Is it because your total reputation is in front of your name and the size of that number is a sort of prestige?

In another discussion when someone expressed frustration that over reputation gain being bias in favor of answering simple questions, it was answered:

I think it is correct that the more popular subjects will get more attention than the best questions and answers on less popular subjects.

That's life.

You can't fight popular questions, but you can certainly change the system to reward people differently.

Why not spend your reputation on putting up bounties? Why is so little reputation (relative to total reputation) spent on bounties?

If it's simply that the prestige of having high reputation goes down, then why not make the number in front of everyone's name "average reputation flux" or "total reputation earned"?

By rewarding top reputation earners to spend their reputation, you'll have a more diverse way of gaining reputation; and it would be possible for more obscure questions to have much more value in answering (in terms of prestige).

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    I haven't put up any bounties yet because as a somewhat low-rep user, I'd like to 'save it' for increased privileges like close voting. I'm sure several people are in a similar position. While you're below the 25k rep threshold (access to site analytics), there's usually a new privilege which you'd like. – Chair Jul 8 at 3:15
  • Not an answer, but a point to keep in mind when thinking about this: most (possible all) who have offered a non-trivial number of bounties have a "I spent [large number] of rep on a bounty that got no responses at all!" story. – dmckee Jul 8 at 5:45
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    @dmckee I certainly have a fair share of those, and I should point out that I don't regret setting those bounties, at all. – Emilio Pisanty Jul 8 at 9:54
  • No one seems to be answering this secondary question, which is "why not make the number in front of everyone's name 'total reputation earned'?" – Steven Sagona Jul 8 at 22:47
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    @Steven That's because your secondary question is a pretty pointless discussion. This community does not control the Q&A engine that runs the site along with the 150+ sites of the SE network, which is run by Stack Exchange; that kind of proposal should go to Meta Stack Exchange. – Emilio Pisanty Jul 8 at 23:49

I'm the anomaly that rob pointed out in the comments, so I'll weigh in.

As far as I'm concerned, any rep above 25k is fairly gratuitous, given that there are no more privileges to be earned (despite some excellent proposals for the 30k tier), and it might as well be spent constructively by awarding bounties:

  • To incentivize the right types of questions, i.e. the types of in-depth, well-thought-out, highly non-trivial (but still within the realm of the answerable) questions that, because of a narrower subject matter or some other factor, are less likely to attract upvotes or answers.
  • To reward the highly-detailed, high-quality answers that we all wish got a ton of votes but (again through e.g. a narrow subject matter) don't.
  • To give users with a record of high-quality community moderation and content a faster access to the moderation privileges that will make them most effective at helping this community succeed.

And, since participation in SE is easier to keep to a high standard if you gamify it (at least for me), I decided to make a Data Explorer query to have some concrete numbers to focus on:

One thing I find very striking from that query is that there are a full fourteen users who have spent upwards of 80% of their rep on bounties: not a huge fraction of the site's userbase, but those users still deserve a lot of recognition, particularly for the ones who give out a substantial fraction of those bounties to questions by other users.

What I don't see in that table, and would quite like to see more of, is a larger population of the >25k rep userbase, for whom moderation privileges are a gone pursuit, and who have enough experience with the site to have well-defined ideas of the types of questions, answers and users that really make a difference, as well as the reputation to reward them.

In informal conversations on chat, I have tried to prod several high-rep users into making bounties more of a regular habit, and the responses have largely been along the lines of "I don't often find posts that fit those kinds of criteria", to which my answer is roughly: that's rubbish. If you're on the >25k rep side, it's almost a given that you spend a great deal of time browsing the site, and if you keep an eye to the ground with the question "what questions, answers and users really make a difference?", it won't be too long before one of those turns up on your path. When that happens, just click that bounty button!

And, in closing, I'll allow myself one bit of gloat: I'm planning to hit 20,000 rep offered in bounties with my 100th bounty in a couple of months. I hope to see more high-rep users on that leaderboard by that time ;-)!

