Questions that offer bounty should NOT auto select the highest vote answer as the accepted answer. Currently after an answer has been auto-accepted, it can't even be unaccepted. This is not a desired behavior.

This is because the most popular answer may not be the correct, or even reasonable answer. The bounty offerer should reserve the right not to condone any answer he doesn't believe in.

Note: OK guys, in my last minute effort to prevent the auto-selection mechanism from selecting the highest vote answer( but not necessarily the correct answer), I have deliberately select the most downvoted answer. What an irony. I guess this experiment should convince everyone who auto accept is not a good idea.

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    This post conflicts with this one, meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1340/… . I've never offered a bounty so I'm not sure what actually happens, but both can't be right! – Ian Elliott Jul 11 '09 at 18:25
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    True - that's kept me from offering bounty, since I didn't really want it to just "automatically" be assigned to whoever gets the most upvotes... – marc_s Jul 12 '09 at 13:42
  • really think through what you're asking for, particularly in terms of how it could be gamed and exploited. – Jeff Atwood Jul 12 '09 at 16:22
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    I suggest offering a bounty for this question and lets see. – akarnokd Jul 13 '09 at 14:02
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    Which I agree! And doing now... – Graviton Jul 14 '09 at 7:49
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    I've only offered a bounty once and the behaviour you descibe will prevent me from doing so again. – Martin Jul 14 '09 at 9:15
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    I hate the auto bounty. – Nosredna Jul 18 '09 at 21:28
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    As for gaming, I think that could be eliminated. When a bounty time has run out, force the user to choose an answer next time he logs on. I had a bounty that expired while I was waiting for more answers and the auto-assignment was extreme;y unpleasant. – Nosredna Jul 18 '09 at 21:42
  • I opened a thread which proposes a suggestion for improvement in the bounty-system at meta.stackexchange.com/questions/6995/… – Masi Jul 18 '09 at 22:50
  • Huh, it looks like the most popular ( but not necessarily correct) answer is going to be auto-selected. Anything I can prevent this from happening? – Graviton Jul 21 '09 at 1:38
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    @Ngu Soon Hui: then perhaps you shouldn't have put a bounty on it? – Kyle Cronin Jul 21 '09 at 11:52
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    Again; I maintain that the bounty "paid" for the extra attention to the thread. You got 9 answers, +18 votes, and a lot of discussion, so you fully got what you paid for. IMO, the bounty system worked perfectly, right up until the point when you went out of your way to buck it ;-p – Marc Gravell Jul 21 '09 at 12:03
  • Why not just accept yshuditelu's answer? he had the highest-voted answer that agreed with you (and it was the #2 answer overall) – Kip Jul 21 '09 at 13:27
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    @Kyle Cronin: Your suggestion is my precise reason against Auto-Accept. I mean, we won't know, without the benefits of hindsight, whether our bounty will lead us to the correct result, which is why we must not auto-accept the highest score answer. – Graviton Sep 17 '09 at 2:47
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    @ripper: That's how all accepted self-answers work. – Gnome May 15 '10 at 21:17

10 Answers 10


In democracy one can fight for truth, but not decide what IS truth.
Jacques Lacan and the Other side of psychoanalysis by Justin Clemens, Russell Grigg.

That's what tim is trying to explain you...

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    I have to accept this just to illustrate the point that I made in this request. – Graviton Jul 21 '09 at 7:15
  • And I downvoted it! – Graviton Jul 21 '09 at 7:21
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    yes, you have demonstrated.. er.. uh.. SOMETHING! – Jeff Atwood Aug 3 '09 at 21:46
  • @Ngu Could you please explain what's wrong with my answer? – Piotr Dobrogost Aug 6 '09 at 11:14
  • @Piotr, actually there is nothing wrong with your answer. It just happened that at the time of picking an accepted answer yours had the lowest score ( -1), so I further compounded the negative score and accepted your answer to make my point :) – Graviton Aug 22 '09 at 2:34
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    @Ngu: Purposefully do something wrong does not illustrate how automatic selection goes wrong. – Gnome May 15 '10 at 21:15
  • @The Cat, the fact that a lot of people more downvoting the incorrect selected answer is a powerful vindication of what I did was correct. – Graviton May 20 '10 at 1:03
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    @Ngu , sure - but if you were going to make (however inadvertently) an example out of another MSO user .. you could have at least let them know ahead of time. – Tim Post Jun 19 '10 at 16:12
  • is this the only way to prevent auto selection? or is that stopped already? – Aditya P Mar 12 '11 at 9:21

I understand the system and how it works. And overall, I think it's a good choice. However, perhaps as an addition to the current system (and having never asked or answered a question with a bounty, forgive me if it already is this way), would it be possible to allow the original asker to "unaccept" the accepted answer in the case it was auto-selected. Allowing them to do this without taking the bounty reward away from the person who received it nor giving the rep lost back to the asker. However, for the sake of completeness and accuracy this would allow the asker to keep an incomplete answer from forever being shown as accepted.

