This isn't a feature request, because I don't have a concrete answer, but I noticed a behavior, it seems poor, and if we aren't doing something about it, I feel like we should be doing something about it.

Personal story. Someone I know offline posted a question on how to do a specific thing in ExtendScript. It's an ExtendScript question, and there aren't a whole lot of people who work in that space, so it got no answers. As a favor to them, I posted a bounty on it (I also upvoted it, as I thought it was a well-written question).

It got an answer that essentially consisted of a single link that didn't address the actual question at hand (essentially saying "oh, you're doing javascript stuff with video. You should use this plugin"). I downvoted the answer, as it was a terrible answer, and left a note as to why. The original poster of the question edited it to make it even clearer what was being asked. The first answerer deleted his initial answer, and then posted another answer which was essentially the same thing, along with a poorly formatted summary of what the plugin he was pushing did. It attracted a second answer from someone else basically just pushing the same plugin. I downvoted and commented both, as they utterly failed to be meaningful attempts to answer the actual question. The grace period for the bounty expired, the bounty was not awarded, and both responders deleted their answers shortly thereafter.

So, no complaints about the bounty system itself. Seems to be pretty well tuned. It's this behavior of people finding bountied questions that they know they don't know the answer to, and posting answers that they know are inadequate, in the hopes that the person who posted the bounty will award it out of some feeling of social obligation, or that the question will somehow get 2 upvotes, and they'll walk away with half the bounty by default.

This adds nothing to the site. It detracts from the bounty system, as questions that have bounties but don't have any meaningful answers look like they've been answered during the bounty period. It seems like it leads to a pattern of behavior that should be pretty easy to track somehow or other. I'm thinking we should discourage this. What should we do to discourage this?

  • Sleaze bounties! Woo hoo! – Andrew Barber Oct 22 '13 at 14:48
  • If you award another bounty on the same question, I'll post a cool youtube video with kittens as an answer. Maybe you can award me the bounty then? :-D – Laf Oct 22 '13 at 15:14

What should we do to discourage this?

What you did: downvote bad answers. Your story boils down to "somebody tried to do something I disapprove of, but systems already in place prevented the plan from succeeding."

There is one more level of "doing something about it" and that is flagging non answers, but do so carefully: a bad answer is still an answer, and deserves only a downvote, not a flag.

(A sidenote: the fact the bad answerers deleted their downvoted answers (or the answers were so bad a mod deleted them) leads me to conclude the answerers are missing some important information about how the SO system works and soon will be unable to post more answers. This is something that just happens to those who consistently misunderstand the SO system, and not something anyone can do to someone else. But it's another example of how, over time, the system already discourages/stops behaviours that the community doesn't like.)

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  • At least one of the deleted answers was deleted by a mod (correctly, I'd say) – Servy Oct 22 '13 at 14:44
  • Fair enough. The fact that self-deletion can lead to answer lock actually does address the issue pretty well. I might like to see a more targeted solution, but it is being covered. – Ben Barden Oct 22 '13 at 16:05

I'm failing to see a problem here. The low quality posts were downvoted, deleted, and didn't get the bounty or take it away from any deserving answer. The answers in no way prevented a high quality answer from being posted.

The question also got additional attention that it wouldn't have gotten without the bounty. It didn't result in quality answers, but keep in mind that bounties are there to attract attention, and that attention may or may not result in quality answers.

It sounds like everything about the system was working perfectly. It's unfortunate enough that even with a bounty there was nobody capable and willing to post a high quality answer, but I can't see any change to the system at all that would have resulted in a better outcome. Perhaps the question was too hard and the pool of capable answerers was too small, perhaps the question just wasn't interesting or engaging for experts, or maybe those capable of posting a quality answer just happened to not see it, even with the bounty. These things happen.

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  • The problem is that having answers on a question discourages people from even opening the question to look at it. A bounty question with no answers is more likely to get attention than a bounty question with answers, because readers assume (correctly) that having answers already means that it may already be covered, and they're less likely to open it in the first place. The behavior of posting answers that the posters themselves know are low-quality just to get a bounty seems trackable, and I feel that it ought to be discouraged. – Ben Barden Oct 22 '13 at 15:39
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    @BenBarden It is discouraged. Bad answers result in downvotes, and the increased visibility, resulting from the bounty, results in even more downvotes than on a normal question. Bountied questions get lots of attention even if they do have answers, by people interested in getting the bounty. That's the point. A very high quality answer that's reasonaly likely to get a bounty can discourage users, as can an accepted answer, but not really low quality downvoted answers. – Servy Oct 22 '13 at 15:41

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