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The bounties are a great feature and the idea that they need to be linked to your reputation is crucial, but should they really reduce your reputation?

A simple alternative would be to have reputation separate from bounty points. Every reputation point earned is a bounty point earned, and every reputation point lost is a bounty point lost, but every bounty point spent is not a reputation point lost.

Another user has asked a relevant question: Is using reputation to buy bounties polluting the meaning of reputation?

Reputation is supposed to be a reflection of your contributions to the web site - very loosely a measure of how much the system/community "trusts" you (whatever that means). However, I've noticed that more people these days seems to be viewing rep as a commodity or currency to be traded in exchange for something.

I like this description because it describes what reputation should mean ("reflection of your contributions"), but also what it becomes because of blunts ("a commodity or currency"). The simple solution is keep reputation and currency separate.

One thing I must point out is that I have never made a bounty, so my experience with the system is limited. But a lack of experience is experience: my meager ~1500 rep on SO is precious to me, so I have intentionally avoided giving bounties. But I would like to reward those kind souls who answer some of my more obscure questions.

I imagine that one of the greatest advantages of my proposal is that it helps encourage more obscure questions. Its easy to find answers to popular questions on SO, but obscure ones that only a handful of people experience often go unanswered. They aren't off topic, they just aren't popular, and thus not rewarding to answer. By encouraging bounties, we encourage people asking and answering more good but obscure questions.

Update with some scenarios

A friend of my friend is my friend:

User A answers 1000 questions and earns 100,000 points, greatly contributing to the community. User A has a big problem which no one is able to answer, so he spends 100,000 bound points on 1 question. User B has just started using the site, sees User A's question, provides the perfect answer, and leaps to 100,000 rep in an instant. Is this fair? Yes - because a friend of my friend is my friend. User B has contributed very little to the community directly, but he has contributed very greatly to User A who himself has contributed greatly to the community, so User B has contributed greatly to the community indirectly by proxy.

A flood of bounties

Suppose hundreds of high-rep users flood the site with bountied questions? Is this good? Yes - the more questions the better... as long as they have good answers. Will they be answered? The harder the question, the higher the bounty will need to be to get an answer. So those high-rep users will have to put a higher bounty for a higher question.

What about low-rep users (like myself)? If high-rep users are putting high bounties on questions, who will ever look at the questions asked by users who can't afford bounties? High bounty questions have a lot of competition, so there is still incentive to answer low or no bounty questions to make a modest amount of points for less work.

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    Bounties should be costly. You are investing some of your reputation in the promotion of a question you care about. Disconnecting this from your reputation would make bounties a lot less valuable, in my opinion. Dec 11 '13 at 22:27
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    Question; when you are awarded a bounty what sort of reputation is that? Dec 11 '13 at 22:31
  • Bounties will still be costly because you still have a limit to how much you can use. And "costly" is relative. My proposal would obvious introduce a lot more "currency" into the system, which introduces inflation, decreasing the value of the existing currency. Dec 11 '13 at 22:32
  • I could get behind "community-sponsored" bounties (i.e. created out of thin air) for specific, defined questions that deserve it (e.g. highly upvoted questions in low-visibility tags). But making bounties completely free would make them (and rep) completely devoid of meaning
    – Pekka
    Dec 11 '13 at 22:36
  • As I understand it, people use bounty to encourage answers for questions that otherwise have no good answers. So, when you are "awarded" a bounty, you are awarded reputation for making a good answer where there was none before. The currency model encourages this more. Dec 11 '13 at 22:38
  • I didn't say bounties should be free. In my question I proposed that bounty points are earned alongside reputation. Dec 11 '13 at 22:39
  • Did you see this related request that was declined? Dec 12 '13 at 0:52
  • Nice try! Very creative idea but, no, it doesn't fly.
    – brasofilo
    Dec 12 '13 at 3:47
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No, I disagree that bounties and reputation should be disconnected.

You put a bounty on a question because you want to promote that question, draw more attention to it. And you want that so badly, that you are willing to stake your reputation on it.

Note that a bounty can also attract more upvotes. Indirectly, if the question is a good one, bounties earn you more reputation.

And if you are lucky enough and the bounty attracted one or more good answers as well, the bounty is transferred to one of the answerers, and they gain reputation.

If you were to disconnect bounties from reputation and only subtract from a 'bounty pool' that grows along with your reputation, then you remove the incentive to think twice about investing.

Yes, you can run out of bounty points, but no-one would really notice. Plenty a high-reputation user would go out on a bounty-binge; I could give people 185 thousand reputation points without ever seeing my reputation diminish, for example. This can and will lead to a huge skew in reputation as suddenly there are twice as many reputation points floating around, albeit that some of it is temporarily locked away in 'bounty points'.

Next thing you know, awarded bounties are not added to the answerer reputation anymore either, to compensate for this skew. And poof, most motivation for answering a question with a bounty is now gone.

Another aspect is that it would make setting bounties too cheap. With a 'bounty rep' to spend, on Stack Overflow we'd have 100.000 users can easily afford a 500 point bounty for their pet question. That would totally devalue any meaning a bounty has. Every other question would have a bounty, and none of them would be special anymore. No one bountied question would stand out from that forest.

So no, bounties should stay firmly connected to your reputation. It should cost you your standing in the community, if only a little.