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    I concur - the person asking the question should be able to "undo" an accepted answer - and leave the hitpoints wherever they wound up. it is clearly broken in the person who asked the question is not happy with the answer. it is not like they are not active or aren't taking an interest - they are - and it is absolutely stupid to let some dumb algorithm decide the "correct" choice. We're taking the control usability away from the users. Letting a program choose based on arbitrary minor bits of information is so counter to what I understood to be the nature and goal of SO – tim Jul 12 '09 at 2:06
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    Good suggestion. I don't mind keeping the "least wrong answer" checked for a while, but when a correct answer finally comes along, I'd like to be able to accept it and show the community that this is the right answer. – hyperslug Aug 4 '09 at 3:15
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    Unaccept is important. Here's a good example: stackoverflow.com/questions/1260833/… The 'answer' is a question for more information yet has won the bounty. – Alex Angas Aug 28 '09 at 15:51
  • Hey nice, the auto-answer on that question was removed! – Alex Angas Sep 2 '09 at 11:21
  • More on unaccept (aka "re-bounty") here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/90/… – RomanSt Mar 1 '10 at 18:24

This is because the most popular answer may not be the correct, or even reasonable answer. The bounty offerer should reserve the right not to condone any answer he doesn't believe in.

In which case... don't leave it to the last moment. Go in ahead of time and accept the answer you choose. Indeed, IIRC the system warns you (by e-mail) when your bounty is approaching the end.

It has to do something - otherwise you have either an open-ended bounty, or some confused and frustrated respondents.

My "take" on bounty is that it is simply like advertising; you pay your points, and you might attract a few more people to look at the post. It is possible (although not guaranteed) that you get a perfect answer out of this. If so, fantastic! But in the other case, something has to happen. If needs be, select the least useless answer, and add a comment that it didn't really help due to <x>.

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    That supposes that there's an answer which is correct, to be accepted. I can easily imagine a situation where a difficult problem is posed and an answer which sounds correct but isn't gets some votes, while no other answer is actually correct... – Jon Skeet Jul 11 '09 at 22:40
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    I think for the sake of transparency Marc should declare how much rep he's gained through auto-accepted bounties ;) – Jon Skeet Jul 11 '09 at 22:40
  • I lack the tools to find out, the same as everyone else. Additionally (as you know too well), the bounty gained != the extra rep gained, especially if a bounty comes in first thing in the morning.... I might have a 150 bounty, but I might still only get 215 rep that day, which I would have probably done anyway. – Marc Gravell Jul 11 '09 at 23:19
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    @Marc: I've repeatedly requested bounties be really above the daily rep cap but the issue has consistently been declined as saying the system is "by design". – cletus Jul 11 '09 at 23:35
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    @marc, you are missing the case where none of the answers provides a solution that resolves the question... but in most cases, yes, the asker can and should choose the best answer and that will avoid the software from choosing one for you. – tim Jul 12 '09 at 15:07
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    The problem I have is that the answer is auto-accepted on the last day of the bounty. We need some time (a few days) after all the answers have come in to review them and make an informed choice on which is best. – Robert Claypool Nov 30 '09 at 16:47

This seems very simple to solve. If no answer is accepted, just give the rep to the highest-voted answer (the same way it works now, if I understand correctly). There is no need to do anything further (i.e. automatically marking that answer as accepted).

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    If I don't like any of the answers, I can accept the idea that the least looser gets the rep. However, an answer should only be marked accepted if I accept it. – jrcs3 Jul 21 '09 at 0:26
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    @jrcs3: so you agree with me? that sounds like the same thing i said – Kip Jul 21 '09 at 13:23
  • Comments aren't defined as disagreements. – Nicolás Jun 19 '10 at 16:17
  • Simplest worst case: One defective answer after bounty. Suppose the highest voted answer is wrong and the OP actually down-voted it. Perhaps the answer is from some simpler but more popular rival school of programming misapplied to the task at hand; and because of the rival school's popularity, it garners more eyeballs and three benighted upvotes, and wins the bounty. – agc Jul 9 '16 at 15:17

Here is, what I think, to be a good solution that addresses everyone's concerns.

