As I see it, Stack Exchange is a marketplace for the exchange of ideas and for collaborative consumption. When a user submits a question and an expert answers it correctly, the expert gets rewarded with points, and keeps building points. What is happening here is that “experts” have some extra time, and they are using that extra time to answer questions. This is very similar to how Uber/Airbnb works. Somebody has an extra “car and time”/”extra-room in their house”, and they use that “car and time”/”extra-room in their house” to give other people rides in their car. Of course, some people could make it their entire job to drive people around/become fulltime hosts, but that doesn’t negate the benefit that everybody gets from the Uber/Airbnb marketplace.

In Stack Exchange this happens when users who need an answer and experts who have answers to that question come together. The experts have free time on their hand, and a valuable expertise, with which they help users. When experts answer said questions correctly, Stack Exchange gives them points which makes them want to come back and answer more questions. However, frequently the most busy people/most knowledgeable people don’t actually have time to answer these kinds of questions on the regular, especially as the answers to that question go further and further away from the “how to code that “hello world” C++ program” type of question. To get more experts to answer this question, the user can put up bounties. However, if the user is new, they won’t have enough points to entice very busy people to share their valuable time to answer these questions. As a results, a lot of questions probably have poor answers or no answers.

I think it would be a great improvement, if Stack Exchange went beyond the “free-for-all” type of platform and to a little more commercialized form of website, and it will benefit all: the people who answer the questions, the people who ask the question and Stack Exchange. Perhaps this will turn off some people who think that everything should be free and open-source software rules all, but that’s not how the real-life world works. One solution that I propose is to allow users to buy points that can then be used to buy bounties. Part of these bounties will go to Stacke Exchange to pay for its operating costs. The rest of the bounty will go to the expert with the best answer. I am sure there are some other loopholes, and I can see some of those loopholes, but I am sure we can come up with something to close that loophole.

Advantages of this system

  1. Pays for Stack Exchange/Stack Overflow/Super User, that we all love and we can support them

  2. reduces the barrier to entry for new users who have hard or complicated questions, with very few “expert” users to answer said questions.

  3. Entices expert users who have limited time to answer questions and who are not necessarily motivated by gaining points, which are useless

  4. Will enable Stack Exchange to make high-quality answers available for free

Disadvantages of this system

  1. proponents of “free-for-all” system will cry foul :)

  2. proponents will point out that EE has failed, which is misguided for 2 reasons 1. EE hasn’t failed and 2. Even if it didn’t do as well as Stack Exchange, it's because of the founding business structure of EE and how google works.. among a host of other reasons.

  3. some people point out how people are gaming the SO system, and it will get worse with bounties. Whenever there is money there will be corruption. That doesn’t mean we have to stop progress.

P.S. I didn't say you should add the points to a user’s reputation, as the thread on the top of this post seems to suggest. I specifically clarified below that if you can buy your way with dollars to higher reputation that will destroy the reputation of this place. I mentioned that you should create a category which will allow users to buy points with $, which can then be used to create bounties to answer hard questions with few "expert" users. This is partially pay for the cost of running Stack Exchange, and to bring in people to answer detailed questions, if they want to make money out of answering questions. I am not suggesting you close down the free-for-all system.

Personally I think the debate of whether to allow members to buy points (with $) is similar to the closed-source/open-source software. Yes, everybody likes free information, free use of somebody else's time. But that’s not how the real world works. Not a software guy, but I have been a "power" user of lots of different softwares. Based on this I will hypothesize that commercial software dwarfs open source software in volume.

I think a free/open platform is great to scale fast, as a lot of softwares/platforms have done. It's good at the start of a platform, but you have to monetize it at some point or the other. You could go on an infinite donation based system like Wikipedia or reddit which periodically asks for donations. But I think going into a different system like the one I proposed above will benefit all parties, and will lead to further growth of Stack Exchange.

You can never please everybody, and I don’t see the above points raised in any of the posts.


Wouldn’t it be great if you could actually exchange the points for real dollars, so you can then use the real dollars to buy something else you might be interested in?

No, it would make users furious if you close their question, or someone else's question that they know an answer to. Giving reputation points as an incentive to help is already enough to attract people that don't give anything about site rules and really educating people, including helping them to try for themselves.

Also, where does the money come from? Users who want their question answered? If you want to have someone fix your code, why not hire someone?

Also read: The problem with extrinsic motivation, as suggested by Oded.

  • To answer you question where does money come from.. Good questions.. the easiest way to do this is to allow users buy points (not to add to their reputation but to put up bounties). If they need an answer to a question urgently, but perhaps dont have enough points to put up a sufficiently high bounty to attract a expert user to answer a detailed question, there is no way for the user to do so. – user350459 Feb 3 '17 at 16:52
  • Using money as a medium to buy points, lets users who are new/dont have sufficient points to do so. This money is then pooled together and can be used to pay the expert user (with high points) with real dollars, if he chooses to. – user350459 Feb 3 '17 at 16:52
  • To answer your question "Users who want their question answered? If you want to have someone fix your code, why not hire someone?".. Stackoverflow and stackexchange and Superuser is much broader than somebody who is looking for advice for code. The idea behind this is collaborative consumption is to share ideas/assets/time when you dont need it.. but I think people would still want to get paid for it. In this case you dont want to hire a fulltime person to answer the small question you have about your code/answer about 3D printing.. – user350459 Feb 3 '17 at 17:05
  • Similar to why you take Uber and not buy a car with a driver.. because you only need it for a very short period of time. Its much more expensive to buy a car or hire a full time programmer. – user350459 Feb 3 '17 at 17:05
  • You raise a good point about intrinsic vs extrinsic motivation.. I actually was thinking about this when I was posting the question.. but didnt include in my OP.. however I think both extrinsic and intrinsic motivations need to coexist. A high-flying programmer is not going to go work at Google while getting paid nothing, just because he gets to work on some fancy project full time. – user350459 Feb 3 '17 at 17:08