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The other day in chat, Daniel Beck and Surfasb helped come up with the idea of sponsoring questions with bounties to create or improve some Community FAQs and canonical answer posts.

If you're not familiar with how Community FAQs work, they're a way for us to create a collaborative posts to answer common questions and provide resources for repeating issues that users come to us with. Some examples include:

Right now, a lot of these questions are focused on Windows-related issues (12/28 are tagged with Windows or Windows 7), so it would be great to get some more Community FAQs for OS X, Linux, and for cross-platform problems. But really, anything goes!

So, here's how we're thinking of doing this: high-rep users who want to help promote some of these questions can pledge a bounty from 100-500 rep. We'll make a list of all the users who want to sponsor a Community FAQ, how much rep they want to use, and how many questions they want to sponsor.

Anyone can propose a community FAQ question to be sponsored - either an existing question tagged that needs more help, or a question that hasn't been asked yet or isn't yet a CFAQ, but you think needs a canonical answer. Questions proposed for sponsoring will be listed in a meta post, and voted on. After a voting period, we'll match up questions with sponsors. If rep sponsors want to put a bounty on a specific one, we'll do that, but otherwise we'll match the highest-voted proposals to the highest-value rep donations.

Then, we'll have a super-answer week when all of the bounties run at once. During that week, we'll promote the event with a blog post and a site notice banner, encouraging all users to find one of the questions which they know something about, and try to write an amazing post about it. At the end of the week, the bounty holders will choose the best answer, and award the bounty.

Right now, if you're interested in participating, please fill out this Google Form to let us know how you're going to donate. Note that you can both donate some rep and answer questions and be eligible for the contest!

If you have feedback, suggestions, etc. please leave them in the comments/answers as appropriate. Once we decide exactly how we want to do this, I'll create a meta post for people to suggest Community FAQ topics, so start thinking about them now!

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    Would be more interesting if the community voted on the post that they thought needed canonical answers, and then community posted the bounty. Bounty goes to the highest voted answer (or perhaps some other mechanism to get rid of the first post advantage) – soandos Dec 20 '11 at 1:45
  • By "community posted the bounty", do you mean the community user? The purpose here is for interested community members to voluntarily promote the community with some of their own rep. The community will b e able to vote on posts that need canonical answers though, that is part of the current design. – nhinkle Dec 20 '11 at 1:49
  • Yes. Maybe some type of combination that will act as a multiplier on the bounty that users post. – soandos Dec 20 '11 at 1:54
  • @soandos that is something to consider - I'll ask the higher-ups if anything special like that could be implemented for this event. – nhinkle Dec 20 '11 at 1:59
  • Similarly, I have been giving bounties this week to the 3 highest upvoted unanswered questions (on multiple SE sites) and might continue to do so; but I first need to get to 20k. For both reasons (sponsoring users/questions that really need answers, and getting to 20k to help with tag wikis) I won't be joining this... – Tamara Wijsman Dec 20 '11 at 2:00
  • @TomWijsman I'm a bit confused by your comment - are you saying that you're already doing this, but don't want to participate because you don't have enough rep yet? You're almost at 20k, and tag wikis are a negligible privilege considering that you can suggest edits to them (and gain rep for it) any time. We probably won't run the event until next month, anyhow - you might have 20K by then. – nhinkle Dec 20 '11 at 2:04
  • @nhinkle: No, I'd rather spent my bounties on the 3 highest upvoted unanswered questions. But still, +1. On a side note, I also agree with soandos that it would be a nice idea to have the community user raise the gained reputation on questions that need more or better answers... – Tamara Wijsman Dec 20 '11 at 2:06
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    @nhinkle I still don't see why users should sacrifice their rep. It would be a much better idea to have the community to pick the questions, and then Community to post the bounties. – soandos Dec 20 '11 at 2:12
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    @soandos it's a way for people to give back. Once you get to a certain point, rep doesn't really matter any more, and a couple hundred here and there isn't a big deal. Some people like giving away a bit of rep here and there to help newer users along and promote the community. – nhinkle Dec 20 '11 at 2:16
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    good work, +1. I stand behind this. – studiohack Dec 20 '11 at 2:31
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    Have you thought about the community wiki state of these questions, and possible collaboration on answers? My PATH answer was significantly improved by others, and any bounty would have gone to me; just like up vote rep for regular posts. – Daniel Beck Dec 20 '11 at 6:11
  • @DanielBeck I did think about that; not sure how best to handle it. Any suggestions? Unfortunately, there's no way to award a bounty to multiple contributors to a post. – nhinkle Dec 20 '11 at 6:20
  • @nhinkle If we could assign bounties on Meta (for "Hey I'm participating" style answers to a main site question specific topic), it'd be soooo easy. I see no way to solve this at the moment. – Daniel Beck Dec 20 '11 at 19:10
  • The reasoning behind these answers is astonishingly short-sighted. Of course it's linked, I want to pay SU rep on MSU, that's the whole point. – Daniel Beck Dec 20 '11 at 21:16
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    @Tom I've been too busy with school to run this right now. I may revisit it in a couple months once the next term starts and things are a bit calmer for a little while. – nhinkle Feb 24 '12 at 16:51
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We need to figure out how to prevent cheating the system. Some users answer bounty questions with rather poor answers apparently just to get a shot at the bounty if no one else posts a better answer. If there are many such topics, there's a risk some of them fall through the cracks.

