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I think I understand How does the bounty system work? when no answers get posted:

What happens if there's no answer after the bounty period?

If, after the end of the bounty period, a question has no answers, the bounty will expire and the reputation will disappear.

Part of what you're "paying for" with a bounty is for higher question visibility and increased answerer motivation. A bounty does not guarantee a response and is not refunded if none are received.

but I had an idea for a small improvement.

This answer explains:

[...] although you didn't get an actual answer, you did get 7 days on the Featured tab. If you got refunded, then you could keep your question on the Featured tab forever, which really reduces the benefit that placing a bounty has in the first place.

I get this, it sucks to not get an answer.

It sucks even more to get an answer after the bounty expired.

Then you need to rebounty, or just apologies that you can't give the new answerer the bounty question.

It's such a problem, lots of stacks have 'unending bounty' meta posts:

Are these causing issues? No, but they're clunky and a symptom of a problem causing people trouble.

Why don't we save some of the trouble, and just expire the featured part of the bounty after 7 days, and if there's no answers at the end of it make it dormant.

You would only be allowed 3 active bounties, and any dormant ones don't count towards that. If you get an answer on a question with a dormant bounty, the counter starts at the end of the last bounty ending. I don't know if it makes sense to put it back into featured list - I'm thinking not, for now at least.

Can this be abused? Not really, the abuse is getting 3+ questions featured. You can't sneak a fourth one it by bountying an unanswered question, as it start active.

Can you get stuck by building up a backlog of dormant bounties? Yes, but that should be rare and/or unusual. If more than three questions with a dormant bounty suddenly become active, your fourth gets queued up, and you wouldn't be able to start a new active bounty between one ending and the next starting! But all you need to do is a) wait ~7 days b) accept a bounty. There might be a sensible limit on dormant bounties, and some way to manually expire the bounty to let you get around that limit. After it's expired, you can't get it back.

This feels like a lot of work, so I get this might get deferred. But I'm hoping I've raised the problem so more people are aware of it.

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The meta posts with 'indefinite' bounties listed in your question are basically lists of posts, that help users find posts they might be interested in writing new/better answers to, for the promise of a bigger reward than usual.

If you make the bounties dormant but not show up anywhere, you still need some kind of clunky meta post to keep track of which posts offer a bigger reward. Which means the dormant bounty doesn't entirely solve the problem of having to use a meta post to keep track, it only solves the problem of 'having to offer reputation upfront with a possibility of no return on investment'. You could circumvent that by just adding to those meta posts now, instead of starting a bounty first.

If you make dormant bounties show up somewhere where they are easily found, you're basically getting unlimited advertising time for a single bounty. Which weakens the idea behind a bounty: Advertising space in a relatively visible place for a post, for a limited time. So you'd basically have to make them hard to find/invisible, in which case users will probably revert back to meta posts for saying "hey, I have a dormant bounty on X, you could get it if you do Y!".

Another thing about these meta posts: They list specific conditions an answer needs to meet in order to be eligible for a 'never ending bounty'. Right now, there is a 24 hour grace period in which the user that set the bounty can still vet the given answers without the post being on the Bountied tab, but after that is up either one of two things happen: The bounty entirely expires, or it is automatically awarded.

If you're going to automatically award dormant bounties that become active again to newly posted answers with enough votes, you will not be the sole user deciding whether your criteria are met. So, if a new answer is ok but still not good enough, but it does seem reasonable to some other users (and goes through e.g. the first posts queue), it may end up with enough upvotes to automatically be awarded your dormant bounty. You lose your bounty, and an answer that doesn't deserve it now shows up with special accolades.

If you're going to keep the decision with the user that set the dormant bounty, you basically invent a never ending grace period and a way to permanently decline awarding a bounty. A way to never have to award your bounty is a feature request that was repeated here on MSE a few times (and consistently gets 'status-declined'). I wrote some thoughts about it here, for example, but I'm not a fan of such a feature.

All in all, I don't think 'dormant' bounties are going to be a good solution to use here, instead of meta posts.

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    If you make the bounties dormant but not show up anywhere, you still need some kind of clunky meta post to keep track of which posts offer a bigger reward. No you don't need that at all. If you set it, you can see it in your profile. Otherwise you don't need/want it advertised. Apr 22 at 13:19
  • They list specific conditions an answer needs to meet in order to be eligible for a 'never ending bounty'. I'm not sure that's desirable. We probably don't want to encourage having two systems. Apr 22 at 13:21
  • If you're going to automatically award dormant bounties that become active again to newly posted answers with enough votes, you will not be the sole user deciding whether your criteria are met. That's the neat thing, with this system you still get another seven days (unadvertised) to look at the post. It's the same as other bounties that don't go dormant, and get an 'unwanted' answer others like. One system. Apr 22 at 13:23
  • @AncientSwordRage May you can see your dormant bounties in your profile, but how are other users (that have not seen the original bounty) going to know about it? I don't see two systems by having users specifically point out what they'd like to see in an answer on meta: a bounty already gives you a text box to do that too. And I looked again, I can't see anywhere in the question where you proposed making bounties only dormant for 7 days. In that case though, why not argue for a longer grace period?
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Apr 22 at 15:05
  • I always thought that the point of those meta's wasn't advertising. They're never featured and don't provide anything that the bounty reason field couldn't. This is the bit I'm talking about "If you get an answer on a question with a dormant bounty, the counter starts at the end of the last bounty ending." i.e. you wouldn't automatically award it to the first answer with a score of 2+, but it would start the counter (seven days) again. Apr 22 at 15:11
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    @AncientSwordRage So, what happens when the counter expires? Is the bounty then finally gone forever? I've got to dig up some socks then, to invalidate all those dormant bounties by this one user that I hate, by posting nonsense underneath all of their questions at regular intervals... Drama was one reason having a way to just decline awarding bounties was declined, and I don't see this turning out much differently. That answer also says: In the end, you pay for the advertising, not necessarily for the right to decide your bounty's fate.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Apr 22 at 15:24

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