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One of the reasons for opening a bounty on a question is:

Draw attention

This question has not received enough attention.

I believe this question requesting a console for Stack Snippets has not had sufficient attention. It was posted soon after Stack Snippets went live, and has gone unimplemented for more than a year and a half now. In that time, I've started bounties on it, repeatedly, awarding them when the time came to the best answer I saw there other than my own. The poster of that answer has done the same thing, awarding the bounties to me. (It's not been a continuous thing; a total of three each way over the course of roughly a year.) The fact he/she keeps awarding bounties to me, and I to him/her, has the side-effect, of course, that neither his/her rep nor mine is impacted by the bounties long-term, not that either of us cares. But my reason for awarding to him/her is that for a long time, his/her answer was the only one I thought worthy of a bounty (there's now a second one).

Today, someone posted this comment to the other user and CC'd me:

your "bounty ping pong" with T.J.Crowder can be seen as abusing the bounty system. Neither of you lose any reputation. Please stop.

I don't see any abuse here at all. We both genuinely feel the issue has not had sufficient attention paid to it.

I couldn't care less about MSE rep. I'd be happy to award all my MSE rep to get that feature implemented. I am not awarding bounties to the other guy only on condition he do the same thing. I just want the feature implemented. (So much so that I once emailed Stack Exchange offering to implement it, and several others around Stack Snippets, for free. I got no reply.)

Is this abuse? Or using the "Draw attention" for its intended purpose: Drawing attention?

I'm primarily interested in a statement from Stack Exchange on policy, but apparently the tag doesn't apply to questions about guidance about using features, so we're stuck with .

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    Nice move, I'll try to formulate my idea and comments into a proper answer here soon-ish. – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Apr 12 '16 at 14:32
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    It this a way to draw attention to that question? ;) – Patrick Hofman Apr 12 '16 at 14:33
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    About support, it should be used for questions about "how to use a feature of the site", which you don't ask here. You ask for opinions, which makes it a discussion. So far, we don't really have a way to mark a question as "asking for official SE reply" – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Apr 12 '16 at 14:34
  • @ShadowWizard: Okay, thanks. I read the help on that before using it, and interpreted "Help using the feature" to include guidance. I'm frankly not looking for discussion. I'm looking for SE policy, but if it's the wrong tag, it's the wrong tag. – T.J. Crowder Apr 12 '16 at 14:35
  • @Pat of course, but not a tag. :-) – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Apr 12 '16 at 14:35
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  • Is your goal to abuse the system? No.

  • If a SE employee would post an answer that this has been implemented, would you still award the bounty to the other guy? No.

  • Would you go mad to the other user if he didn't award that bounty to you? Do you expect him to award it to you? No.

  • Is there any other answer that has the 'quality' to genuinely award the bounty to that one? No?

If all that isn't the case, what's the abuse? I think it is okay as long as the above points are No.

My personal feeling about this: apparently the bounty doesn't have any effect, so it seems it doesn't matter whether you would stop doing this or not. If it doesn't help, why keep doing this?