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  • You used the analogy that you "stake your reputation on it", but usually when you stake your reputation on something in the real world, when you win you don't lose your reputation. So there should be a cost that is separate from your reputation, but earned by your reputation. Dec 11 '13 at 22:41
  • "Plenty a high-reputation user would go out on a bounty-binge;" Exactly! High reputation is therefore greatly encouraged! Dec 11 '13 at 22:44
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    @RichardVenable: Yes, that's not the best of analogies. But the real problem here is that a separate bounty reputation either doubles the total reputation out there, or bounties become meaningless altogether. Dec 11 '13 at 22:45
  • @RichardVenable: What is your goal here, really? You make it now sound as if not enough people set bounties. If bounties do not subtract from your reputation, I can tell you here and now that the number of bounties placed will skyrocket, making bounties meaningless. Dec 11 '13 at 22:48
  • Increasing the number of bounties placed does not make them meaningless if the number of bounties being answered increases as well. Once high reputation users binge away all their bounty points, they will go out and earn more so that they can keep binging. Binging on Stack Overflow is good for everyone! Dec 11 '13 at 22:51
  • I can set 370 500 point bounties before I would need to earn more 'bounty rep'. How fast do you think I'll spend that? You really need to look at the numbers here a bit more. Dec 11 '13 at 22:54
  • Martjin, you have 50k reputation points. You would then have 50k bounty points. What would you spend them on? You could have people answer all kinds of questions that you couldn't get answers to before, and people would have a lot of incentive. You might think you would ask selfish questions, but with the information out there, someone else might find the answer useful as well. And wouldn't you start looking to answer more bounties to keep on binging? Dec 11 '13 at 22:55
  • @RichardVenable: Loads of other people have that much or more. They would all be able to post loads of bounties. No post is special anymore when all posts have a bounty.. Dec 11 '13 at 22:56
  • I agree that this system implies a ton of changes, and perhaps the community is not ready for such a shift, but how can you say that it discourages question and answer? Dec 11 '13 at 22:56
  • Bounties affect how much incentive people have to answer a question, not how much incentive people have to ask a question. When you place a bounty on something, that doesn't encourage people to up vote the question as much as it encourages them to answer the question. So posts with a lot of up votes are still special in their own right. And I assume you and others would manage your own currency well enough to not spend them all on simple questions - so people would still have to work hard to answer them. The hard they have to work, the more you still have to offer. Its economics. Dec 11 '13 at 23:02
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Yes. Bounties should use up your reputation. That's the entire point of it. The bounty mechanism is simply a way to either award an exemplary existing answer, or to get a better answer to your question. Imagine if bounties were free. Every question would have a bounty, and therefore every accepted answer would have a +50 or +500 bonus. Cue the rep inflation, and the subsequent deflation of the value of bounties. If you really want to reward someone without losing your precious rep, accept their answer and upvote one or two of their exemplary posts (Don't just vote on some of their random posts. Vote on the post, not the person). Also, I've noticed that often, giving bounties increases a person's rep, since you only need 10 up votes to compensate for giving bounties, and if you've asked a good question, and placed a bounty on it, a lot of people will come to your question, and as a result, a good fraction of them will up vote it.

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The simple solution is keep reputation and currency separate.

I think you have to let go the currency way of thinking, completely. If you really want to speak in forms of currency, then just accept that reputation is the currency on Stack Exchange.

Furthermore, I disagree that the cost of a bounty is equal to the reputation loss. Stretching your own analogy with real world reputation, reputation on SO is much more than that single point count. For instance, badges are a measurable property that add to reputation (b.t.w., there are four badges associated with bounties), and the total participatory effort within the community also contributes to reputation. In the real world, as well as experienced here on SO: the more you give, the more you gain. If you fully contribute; edit posts, comment in a useful and maybe educational manner, explain your answers, flag where flags are needed, attend frequently, and maybe reward posts with bounties, the more "community-reputation" you get.

I imagine that one of the greatest advantages of my proposal is that it helps encourage more obscure questions.

Yes, a bounty on an odd question helps getting more attention, as it will with any other question. But there are more thinkable solutions for getting more attention to odd questions.

Keep in mind that bounties are special. If we set the implementation of your proposal aside and strip the question to "how can we make bounties more available?", then it will always turn out in an increase of the number of bounties. The more bounties, the lesser attention: mission incompleted.

my meager ~1500 rep on SO is precious to me, so I have intentionally avoided giving bounties.

The cheapest bounty costs 50 rep. That is 3%. Is that really too much for getting the answer you obviously really need?

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  • "The more bounties, the lesser attention". The same could be said of questions: "The more questions, the lesser attention". But we need to encourage more questions with quality answers. Dec 11 '13 at 23:46
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    Your question doesn't stand out anymore because there are so much other questions. But now even your bounty doesn't stand out anymore because there are so much other bounties. What then; a super-bounty?
    – NGLN
    Dec 11 '13 at 23:53
  • Yes - a super bounty. What is wrong with that? SO is effective because questions that are relevant to many people stand out in the long run, even without bounties. If you are resorting to a bounty it is most likely because you asked a difficult question, or because it is not interesting to many others, etc. What is wrong with having these sorts of questions having varying bounty levels? BTW, I updated my question with some scenarios to address some of your concerns. Thanks for contributing objections! :) Dec 12 '13 at 0:19

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