All we need is one more state transition - from an open bounty to one of a regular open question. The state transition happens IFF the asker CHOOSES it. The asker must give up more hit points (maybe a minimum of 50) and the original bounty points go to the top answer (if any upvoted) and the second (50?) go to the second highest upvoted answer. (the bounty pointes are rewarded exactly as they are now in the case of the asker not choosing) Possibly the person can also choose whom to give the bounty to - but that might cost more extra hitpoints.

The question remains in a state the has no accepted answer, but the people who spent time and got upvotes are rewarded for their effort. The asker also gets what he/she wants by having the question still open for more people to answer or to self-post a resolution later. (perhaps get back some points if that happens - but less than the amount for choosing to keep it "open" - otherwise it could be "gamed". I offer this possibility because you would want to reward someone for posting their own resolution.)

What I understand from Jeff and others is that there is concern for:

  • People ask questions, then place bounties, then are not involved/active.

This is addressed by using the default behavior as it stands now. If you aren't active in your own bounty then you have no right to choose the results.

  • People's (answerers) time is not "valued"

This is addressed by rewarding people who have answered - it is addressed at least as good as it is now, and possibly better - by awarding points to more than one person possibly

This is just a suggestion, but I think it addresses all the possibilities.

(excpet for what I guess might be an objection solely on implementation - that the SO code is brittle in its recalculation logic - much work might be needed to handle this case and still keep people's bounties, but taht is just a guess.)

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    Very good solution. +1 I can't even think it won't be the most voted one when the bounty ends for this question and other, wrong answer will be accepted as "the answer" :) – Piotr Dobrogost Jul 14 '09 at 9:55

I would like to be able to mark an answer as Least Unacceptable and that answer would be accepted at the end if I don't change it.

That way I could mark my current favorite and keep the bounty open hoping for a better answer. I don't like the idea that I would have to manage the deadline.

Failing that, perhaps you could give the bounty owner control of the time of day that the bounty would close?


I can think of 2 use cases where this would come in handy (assuming that this marking is public):

  • There is an answer that works but is kinda clunky. I can hold out for a more elegant answer (if there is one).

  • An answer that is a link to an outside site that gives a good answer. I can push for a writeup of the answer on this site.

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    or, just allow the asker to unaccept that answer later, without taking the rep away from the user who got it – Kip Jul 18 '09 at 22:00
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    I like that idea. Unless I get a better answer, have the bounty go to this one. Sort of giving a provisional bounty. – Nosredna Jul 18 '09 at 22:02

This is an old issue, but it still annoys me.

The number of points is a good estimate of how trustworthy a user is, and how much a user cares about the community. With that in mind, the argument that someone will start a bounty question and then never come back, is kind of moot. You need a good deal of reputation to start a decent bounty. In that regard, those who start bounty questions have already proven themselves trustworthy by gaining the points they use for their bounty.

So what's my point with this? It's that I trust a bounty-questioner more to give a user his bounty and accepting the answer if he/she deserves it, compared to a gazillion users who can give useless and/or irrelevant answers just to get the auto-bounty. People don't show much restraint.

That people can give plain wrong answers and get the bounty is not a very good intensive for starting bounty questions. And that the system automatically picks an answer as accepted and 'correct' when there is no such thing is just adding insult to injury.

The least one could do, is what Ngu Soon Hui and time suggested. Leave the 'accepted answer' up to the user who started the bounty to decide. If the system picks automatically, it is not because the user is absent or left SO, but because there indeed was no right or helpful answer.

The solution is: If there is no accepted answer after the time limit, give the points to the answer with the most points, and degrade the bounty question to a normal question again, but do not set the accepted answer. Then one can start a new bounty again, or leave the question as a normal question for a while.

Right now, the system is an insult for the people who spend their points on this, and for others who search up the question and find wrongfully accepted answers, it's shear misleading.

P.S I have a difficult question I planned to add a 2000 bounty on, but I probably just spend a 1/10 of that amount now, since I most probably won't get my points worth. If you consider the bounties on most questions, it seems I'm not alone. Most bounties are on around the 200 mark, with 50 of the points added in.