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    "Is there any other answer that has the 'quality' to genuinely award the bounty to that one?" There is one other now, so if I do another bounty, I'll be sure to send it that way. It just hadn't occurred to me to spread them around. – T.J. Crowder Apr 12 '16 at 14:15
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    "...apparently the bounty doesn't have any effect..." Sadly on current evidence you're right. "If it doesn't help, why keep doing this?" Living in hope? :-) – T.J. Crowder Apr 12 '16 at 14:15
  • That would at least give another impression of what your intentions are. – Patrick Hofman Apr 12 '16 at 14:15
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    You're missing a bullet point: Are you doing something that you otherwise wouldn't be able to do on your own? Yes. - They're essentially using an alternate form of serial voting to keep a question perpetually bountied as long as it takes to get an answer, which is pretty abusive. Plenty of people do inappropriate things without the intention of abusing the system, but that doesn't make it less abusive. I don't have a strong stance on this, but we don't have perpetual bounties for a reason. – animuson Apr 12 '16 at 14:38
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    @animuson: If canon had never awarded me a bounty, I could still be posting bounties on that question, at the same level and frequency, for another five years. Months go by between bounties; it's not something we've kept going continuously. I get frustrated by the lack of console (and general dereliction of Stack Snippets), go look at the question, see squat-all being done, and raise a bounty. In fact, I hold off after canon's done it for a while, because it seems better to let it resurface than constantly float. – T.J. Crowder Apr 12 '16 at 14:41
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    @T.J.Crowder No you wouldn't. You have 8,000 reputation and at 500 reputation a pop, you'd quickly lose it all. That's the expected outcome if you choose to keep placing bounties on a question. If you want to keep placing bounties, you have to keep earning enough reputation to do so. – animuson Apr 12 '16 at 14:43
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    @animuson: You can almost trust me to do the math correctly. I've awarded a grand total of three bounties @ 500 a pop to canon over the course of a year. Had he/she never awarded me one, I'd have ~6,500 rep right now (8,000 - 1,500 from canon bounties). At 1,500/year that's four years. (Can't believe I thought even for a second that 5 * 500 = 6,500. Yeesh.) – T.J. Crowder Apr 12 '16 at 14:44
  • @T.J.Crowder But that also only gets you three weeks worth of attention, I'm saying if you were placing them one after another, you'd quickly run out of reputation and you'd have to stop, which is entirely what we'd expect to happen. Even if you do it much more spaced out over time, you should still be losing that reputation for placing bounties, not just bouncing it back and forth between two people. – animuson Apr 12 '16 at 14:47
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    @animuson: Um, okay. But as we haven't been doing that (putting them end-to-end), it's completely irrelevant. I'm saying I could have done exactly what I've done, and could keep doing it four years more from here, in the absense of any bounties from canon. – T.J. Crowder Apr 12 '16 at 14:47
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    But you have been bouncing them back and forth, which is somewhat inappropriate and allows you to continue placing bounties at no cost to you. How are you not seeing that as even the slightest abuse of the reputation system? – animuson Apr 12 '16 at 14:48
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    @animuson: It's easy: Because we're not abusing the system. I'm just trying to use bounties for their intended purpose: Drawing attention to the question periodically that's being ignored. Canon's doing the same thing. So when I get fed up with no console, I go draw attention to that question. Then time goes by. Then I get fed up again, and draw attention to that question. Not abuse. Use. If it's abuse, ask SE to add a feature preventing it. Hopefully it'll take less than 18 months to get implemented, if they're not too busy writing games for April Fool's. – T.J. Crowder Apr 12 '16 at 14:51
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    @T.J.Crowder Not on its own, no. The abuse happens when both of you keep giving that amount to each other repeatedly. Simply saying you're not abusing the system doesn't make it true. I've heard that a thousand times from people who have been serially upvoting each other. I'm not going to take action on this, because I believe in your good intentions, but you should still be aware of this issue and probably stop just awarding everything to each other, because I can't guarantee we wouldn't stop it from continuing in the future. – animuson Apr 12 '16 at 14:54
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    @animuson: See above. But again, I want to be really, really, really clear about this: My actions, and canon's action, are independent. There's no sock-puppeting or anything. If canon wants to award a bounty to me, he/she can. If I want to award one to him/her, I can. Simply saying something is abuse doesn't make it abuse. – T.J. Crowder Apr 12 '16 at 14:55
  • That was my only concern @animuson and TJ already said that was an oversight. With the low amount of placed bounties, do you still think it is abuse? – Patrick Hofman Apr 12 '16 at 14:57
  • Thanks @animuson this is exactly what I had in mind. Can you please make it into an official answer? – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Apr 12 '16 at 14:59
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While I do agree with animuson that this practice should probably be avoided, I disagree that your actions were abusive. You gave the bounty to a post you legitimately believed was worthy of the reputation. Your goal was not to skirt around the limitations of the bounty system; rather, you wanted to raise awareness for your post. This seems completely legitimate.

Even more so, there was no expectation of quid pro quo between you and the other user. If a high quality answer arose, you acknowledged you would give the bounty to that answer. This was no carefully coordinated action between you and the other user. Neither you nor the other user were expecting any "benefits" from granting the bounty to either answer. And of course, you two aren't close friends nor is the other user your sockpuppet, so this wasn't to inflate either's reputation. Since you awarded the bounty on merit and neither of you conspired with the other to scheme up a plan to do this, it all seems legitimate.

A month or so back, there was some controversy over if giving bounties in certain situations would be considered legitimate and okay. I'd advise you to read Shog9's excellent answer to that question (What exactly is "artificial inflation of reputation", and where is the line?). One thing to note is that the post addresses "trading bounties":

On "trading" bounties

Due to the way the reputation system works, in the past it has been possible to create "untouchable" rep via careful exchanges of bounties. This is reputation that cannot easily be tracked back to any specific action on the site - it's credited to the account, but can't be revoked by deleting relevant posts.

We've since made doing this a lot more work, with the end-goal of making it extremely obvious when someone's engaging in this sort of game long before they're able to sequester any significant amount of reputation. But it remains something to watch for whenever there's unusual bounty activity, especially that involving multiple users and numerous bounties among them over a long period of time.

I don't think this quite applies here, since while this could be considered "trading" bounties, all the reputation gained/lost is easily traceable to the posts on that question. But some food for thought...

However, that's not to say this is something that you should continue to do. Since a normal user did notice this behavior and deem it suspicious, this is obviously not normal use of the bounty system. And as evident in the answers/comments to this question, these actions fall under a "grey area" where the boundaries of legitimate and illegitimate behavior aren't defined too well (since situations like these are quite rare). To be on the safe side, you should probably stay closer to defined "good" behavior, since you would need not worry about disagreement with your actions.

