they are an enhanced incentive they increase the potential for fraud.

People should answer questions because they're interested in the field not because they are offered money

People respond to incentives. If people are supposed to answer purely and only because of their interest, then why have points and badges in the first place?

Why not just post the question on another freelance project site?

You could say the same thing about SE's resume and job posting services. Why not just use existing services that are out there?

The answer is that SE has an amazing community behind it. The chances that my question will be answered quickly and accurately are simply much higher on SE than basically anywhere else.

Introducing a cash economy into a helping/gratitude economy is usually problematic:

I don't see how this applies.

What happened in that study is that people basically expected more "service" once they started paying for it. Instead of picking up their kids 20 minutes late, they started picking them up an hour late because now they're paying for it.

I guess the analogy might be that askers would become more lazy with their questions when they were paying for them, because they assume they should get more "service" and not have to spend as much time preparing a well-framed question.

Sure, it's possible that money could decrease the quality of questions, but let's test it to find out.

Again the same could be said about point bounties. Because people are offering a bounty, they'll get lazy about their question and just assume it will be answered because of the bounty. But in fact it's usually the opposite - bountied questions have even more thought put into them, because the asker has more skin in the game.

Same would likely be true for paid bounties.

What if the person doesn't pay?

Seriously? Just do the same thing as what is done for point bounties! Make them pre-pay with no guarantee of getting an answer.

If money was offered, it would feel like work so I wouldn't want to do it in my free time any more.

I don't see why you'd feel less incentivized. Maybe slightly more incentivized but most likely you'd just feel the same. It's not like this would be your day job - who wouldn't want some extra pocket change for something they're already doing for free, particularly when they're creating value for someone else.

At any rate, the number of paid bounties is going to be very low. Kind of like how the occurrence of point bounties is quite rare compared to regular questions.

So the presence of paid bounties likely wouldn't impact 99% of what you're already doing on SE.

A Use case

Here's the use case that I have in mind. Someone has an urgent situation that they'd be willing to spend $100 or $200 to get resolved right away because it's important.

Sure they could find somebody on elance for that amount. But highly skilled developers aren't going to be available at a moment's notice off of elance, even if you paid market or above market rates.

SE is in a unique position to be able to connect the highly skilled developers who are available within minutes of the question being posted with the people asking the questions who need a quick answer.

And yes, SE already works extremely well to handle exactly this scenario, without any money exchanging hands - which is awesome.

But what if you have a particularly hairy issue and the only answers that you've gotten haven't been fully baked or require additional time to validate that you just don't have at the moment.

You'd be willing to pay $100 or $200 for a rock solid answer that just works. Someone who might normally spend 10 or 15 minutes answering the question now has a little more incentive to go ahead and spend the full 20 or 30 minutes to give that rock solid answer that's needed.

Sure there's the possibility that the developer spends the 30 minutes and then the asker says they didn't feel the quality of the answer was high enough, and so the developer is frustrated by that. But that's an existing problem on the site just with the point system.

People answer questions all the time and don't even get them marked as the answer or upvoted at all. There can be mechanisms to help with this such as the askers rate of marking a question as answered, etc.

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I think the Freakonomics study does apply, here the likely outcome is that people will be unmotivated to ask good questions, because they are paying for "the right" (so to speak) to ask poor questions, much like parents felt they were paying for the right to keep their kids late at day care. +1 because I would like to see paid models tested more in the wild, but I'm honestly skeptical that they will bear fruit. – kojiro Aug 23 '14 at 4:38
Right that's basically what I said and I think there is an analog in point bounties which doesn't turn out to decrease answer quality. At any rate, I'm skeptical that it would work as well! I just think it merits testing! :) – kalenjordan Aug 23 '14 at 6:14
Having driven part-time for Lyft the past few months I'm convinced the best thing ever created to reduce the number of drunk drivers on the road is the profit motive. Anectodal, yes, but the reported experiences of so many other ridesharing drivers suggests to me this is normal. I have been hoping some genuine study on the matter will be done, but it seems to be in opposition to the claims above. – Paul Nov 11 '14 at 16:21
Another counter argument is that if someone is wiling to pay for something, then they likely have more at stake. If the question is poorly asked and put on hold, then they will be incentivized to improve the question, quite unlike many of the current newcomers asking questions. Conversely, if a poorly asked question can be answered by fewer respondents, then the respondents will make more money through reduced competition. – Paul Nov 11 '14 at 16:27


But, to prevent excessive use of this feature, questions can have a minimum price tag, for example say $25. That way people still answer free questions and not every question is a $1 dollar question that forces other good (free) questions to be ignored.

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You can already do this without modifying the existing stackexchange culture: just refer to it from a HIT in Amazon Mechanical Turk (which suffers from precisely the motivational/behavioral challenges discussed above)

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