  • Max bounty is 500. – random Apr 19 '10 at 8:00
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    Then it should be higher. But I think my point still stands. Most people don't use more than 100-150 points for bounties. – Mads Elvheim Apr 19 '10 at 8:18


The bounty system is no longer connected to accepted answer in any way, and you can offer multiple bounties over time. So I believe this request is now complete.

Also, there are three alerts sent to the bounty question owner:

  • direct email, 2 days before
  • site message, 2 days before
  • direct email, 1 day before
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    This is still useless if there is no good answer. Your "solution" of reminders is no help at all in the case where few people answer or no one can help. the result is that the question is shown as resolved/answered, etc when in fact it is not. Thus it gets no more activity and actually HURTS SO and other users with similar problems because they are left confused as to why a BAD answer was selected. – tim Jul 12 '09 at 0:57
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    That is unfortunate. then there will just be duplicate questions and I suspect since the poster of the duplicate can show that the prior one has no real good answer it will be left in the system (i.e. not closed as duplicate) by users with some common sense. i concede that these are not the typical scenarios and you guys probably have other things on your plate, but I am surprised by the intransigence behind what I think is clearly a flawed premise. – tim Jul 12 '09 at 2:03
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    @Jeff: For difficult questions (and bounty questions are likely to be hard) it's quite possible for there to be upvoted answers which look good but don't actually work. I wouldn't be surprised to see a bounty question with an incorrect answer with 2 upvotes. – Jon Skeet Jul 12 '09 at 6:31
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    You could also offer a cancel-bounty for the OP if the answers are unsatisfactory - of course this should cost some rep (bounty 50% perhaps) and have time constraints as well? – akarnokd Jul 12 '09 at 9:18
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    @marc and kd - the issue I have is NOT the bounty - the issue is that an answer that has no value, or little value gets chosen and there is no way to undo that and the hard question (Like Jon said - bounties are likely to be hard) thread will end there as people will see a chosen answer and not pursue it or contribute. Those that have the same problem will wonder why that one got chosen after they try the "solution" and it does not work. this leaves them with a BAD experience on SO. I can't see how these two points aren't compelling enough to show that the current algorithm is broken – tim Jul 12 '09 at 14:02
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    @Jeff As the owner of a site whose ONLY value is based on OTHER PEOPLE'S time you seem oblivious to the irony of your comment about me... I am happy to give the answerer's points for trying to help out, and I upvoted the answers that showed thought and promise - but unfortunately the did NOT answer my question - which is the reason I asked it. i don't see how other people's time has any relevance. The problem is, as your logic stands there is no incentive for new people to answer it if one (bad answer) is chosen automagically. I am not an absentee - and i think that is clear. – tim Jul 12 '09 at 14:54
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    Once again, my suggestion is to automagically distribute the bounty points to whomever has upvotes, but please, don't select an answer for me because, at the very least, having "spent" my own hit points on the bounty I should be able to acknowledge if it actually solved the problem. If it is NOT solved, then I would like the question to remain in a state that may get other useful answers. I would also expect that my own investigation can yield results after the bounty expires and it would be nice to actually provide and accept that answer when it is solved (i.e. MS premier support resolution) – tim Jul 12 '09 at 14:58
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    @Jeff, I resent the accusation that I don't care about the answerer's time. I've spent lots of time on this site answering other people's questions and spending lots of my time upvoting good questions and good answers - as well as rewarding people for trying to help me with my questions. I have also spent hitpoints on bounty questions a few times - people were "well rewarded" for their time - based on your interpretation of rewards. I find it ironic that you bring that up when you and Joel have had discussions about volunteer time, lack of monetary compensation for answers, etc. – tim Jul 12 '09 at 15:03
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    @Marc, yes, the bounty is paid and it attracted viewers, but again, if there is no good answer none should be chosen. Perhaps a possible solution is to be able to extend the bounty (awarding the points as they do now) but leave the question open until the asker chooses. This can cost, say 50 hitpoints for a fixed period, or 100 points for indefinite period? This way everyone gets what they want, the asker gets to choose an answer and the current responders get their hitpoint reward for trying/getting upvoted. – tim Jul 12 '09 at 15:11
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    @Jeff, I don't see how this has anything to do with "gambling". You are missing my point. I don;t mind wasting/"gambling" the hit points, but i would expect the community and the owners of the site to not "gamble" with choosing WRONG answers. If that is the "gambling" that you are talking about then it is inconsistent with the rest of your philosophies about the site. If you are talking about gambling away hitpoints, then you have once again misunderstood the contentious issue. Are you saying it is "intentional" that a set of hard problems will just be cast to the wind? – tim Jul 12 '09 at 17:22
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    @Jeff You are missing tim's point (which is 100% valid) completely. Please read his comments once more and think what the problem he shows really is. – Piotr Dobrogost Jul 14 '09 at 9:50
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    Forget it, tim. Jeff is a little bit stubborn concerning bounties and accepted answers. – Ladybug Killer Jul 14 '09 at 13:27
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    @Jeff, Sorry I got to agree with Tim here. The bounty should still be paid fully, because the question was advertized and such. BUT if the OP does not think there was a "correct" awnser then why should the system force him to mark the highest rated one as "correct". I think we are all willing to pay the bounties, but want to reserve the right to mark an anwser as the right one. – Eric Koslow Jul 14 '09 at 13:33
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    @Adam that doesn't make sense. if someone provides another answer, they'll know that the bounty is over. once the bounty is over, answering it would be like answering any question. i don't see why they would possibly expect more than 15 rep from that. – Kip Jul 18 '09 at 21:37
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    @Jeff "if the answerer spends a lot of time researching an answer, and has ZERO possibility of earning the bounty (because the question owner is an absentee), why bother?" you're missing the point. even under tim's suggestion, if that answer was the highest-rated, it would still get the rep. the only difference is that the answer wouldn't be marked "accepted". – Kip Jul 18 '09 at 21:43

