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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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Let's try it on this question. How much will you pay me to answer? :) –  user27414 Oct 12 '09 at 19:22
I would like to clarify that I am not sure whether it is a good idea. I just want to see what other people think. –  Elias Zamaria Oct 12 '09 at 19:23
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): meta.stackexchange.com/questions/17900 and meta.stackexchange.com/questions/14172 –  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
meta.witcoin.com is attempting something similar (see bitcoin.org) –  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... –  Cawas 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

8 Answers 8

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
Agreed. Despite spending 90% of time writing haskell and reading things about good programming practice, I write shitty code to get a freelance job done. +1 –  Dhaivat Pandya Nov 9 '11 at 23:49
@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
Disagreed. This feature would be used rarely and it would be good because only really important questions people would pay money as bounty. And, if it was made with Bitcoins, it would be even better, because the people could work with less than US$ 0,01. It would be fun, for sure. –  Felipe Micaroni Lalli Dec 2 '12 at 19:48
This answer just won $100000 (unicorn dollars) –  Shadow Wizard Jan 27 at 7:47
@Shog9. Just saw this question linked in a duplicate. After reading it, for a second I though of putting a paypal donation link in my profile page "Donate 5$ for buying extra ram for our SharePoint server".... :P –  SPArchaeologist Jan 27 at 9:48

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

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 illbreakyourkneecapsoverflow.com –  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

At that point, why not just post the job on one of the many coder-for-hire sites?

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These sites usually work with a "post job" -> "review candidates" -> "pick candidate" -> "wait for result" -> "pay candidate" workflow and they (at least Elance, $50) have minimum project sizes. A competition system, where the person asking the questions picks the winner (if any), is much more efficient for the person asking the question: "ask question" -> "review answers" -> "pick winner" -> "pay". Reviewing answers is also much faster than reviewing candidates, because others with the same question are helping. –  Sjors Provoost Jul 25 '11 at 4:14
Pick winner is a horrible system. Graphic artists are usually subjected to this type of system early on before they get a good portfolio built up. Needless to say, it's resulted in employment abuse and an ever decreasing quality as pay gets less and less and less. Also hurts the economy because if people aren't paid for their attempts, then those people don't spend back into the economy and end up on welfare checks. Great for the person looking to hire (or looking for results), as they get the best possible product. But, eventually it starves the workforce out, and then there's no one to work. –  Lee Louviere Jul 11 '12 at 18:24

I think it's a lovely idea and makes sense - from the point of view of the user who's asking a 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. There are actually attempts of doing just that on the web.

Nevertheless, the idea is still in the air for someone to bring a good solution to it. Just not here, please.

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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


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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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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