  • An idea to foment more bounties: how about something along the lines of worldbuilding's bountapalooza? – AccidentalFourierTransform Jul 8 at 22:02
  • What do you think about increasing the cap on total reputation that can be put on a bounty (I imagine a bounty worth thousands of reputation would get a lot of attention). Also, what about making the "reputation number" in front of everyone's heads be "total reputation earned" (so that bounty loss doesn't count as a loss)? – Steven Sagona Jul 8 at 22:53
  • @StevenSagona If bounty loss doesn't count as a loss, then why would anyone refrain from offering bounties everywhere? Paraphrasing a wise man, if every post is has a bounty, no one does. – AccidentalFourierTransform Jul 8 at 23:21
  • To be more clear: If we swap the little number next to everyones username (and maybe even website perks people get having certain levels reputation) with TOTAL reputation earned, there would be less of an incentive to hoard it. In my proposed system you still lose the reputation "resource." If you are worried about it changing incentives, I doubt it would - considering that the people that earn the most reputation will still be at the top - which is the same as the current system. – Steven Sagona Jul 8 at 23:25
  • @Steven Discussing changes to the Q&A engines on this meta is pretty moot - if you want to propose something this radical, then Meta Stack Exchange is the place. This community does not control the behaviour of the system - SE does, and they've been honing the core Q&A engine for the past ten years now. Any engine changes would have to be done network-wide, and they have huge ramifications (often unforeseen), so SE is very reluctant to make changes. Your proposal is a non-starter: the gamification system is basically set in stone now, and it is too essential to the SE model to change it at this stage. – Emilio Pisanty Jul 8 at 23:43
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    And, on top of that, I also think it would be a terrible idea - it would only lead to a devaluation of both rep and bounties, neither of which is good. The whole point of bounties is that they should cost you, and if you take away the cost then they become pretty meaningless gestures. But, as I said, that discussion is pointless - the system just isn't going to change (or if it is, then the discussion to do so is at Meta Stack Exchange, where you'll be able to get input from the people that really understand the system and which parts would break if it changed). – Emilio Pisanty Jul 8 at 23:47
  • I see that you're pretty put off by the idea, although it seems like maybe the structure of it is not clear. Nothing changes about the current system, except that the prestige is connected to "total reputation earned" instead of "current reputation" - you still lose reputation for bounties, so there is a cost to putting up bounties, and you can certainly run out of reputation. But now there is both an incentive to use up reputation that previously was hoarded, and to put more effort into answering high-bounty questions. – Steven Sagona Jul 10 at 4:07
  • I'll check out the meta stack exchange though. – Steven Sagona Jul 10 at 4:07
  • As I said, it's a completely moot discussion. We didn't institute that behaviour and we don't have the power to change it. The people who do have the power also have a much clearer picture of the slew of different impacts that the change would have - go and ask them, instead of repeatedly trying to bring it up in a venue where it's not going to go anywhere. I would suggest, instead, using this thread to focus on the community behaviours that we can affect. – Emilio Pisanty Jul 10 at 8:28

Popular, "every day" questions get a lot of exposure because many more people can explain every day things. Incredibly esoteric or nuanced or specific questions get less attention because fewer people are qualified or interested in answering them.

But I don't think that's a problem that bounties will fix. If I ask a question on a topic that maybe 10 people on the site are qualified to answer, odds are really good those 10 have already seen it. And if it didn't get an answer, a bounty probably wouldn't help. And using it to get more attention is likely not needed either, because those who know that topic have probably already seen it.

Where I see a good use of bounties is in areas that are in the middle. It could be a topic where the pool of people who can answer it is big, but not huge, and where there's enough questions that it's possible somebody misses them. Then a bounty can be useful.

For me, my area of interest (fluid dynamics) isn't quite in that category. It isn't that it's terribly esoteric. But there's relatively few questions that get asked in it so I usually see most of them anyway. And there's a small pool of people here who are interested, and so many times I see a question and go "Oh, I know X will see this and be able to answer better than I will." And that usually happens. So there isn't an overwhelming need for bounties in those areas.

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    I disagree with your second paragraph. We have a substantial population of highly-qualified users who visit the site sporadically and who are likely to miss an interesting but low-activity question once it sinks out of the front page, and a bounty is a great way to keep those questions visible for long enough that the casual users will see them. – Emilio Pisanty Jul 8 at 9:58
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    @EmilioPisanty I suspect that those highly-qualified sporadic visitors don't browse the front page, but go directly to the tags they care about. Thus, correctly tagged questions are likely to be seen by those who can answer them. Sometimes they know the answer but won't post anything because the question is kinda boring -- in those cases, a bounty is a nice incentive. – AccidentalFourierTransform Jul 8 at 13:25
  • @EmilioPisanty It's all just speculation because we don't have the data to verify any of it, but that's why I think the middle class of tags/users are the ones who would benefit the most from bounties. Sporadic visitors, but enough questions that just looking at the first page of the tags of interest might miss. Bounties to keep those active could be good (unless they are all bountied and active, then it's a wash). But like AFT said, I think a lot of low-activity tags still get the attention of sporadic users by browsing the tag directly. – tpg2114 Jul 8 at 17:29
  • If everyone on this forum answers questions completely independently of reputation, and there's no prestige or value associated with reputation, then of course bounties wont change anything. But I suspect that if someone put up a bounty worth 30k reputation, a LOT of people would pay more attention to it. – Steven Sagona Jul 8 at 22:46
  • Also I got very lucky and got a very well written answer for my question and it was someone who made a fresh account to answer it. It took a few bounties to get an answer, so I suspect that having it on the "front page" helped quite a bit! – Steven Sagona Jul 8 at 22:48
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    @StevenSagona And with a 30k bounty, you'll probably get a lot of unqualified people leaving answers behind just to get the bounty. I don't think it will increase quality to throw more rep at it. Ultimately, gamifying things works because it's a slow grind to get new permissions/tools and because the big numbers next to names means something. If it got massively inflated by bounties flying around, I don't think it would work as well. Plus, you'd get people who refuse to answer anything until bounties showed up and we're worse off. The system isn't broken as it is. – tpg2114 Jul 9 at 16:53

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