My understanding of the bounty system is that it is intended to help attract attention to questions that need more than they're getting, and to reward people who provide answers which are otherwise hard to come by.
I have tried using bounties twice. Both times I offered +100 reputation:
On the first one, I got a few answers and comments that didn't help. A few weeks went by and my problem continued, so I added a bounty. Having never used it before, I didn't understand the subtleties of how the 7-day time limit would play out. I ended up getting an answer before the bounty expired, but it was right before a weekend, and I did not have a chance to evaluate the answer and find out whether it was sufficient until after the weekend. The bounty expired during said weekend. It turned out that the answer was sufficient to solve my problem, but I was unable to award the well deserved bounty. I thanked the person, upvoted and accepted his answer, and apologized for the timing mishap. In this case I feel the bounty partially served its purpose -- it attracted enough attention to get the answer I needed. I'm not sure if the answerer was rewarded half or full credit per these terms:
If you do not award your bounty within 7 days (plus the grace period), the highest voted answer created after the bounty started with a minimum score of 2 will be awarded half the bounty amount (or the full amount, if the answer is also accepted). If two or more eligible answers have the same score (their scores are tied), the oldest answer is chosen. If there's no answer meeting those criteria, no bounty is awarded to anyone.
If the bounty was started by the question owner, and the question owner accepts an answer posted during the bounty period, and the bounty expires without an explicit award then we assume the bounty owner liked the answer they accepted and award it the full bounty amount at the time of bounty expiration.
On the second, I got no comments and no answers whatsoever. A small handful of views, and an upvote. It was more pressing on my end, so I offered a bounty as soon as the system would let me. I remembered the weekend issue from the previous time, so I made sure to start the bounty on a Friday. The bounty appears to have garnered a few extra views and upvotes, but not nearly as many as I thought it would pull in. At significant effort, I figured out the answer to my question one day before the bounty expired, and I posted said answer with useful details. This time the bounty completely failed -- it did not attract sufficient attention, and it did not reward the answerer.
Questions for discussion:
- Am I misunderstanding the purpose?
- Am I misusing the system? Am I not offering sufficient bounties?
- Are my questions not crafted well enough?
- Why can I not award the bounty to myself?
- I understand that this could provide a mechanism for abuse, and so I'd expect such a thing to have to go through a review and approval process, or maybe my answer needs a minimum number of upvotes before that's possible, or whatever -- but as I'm the only answerer, and my answer is high quality, it seems like maybe I earned those points back!
- Why is the bounty deducted from my reputation immediately, rather than only being deducted when I award it?
- Why are bounties limited to a week?
I propose the following changes:
- The bounty should not be withdrawn from the asker's rep until it is awarded.
- Bounties should last longer.
- My initial thought is that they should not expire.
- I'd be reasonably happy with a one-month expiry.
- The grace period should be longer.
- The current 24-hour grace period is not long enough to accommodate a weekend, and that seems silly. I, like many, use StackExchange in a largely professional context. No work time elapses between Friday at 5pm and Monday at 9am, so it's annoying that the grace period can expire during that period.
- If someone is automatically awarded the bounty at the end of the grace period, a message should be delivered to the bounty-offerer (and the asker if they're different people) informing them of what bounty was awarded, to whom, and based on which criteria having been met at that time.
Edit with some clarifications:
It's been suggested that this is a duplicate of this question. They're definitely related, and the conversation there is informative. Here I'll explain what I'm looking to discuss which is not covered there:
A few people have said that bounties are like advertisements. I appreciate that perspective, but if that's the case, I'd suggest the feature is misnamed. In the real world, bounties and advertisements are very different things.
- can be offered for as long as the offerer wants to do so
- can have its terms or amount changed at any time
- costs the offerer nothing until someone wins the bounty
- exists for the purpose of incentive
- pays the consumer of the bounty, not the publisher
- buys a fixed amount of exposure
- costs up front with no promise of return on investment
- exists for the purpose of visibility
- pays to the publisher, not the consumer
Mechanically, an SE bounty is a weird hybrid of both, which makes some sense -- you have to "buy" being listed at the top, but you also need to incentivize potential answerers. I find the balance SE strikes to be both confusing and less than ideal: if I'm paying for exposure, why am I paying the answerer? Shouldn't I be paying the site itself?
I now think that offering a bounty and getting visibility to your offer should be at least partly separate. Here's my proposal:
- Buying of exposure is called "promoting" a question.
- It has a fixed cost per duration, e.g. 50 rep / week.
- Potentially, you could choose among multiple durations, with longer durations being slightly more cost-efficient (e.g. 200 rep / month).
- This would result in the post showing up on the Featured tab.
- You can pay for exposure for any question, independent of a bounty.
- You can offer a bounty of any amount at any time. It doesn't expire until you award it or withdraw it.
- When you offer a bounty, the system would prompt you to also promote the question, but this would not be required.
- If you don't, you won't get any listing priority, but anywhere your question would have appeared anyway there will be a badge indicating that it has an open bounty.
- There should be a way to filter for bountied questions independent of whether they're promoted. The user should be able to sort by size of bounty, age of question, etc., and of course filter by tag and keyword, but the system should make no attempt at sorting by "urgency" (as described here) in this case.
This makes sense because:
- As noted here, sometimes those hard questions need more than a week to catch the attention of the right person (and possibly also for that person to craft a worthy answer), and that person deserves an award commensurate with the obscurity of their knowledge and the magnitude of their effort.
- Sometimes visibility is all you need -- especially for a question that might be easy to answer for the rare person with the necessary knowledge.
- Sometimes the bounty is all you need -- maybe plenty of people are seeing your question, but their reaction is, "that would take forever to answer well; it's not worth it!"
- And, of course, sometimes you need both.
The existing system doesn't make sense because:
- No matter how large a bounty I offer, it doesn't buy me more exposure.
- The entity providing the exposure gets nothing for doing so, and yet expects me to pay.
- The entity receiving the award did not provide the exposure.
- This would obviate the need for a grace period and any debate about how long it should be.
- Note all of the confusion here.