It occurred to me recently that all questions already have an implicit bounty of 15 rep, but that's just a side note.

Bounties work okay as is, but I think they can be improved by making the following changes:

  1. Remove bounty rep from the offering user as soon as the bounty is posted. Essentially you're now holding the rep in escrow. This will remove any special dis-incentive to accept an answer for bounties, because the bounty rep is already gone. Maybe this happens already; I don't use bounties so I don't know.
  2. Give back the normal 15 rep for an accepted answer to the user that offered the bounty. This will provide a good incentive to promptly accept an answer to their bounty.
  3. Now it should be safe to stop expiring bounties, or rather move the expiration out to a much further point in the future (6 months?)
  • #1 already happens. – tim Jul 13 '09 at 14:44
  • #1 is incorrect, as this is already how it works. – Jeff Atwood Jul 14 '09 at 8:32
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    It should still work: make sure there's no incentive to wait and that there is an incentive to accept promptly. Then you can move the expiration pretty far out. You'll still have a few bounties go for almost the whole time, but I think for most of those users will be aware that it might be a while before they answer. – Joel Coehoorn Jul 17 '09 at 2:55

Maybe the system changed meanwhile. I always read about the questioner, as if he could be the only one, spending a bounty. Maybe this was the case in 2009.

I offered a bounty to a question which already had 3 bad, but more or less upvoted answers of 200 points to get a better answer.

A user made an attempt to improve the situation but only revealed mediocre information, which was already posted in answers and comments so far, collected 4 upvotes over the time, but no better answer was made. So the system alerted me to decide whom to give the bounty. Of course there was no reason to spend the bounty to one of the old answers, since their lack to convince me was my reason to start the bounty. But the new answer was no way better.

Why has the bounty still to be awarded? If there has been a better answer, the one who earned it now wouldn't had got it too.

There should be an option to throw the bounty into the waste bin. It's perfectly fine that the reputation gets subtracted, but to give half the award to an answer, which the awarder explicitly didn't found worth it is making a lottery out of the concept and disgusting.

An explicit button could distinguish wishfully wasted bounties from abandoned ones, where the auto-award could stay in place.

  • If you want to suggest that there be a way to "trash" the bounty amount if there are no "good" answers, you can suggest that (it may have been already)... you don't have to award it, though. After about 24 hours, the system will automatically award half of the bounty amount to the top-voted new answer (posted since the bounty started), assuming it has a score of at least +2. If no answer fits this, the bounty is not awarded but it is also not returned to you. – Catija Jul 29 '15 at 22:32
  • @Catija: I know that I don't have to award it, but it get's auto awarded then. That's what my answer is about - I'm sorry I failed to express this. As you might see, I wrote about 4 upvotes which is 2 upvotes or more. And I wrote, that it was a new answer. I guess I know how the the system works. – user unknown Jul 29 '15 at 22:54

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