In the past few weeks I have seen users placing "extra" bounties on questions with answers that are "exemplary and worthy of an additional bounty." While the said answers undoubtedly make some of the higher-quality posts that I have seen on SE, to my understanding these "extra" bounties work against its intention of motivating answerers by placing emphasis on the bounty itself, as opposed to any intrinsic motivation.

Essentially, I am concerned that prolonged use of the bounty system in this way will overjustify the creation of "exemplary" answers and eventually degrade the quality of the site in one of two ways (or both): The answerer, in attempt to get reputation/recognition, is verbose at best OR the bounty system loses its appeal as users find there is nothing to answer.

Has "extra" bounties been a recurring event in the past?

In moderation is it proper usage of the system?

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    $\begingroup$ A recent example $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist May 1 '19 at 1:04
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    $\begingroup$ "overjustify the creation of "exemplary" answers" doesn't make much sense to me. $\endgroup$ – user191954 May 1 '19 at 2:23
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    $\begingroup$ @Rishi I am referring to the overjustification effect in psychology: an overuse of bounty tends to place emphasis on the external factor and may diminish internal motivation. $\endgroup$ – user195162 May 1 '19 at 2:31
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think this is a real problem. Nobody writes answers on the hopes that some passerby will drop a large bounty. The vast vast majority of rep is earned the normal way. $\endgroup$ – knzhou May 1 '19 at 7:56
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    $\begingroup$ I'm with Rishi. I really don't understand what your objection is. Are you claiming that people will write excessively verbose answers, thinking that that will increase their chance of attracting a bounty? $\endgroup$ – PM 2Ring May 1 '19 at 8:00

My favorite use-case for "Reward an existing answer" bounties is late answers that are substantially better than existing ones.

Example from on-site: Why has Earth's core not become solid?.

There is nothing at all wrong with the accepted answer by Kyle K. More than that, it's a good answer. However, more than a year later David Hammen added an outstanding answer which has languished in relative obscurity despite my posting links to it here and there around the site.

I want more people to take the effort to upgrade the response to old questions, and one way to encourage that is by rewarding the behavior.

A similar example from Stack Overflow is this answer by CR Drost. That question has pre-existing good answers, but Mr. Drost came along much later and did a better job explaining the "Why?" than the existing answer and I would like to reward that.

  • $\begingroup$ Well this now explains the recent upvotes of that answer of mine... $\endgroup$ – Kyle Kanos May 1 '19 at 13:43

This is proper usage of the system, and there is even a bounty reason to reflect that.

Reward Existing Answer

See also this mother meta answer about bounties which states:

"Can I award a bounty to an old answer?

Yes, you can award your bounty to any answer on the question. This makes it possible for users to reward particularly good answers with more rep than a standard upvote would provide.

To indicate that your bounty will be awarded to an existing answer, choose "Reward existing answer" when asked "Why are you starting this bounty?"

Keep in mind, that the bounty can be awarded only after a minimum of 24 hours, after starting the bounty. It is suggested that you wait until the grace period to award the bounty, as due to the additional attention a bounty gives, the answer may receive more upvotes."

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    $\begingroup$ Do you have anything to say about the concerns raised by the poster about this system, even if it is an option? $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist May 1 '19 at 1:05
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    $\begingroup$ @AaronStevens Not really. I don't even see it as my/our place. There is already a mechanism for using it that way network wide, with a specific mention of this usage being acceptable. I don't think we should really need to overturn SE's own policies on this. $\endgroup$ – JMac May 1 '19 at 1:06
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, I didn't mean if you think this should be overturned or if it is acceptable or not. The post mentions some concerns especially outlined in the second paragraph. Even if this usage is acceptable, do you think those concerns are valid? $\endgroup$ – BioPhysicist May 1 '19 at 1:09
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    $\begingroup$ @AaronStevens No; but they also didn't really ask anything about those concerns, so I'm not really sure what the relevant question around them was. People are using the system as intended. I don't even really perceive the issue. It seems like "prolonged usage" is no different to me than "already in place", which is deemed not only a non-issue, but an intended feature. $\endgroup$ – JMac May 1 '19 at 1:13
  • $\begingroup$ To clarify: I am not referring to the fact that it is a bounty option (though that is helpful to know), but rather the motivation and possible imprudence of it being a bounty. I did not include an explicit question for the concern because I felt the concept too broad to get a good understanding. So that I can understand your view better, what would you say to something like having a separate section for "exemplary" answers and shifting the focus away from reputation? $\endgroup$ – user195162 May 1 '19 at 1:46
  • $\begingroup$ @Quantumness That would be more of a question for the main Stack Exchange meta. I'm assuming though, it likely would not happen. $\endgroup$ – JMac May 1 '19 at 2:27
  • $\begingroup$ @Quantumness As one of the two users who just heaped a 200 point bounty on a high-scoring answer, I will assure you that there is no imprudence. When someone puts up a bounty, they usually think twice and examine the previous bounties received by the answer and the existing score. It probably helps encourage users to write more similar high-quality answers. $\endgroup$ – user191954 May 1 '19 at 4:06
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    $\begingroup$ @Rishi Forget that, as the other user mentioned here: we can spend our rep on good answers however we please. I’m not apologizing for rewarding a good thing. $\endgroup$ – knzhou May 1 '19 at 6:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Quantumness one way to separate section for "exemplary" answers and shifting the focus away from reputation... is to create an independent/external blog/wiki and post them (with proper attribution) on there... $\endgroup$ – Andrew T. May 2 '19 at 7:34