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So to start off and be clear: no one is questioning whether your intentions here were good in nature - you just want a feature implemented. And we're happy to see that you're willing to offer your reputation up to get it implemented.

However, the way the two of you are using the bounties is a bit abusive in nature. The bounty system design is that you are paying for advertising, even if you don't manage to garner an answer in return. It still costs to post it, and you should have to pay that cost regardless. The two of you aren't doing that, because you just keep giving the bounty back and forth to each other and it never actually ends up costing either of you any reputation. That is the real problem here - you're getting free attention for your question which you otherwise would not be able to get.

Imagine two users who, each seven days, alternated who was posting the bounty. Doing essentially the same thing you are doing except immediately after one another, moving the same 500 reputation between each other each iteration. They achieve a perpetual bounty that "expires" each week only to be reposted again, and the question is always featured. Definitely abusive, and would definitely be stopped quickly.

There is only one key difference between the two of you and the situation I just described: the bounties are being posted over a much broader span of time. We can't really attest to whether users were doing something maliciously in either situation, so I'm not going to include it as a difference.

So, we've already established that users doing this to achieve a perpetual bounty are doing something wrong, but... where do we draw the line? Does spreading it out over time somehow magically make it okay to do? We have to draw a line somewhere even though it's pretty tough to draw.

Ultimately, it makes most sense for you to only award bounties based on whether it actually accomplished what you wanted it to. You're creating the bounties to draw attention to the question, but then awarding it to an existing answer that didn't even change from the "attention" which was brought to the question. I get that you don't want the reputation to just go to waste, but that's a part of the risk you take by posting a bounty. And regardless of the intentions of either of you, or whether or not you're working together on this, continuing to give these bounties to each other as they expire is not an appropriate use of the bounty system.

I don't believe any action is required in this particular situation. The number of bounties is small, and there's not really anything to do anyways. However, I would encourage the both of you to stop awarding them to each other moving forward, as continuing this behavior may result in the bounties simply being removed in the future. If you'd like to continue spending the reputation to draw attention, then you should let the bounty expire without awarding, or award it to new content that arises from that particular bounty being placed.

  • I believe the bounty would be auto-awarded if it expired (assuming a new answer was given)... and giving a bounty to a sub-par post isn't much of a solution, though I agree this isn't the best of circumstances. – hichris123 Apr 13 '16 at 4:45
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    "So, we've already established that users doing this to achieve a perpetual bounty are doing something wrong" No. You've asserted that, but it is far from being established that two users, each independently, raising bounties every once in a while to draw attention, and then awarding to what they thought was the best current answer, is remotely wrong. – T.J. Crowder Apr 13 '16 at 5:41
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    "Ultimately, it makes most sense for you to only award bounties based on whether it actually accomplished what you wanted it to" I'd love to. I'd love to award a bounty to the answer "We've implemented this in Stack Snippets now." – T.J. Crowder Apr 13 '16 at 5:43
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    @hichris123: I thought that too, but it will only be auto-awarded to a new answer. No new answer = no award. You're still charged for the rep (which, again, I couldn't care less about), that's deducted when you start the bounty and never comes back: meta.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/set-bounties – T.J. Crowder Apr 13 '16 at 5:59
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    Thanks, this reflects perfectly what I think as well, and what made me comment to @T.J.Crowder (and Canon, who is still missing here) in the first place. Not much to add, except that I'm glad it now got an official stamp, and not just a comment made by ordinary user. – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Apr 13 '16 at 11:02
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    If this is the case, then let's have bounties not awarded to anyone. Period. – Zizouz212 Apr 13 '16 at 17:26
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    I place a bounty when I feel that a question hasn't received enough attention. Unfortunately, the only worthy target for the bounty by the time it expired was TJ's answer. I'd be happy to award that bounty to another, more deserving answer should it ever appear. The fact that it's netting out to zero is simply incidental. I think this is really less of an issue of abuse and more an issue of, "Holy crap, look how many votes and how much bounty reputation was staked on this issue and there's still no official response." Granted, that's specific to our situation... – canon Apr 14 '16 at 3:07
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    @canon suppose the team would tag that question as status-deferred would that count as an official response and would that stop the bounties? – rene Apr 14 '16 at 8:11
  • @canon incidental or not, what matters is the final result and how it appears to others. I do believe you and T.J.Crowder did not do it on purpose thinking "hey, let's have infinite bounty chain" but still, if you don't see any other fitting answer, simply don't award the bounty. – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Apr 14 '16 at 12:14
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    @rene that would at least be more official attention than the question has received in the one and a half years it's been up there. But, you know... Unikong™ must be served. – canon Apr 14 '16 at 13:14
  • @canon OK, noted, I'm not sure if you have seen this post, but it is status-declined. – rene Apr 14 '16 at 14:18

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