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Bounties are always awarded to the original author of an answer. Occasionally, it would be nice to be able to award a bounty to someone who contributed an important part of the puzzle.

An example I have in mind is a “reference” question, typically community wiki, on a common topic, where the goal is to have a single answer that covers 90% of the cases (so that similar questions can be closed as its duplicate, and people can concentrate on solving the remaining 10% of harder cases). As the system stands now, a bounty would reward the person who started the answer, not the later most worthy contributor.

Related: Accept Multiple Answers or Split Bounty among Several Users. But I don't want to split a bounty between multiple answers: I want to encourage people to improve the “canonical” answer, not to compete with it.

Also related: Collaborative Answers / Point-Sharing. I agree that most regular edits shouldn't be so important as to require reputation, but reference questions and bounties are an unusual case in the first place.

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Applies more widely than reference questions. I have just had a series of questions where virtually every contribution, whether comment or answer was helpful and enabled me to move forward to a final solution. Awarding the bounty became arbitary and felt unfair to all the contributors who had helped me on my way. –  Chris Walton Apr 30 '11 at 17:21
    
Oh, the picture has unicorns! Actually, only one, sadly. –  Costique Feb 12 '12 at 17:46
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Makes edit so he can get the precious bounty –  Ben Brocka Jul 11 '12 at 0:03
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+1. When I edit either a question or answer, I do not take the responsibility lightly and put almost as much effort into it as posting an answer. I think that when a question shows quality English with a clear intent that it speeds up the process of getting a quality answer. –  Gayot Fow Jul 7 '13 at 1:52
    
related: How can I acknowledge, thank, or otherwise approve of an edit? "Pay it forward..." –  gnat Sep 13 '13 at 21:43

2 Answers 2

As someone who has neither awarded nor received a bounty, my thinking about this is purely theoretical.

Let us say that we allow the bounty to be broken up, with parts awarded in varying fractions to user A who edited the question, user B who made an insightful comment, user C who provided a partial solution, and user D who capped it all off.

How could this (complex system) be managed, and how could it be gamed?

Since users who offer a bounty have enough rep on SO to do so, I say that they can in general be trusted. So they should be able to award bounties within a preset range of outcomes.

Proposal 1 Bounties can continue to be awarded as per the current method.
Proposal 2 Discussion of specific bounty allocations is always off topic. If there is a problem, it should be flagged for moderator attention.
Proposal 3 Appeals to should only be considered where an attempt to game the system is suspected.
Proposal 4 Only bounties of 100 points or more can be distributed.
Proposal 5 Bounties should be automatically accepted by the system according to the following recommendations:

  • editors may receive from 0-10%
  • the author of the accepted answer may receive from 50%-100%
  • the author of the answer with the most up votes may receive from 25%-50%
  • the author of a contributing answer may receive from 0-25%
  • the author of the comment with the most up votes may receive from 0-10%

In the example above, user A could be awarded 10%, user B could be awarded 10%, user C could be awarded 25%, and user D could be awarded 55%. In another scenario, user A could be awarded 0%, user B could be awarded 10%, user C (providing a solution expanded by user D) could be awarded 50%, and user D could be awarded 40%.
Bounties that are not within these guidelines should be automatically flagged for moderator review.

(These guidelines are not yet completely self-consistent; please suggest improvements).

Negatives

  • It's complicated. Such a system would be a significant effort to build. It would probably take several iterations to get right. A whole new UI would be needed for the bounty offerer to allocate their bounty, and possibly variation of it for moderators to be able review / change the allocations.
  • A new load on moderators. Nuf said.

Can it be gamed?
Yes. For example, the author of "a contributing answer [that] may receive from 0-25%". A user may choose to allocate those points to a buddy who is not really deserving. Assuming no other user flags it for mod attention, this could be done repeatedly to "help" the buddy. Adjusting the checks already made to catch serial up voting to include serial bounty awards would catch this scenario.

Conclusion
Surely we can find a simpler way! Proposals?

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Yes, the simple way is: create a new bounty category, one that can be assigned to someone who revised a post. –  jmac Oct 4 '13 at 4:09

Although not an ideal solution, since it doesn't allow a currently running bounty to be awarded to a contributor (I understand that's the feature request):

You can always award a bounty to a specific editor on one of their other answers.

That way, if you feel a particularly good contribution deserves some rep, you can still award them some!

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Why would I award a bounty to a post that's unrelated to the bounty? The bounty is still supposed to reward the contribution, not the person. –  Gilles Jul 7 '13 at 0:12
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@Gilles It's your only option at the moment. –  Danny Beckett Jul 7 '13 at 0:15
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@DannyBeckett There is always option to not do it. –  Alois Mahdal Jul 17 '13 at 17:24

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