Has "extra" bounties been a recurring event in the past?

As others have mentioned, bounties that reward existing answers are explicitly encouraged by the design, and bounties have had that explicit encouragement designed into them since the bounty system reached its final shape in late 2011.

The use of such bounties has been in place in this site for the past seven years or so: you can find all of those bounties in this Data Explorer query, which can also be used (as in this query) to find the rate at which they've been posted. Graphically, it looks like this:

enter image description here

(Date on the horizontal axis, accumulated number of 'reward existing answer' bounties on the vertical axis.) There is a minor bump in the rate over the past ~month or so, but it does not represent a break with the long-term trend, and it is not the largest localized burst in the rate historically.

This represents, at current SEDE count, 192 out of a total of 2920 bounties (full listing here, rate graph here). (Also, for full disclosure, about a quarter of those 192 were set by me; as I've argued previously, we need more of those bounties (and bounties overall), not less.)

To comment on your final set of assertions:

Essentially, I am concerned that prolonged use of the bounty system in this way will overjustify the creation of "exemplary" answers

How exactly is promoting quality content a problem, again?

and eventually degrade the quality of the site in one of two ways (or both): The answerer, in attempt to get reputation/recognition, is verbose at best

If you think this is a problem, show it. Show evidence of answerers being "verbose at best", to the detriment of the content, in an attempt to fish for post-answer bounty rewards. (Which, frankly, as a strategy, makes no sense at all. The answers being rewarded are not being prized for being verbose, but for being high-quality.)

OR the bounty system loses its appeal as users find there is nothing to answer.

From the 192 'reward existing answer' bounties listed in the query above, a full 53 of them (i.e. 25%) attracted an additional total of 70 answers while the bounty was running. Given that these were questions that already had quality answers, this seems like it's still working to increase contact between answerers and interesting questions (which have a high correlation with the exemplary answers), thus producing more quality answers.

If you think this is a problem, then show it.


I will address the concerns pointed out in the second paragraph of v1 of the question:

  • Verbose answers will not receive bounties for being exemplary. While long answers do frequently merit bounties for exceptional explanations, length is not the sole factor in determining bounty-worthiness. It isn't even a factor. Deliberate wordiness makes the answer worse and decreases the chance of a bounty, and everyone knows that.

  • Bounties will still be set on questions which are lacking good answers, and in those cases, the appropriate bounty reason will be chosen (probably "draw-attention"). The bounty system will still function in the way which you prefer: it will give questions a spot on the featured tab of the front page, and incentivize answers to those questions.

  • The bounty reason "reward existing answer" has been around for a while (over seven years) even though you noticed it recently, and I have never seen any concerns about its effect. It appears to promote good answers.

Some other points:

  • It is unlikely that a person will answer a question while hoping for a reward-existing-answer bounty: there is a limited number of users who actively set up these bounties, and they do not set bounties for every good answer they see.

  • Such bounties, particularly when they're big (150+ rep), are not placed arbitrarily. People are conscious of the existing bounties which were received by the answer and the votes cast on it. The intention is to encourage more answers of that quality, and to reward them.

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    $\begingroup$ "for a while (at least a couple of years)" -- the blog post that introduces the feature is dated to September 2011, so well over 7 years, i.e. much longer than the time between SO starting up and the bounty system achieving its current form. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty May 1 '19 at 13:28
  • $\begingroup$ @EmilioPisanty Thanks! I've added that link to the answer and made it precise. $\endgroup$ – user191954 May 1 '19 at 13:34

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