I read through the idea of "Offering actual money as a bounty" and found the discussion interesting. The consensus seems to be a solid no, this is a terrible idea, summarised by:

Joel and Jeff talked about this on one of the podcasts... they believe offering financial incentives reinforces the wrong behavior.

I am convinced by this and the other points, but I wonder about another approach to fill the need for quick answers for that some users have (and don't have the reputation to create a bounty) without reinforcing the wrong behavior:

  1. The user can pay money to one of three charities (for example) to get points to offer a bounty
  2. The money does not come back to the user if the bounty runs out and no one had answered the question (to stop people from not accepting answers to get their money back)
  3. There is no financial incentive for the users answering the question; they just get points as usual
  4. This does not replace the current system

I think with this model, the concerns raised here and here are covered:

they [people looking for money] will 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...

People should be motivated to answer questions because they are interested in the field, not because they are offered some money.

Because there is no financial incentive for people answering the questions.

From this answer:

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?

Because the payment is to make the bounty not to get an answer via a bounty.

What this does if allow people/businesses who need an answer an ability to offer bigger bounties to give their questions a better chance of getting answered.

Some additional bonuses:

  1. Money will go to a good charity and good stuff might happen there
  2. People who answered might feel better than usual because they contributed to something good
  3. This would be a novel approach, so it might generate some PR for Stack Exchange (like for the people at humble bundle).
  4. Opportunity for more badges and stats :D

Disadvantages I can see:

  1. Risk of changing the dynamic of the questioners. They might feel more entitled to an answer than usual.
  2. Charities can be polarizing (especially if they are seen to align with a political party). A curated list of charities would have to be selected. The aim would be to choose ones that would not discourage potential people from answering because they don't like what the charity does.

I am interested what other disadvantages people will bring up.

Comment 1:

Interesting discussions below. I think there is a clear theme in the answers so far and something that I had not got from reading the previous "actual money" suggestion. And that is; stackoverflow is held up as an institution close to what Wikimedia Foundation is like. To summarise the Wikimedia Foundation goal ;"[knowledge] to the public free of charge". This sounds similar to how some of the authors below see stackoverflow. I happily donate money to the wikimedia foundation in the same way as I am happy to pay tax for public services like the library. Interesting.

Comment 2

I would be interested to hear from someone who would like to make a case for the idea - if any exist ;)

Comment 3

One comment I found particularly interesting (from @ramhound)

So somebody who volunteers their time at the local ASPCA 3 times a week can't offer a bounty to their question but somebody who makes more money then that person can provided they offer a donation to the ASPCA. Who do you feel is more valuable, the person walking the dogs, or the person paying for the leashes to walk the dogs? I am the volunteer, if I am going to donate money, I bring in supplies myself. I don't believe in giving money to national charities.

a) The price would be up for debate, but you point is still valid. I think it might be possible to overcome economic disadvantages at a regional level in the same way that this is done on Apple's App Store; different countries have different prices for the same thing depending on their economies. But this still does not address economic disparity within a region.

b) (slightly off topic) If the purpose of the charitable act (doing or giving) is to help target (someone/something), shouldn't the measure of the value of charitable act be dependant on the outcome for the target? Consider for example, is a community of volunteers in a suburb each spending 3 nights a week at the RSPCA AND you have Bill Gates who is not only paying for the running of the RSPCA in this subrub but 50 others just like it. From the point of view of the animals, Bill Gates has the most value. A badly waited example I know, but it illustrates the point. Note, this does not address the problems discussed in Comment 1 above. I just like thinking about this particular issue (eg, should CEOs of charities be paid insentives etc).

  • 4
    Why do anything to accomodate people who haven't contributed enough to the site to be able to set a small bounty? How is that beneficial - or even fair - to the wider community? What happens when a moderator decides to cancel a bounty? Pay-to-win is a terrible idea, have we learned nothing from the gaming community? – yannis Nov 1 '16 at 6:44
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    For the record, I'm against the idea, as explained in the answer, but since you marked this as discussion, and not actually requesting such a feature, I did not downvote. – Shadow The Princess Wizard Nov 1 '16 at 7:06
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    So somebody who volunteers their time at the local ASPCA 3 times a week can't offer a bounty to their question but somebody who makes more money then that person can provided they offer a donation to the ASPCA. Who do you feel is more valuable, the person walking the dogs, or the person paying for the leashes to walk the dogs? I am the volunteer, if I am going to donate money, I bring in supplies myself. I don't believe in giving money to national chartities. – Ramhound Nov 1 '16 at 11:18
  • @Ramhound - I mentioned you (and your comment) in the edits above. – lindon.fox Nov 1 '16 at 14:05

It all boils down to "if you have more money, you have better chance to get answer" and that is one of the few things Stack Exchange was always against, and hopefully will always be against.

Stack Exchange is for everyone. Free of charge. Any person (with internet connection) gets the same starting point. No matter if that person gets $1000000 every month, or less than one dollar.

When you suggest paying money to get things done, no matter who gets the money and what exact things, this is breaking this model, no matter how you look at it and from what angle.


If you need an answer and you are willing to pay money for it, just hire someone.

Offering money, no matter in what way, will make rich users or businesses have more chance to get an answer than others. That isn't fair and totally against the philosophy of the founders and the current communities.

We are all volunteers investing our time to make things better. We don't judge people on their money. Everyone can ask a question and has a fair chance to get an answer.

  • 1
    I'm sure I'm not speaking for everybody here, but if I wanted to consult for money, I'd consult for money. My primary reason for doing this instead of using sites like Mechanical Turk or somesuch is because I don't just want to help those that can afford it, but everybody. – Magisch Nov 1 '16 at 10:47
  • Indeed. Well-spoken. – Patrick Hofman Nov 1 '16 at 10:47

This feels like it would set a terrible incentive and go actively against the purpose of the site.

If the price was low enough that desperate homework students would pay it regularly, the culture of answering would adapt pretty quickly, and ugly comments the likes of which we saw when accept rate was a thing would quickly resurface. Like people asking for a bounty to answer "I do have an answer, I'll post it if you put a bounty" for instance, which already happens now, would probably skyrocket in occurence.

If the price was high enough to have few people using it, it would essentially turn SO into a "consult for charity" or less charitably spoken, a "buy answers for your questions". When paying real money, the questioners would be less likely to accept the fact that certain questions are off topic, and the community could even become more hesitant to close off topic ones. That's something we really don't want.

The entire point of SO (and SE) was to provide answers to the public for free, with no other requirement then to have an interesting question. A big part of the charme of this site and a big reason why high profile experts and ordinary developers alike invest their time (that they could spend consulting at ridiculous rates, mind you) to provide answers for free here is precisely because it's free. Public knowledge, and everyone has the same shot. Who gets an answer has precisely one factor: How good and interesting your question is.

Moving away from that would destroy arguably the core factor of why Stack Exchange got to where it is today.

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