OTOH community FAQ aren't the type of question to be unanswerable.

  • Maybe space them out? 10 for a given week or so seems reasonable. I don't personally think that there are SO many topics that need a canonical answer. Also some may be better off as blog posts (What hardware should I buy seems to fit that nicely). – soandos Dec 20 '11 at 5:34
  • Very good point about preventing cheating. I would hope that we can work together to avoid low-quality answers getting points they didn't earn. As far as blog posts @soandos, I very much approve of the idea, but right now blog posts don't show up in site search, which makes it hard for people to find them. A canonical answer can definitely reference a relevant blog post though. – nhinkle Dec 20 '11 at 5:54
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I don't think it makes sense for users to sponsor questions who aren't invested in them.

By simply matching sponsors to topics, users will find themselves with questions they are unable to judge the answers for.

While letting users decide what questions to sponsor could leave some of them without sponsors, it could lead to better answers, since they can guide answerers to improve their answers.


OTOH, if we were to make this completely decoupled from the sponsors, we'd need some way to judge the "best" answer: Just letting the system decide will be wasteful, as only half the bounty would be awarded.

Going strictly after votes will just punish late answers that, due to their extreme awesomeness, took a while to write.


Letting the sponsor decide, influenced by votes and comments by others, strikes me as the most useful approach, which brings me back to my point: Don't just randomly assign sponsors to bounties.

  • OTOH, if I sponsor all the OS X questions, I cannot really answer them :-/ – Daniel Beck Dec 20 '11 at 6:09
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Oh hey, I forgot about that one. I'm willing to donate, say, 2000 rep in bounties to deserving answers, but not all at once. My experience with giving large bounties has not been good. Furthermore, I would like to encourage cooperation to achieve a good canonical answer, and setting a bounty rather encourages competition.

I don't know how to settle this, but if you find a good canonical answer to a question (I don't spend much time on SU these days), feel free to poke me (in the comments below or in one of the chatrooms I hang around in) to request a bounty-after-the-fact.

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It seems that are there are least two different problems that SU has to face.

  1. There are many questions on the site that are asked over and over again, and would best be dealt with by creating a canonical post that has everything these users will need and more.
  2. There are many questions that are simply unanswered, and will most probably never be answered. It seems a little sad that there are 9800 ish questions that have no answers, and no foreseeable way to get any (perhaps the more relevant number is the 20,600 that have no upvoted answers). While it is obvious that many of these questions probably have no-one following them, and may in fact never be read, that does not mean that we should abandon them. After all, if people visit those pages, and there is nothing there that can help them, what is the point of keeping the page there? I doubt the user will be comforted much that someone else had the same problem, came here, and did not find an answer.

While it seems clear that the the first issue is being dealt with by this meta topic, it would be nice if the second issue was also solved.

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    Many of these questions were abandoned, are poorly thought out or very localised. In many cases it's troubleshooting. Often the only possible answer to "how can I" would be "you can't", and when I post that, I am criticised. – Daniel Beck Dec 20 '11 at 5:12
  • @DanielBeck I don't mean to blame anyone, or even the community for having so many abandoned questions. With regard to your first point, then perhaps those questions should be deleted. With regard to your second, if the answer is that something is impossible, then that should be posted. I doubt there will be a negative reputation cost to this as it is 5 to 1 downvotes to upvotes to get to zero. – soandos Dec 20 '11 at 5:17
  • @soandos Recent example. At least the user was too cheap to down vote. – Daniel Beck Dec 20 '11 at 5:34
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    @DanielBeck, not cheap, he does not have the privilege yet. I would hope that such behavior is much more uncommon among the users that do have this privilege. In any case, I think that your issue is a solvable user education issue, not a reason not to answer the question. – soandos Dec 20 '11 at 5:42
  • @soandos It's also really difficult in many many cases to prove something is impossible, and then it's hardly rewarded at all (because it's not the answer the user expected, or nobody else cares). For some answers I research more than an hour. If the rep/minute drops far below 1, some answers just won't get posted anymore. The community seems to often value short, value, borderline useless answers more than well-researched ones. I am very happy with the response to my answer here, but you just can't argue that Ignacio has a worse rep/minute ratio. – Daniel Beck Dec 20 '11 at 5:50
  • Abandoned questions are somewhat of a different issue, but still important. One thing I might suggest for that is if people want to work together to either write some SEDE queries to look for old, abandoned questions, or manually go hunting, we could delete some questions if they're really old (>1 year?), low views (<500?) and no answers or votes. Separately, if people want to go find un-upvoted answers, and upvote the good ones, edit the salvageable ones, and delete the bad ones, we could do a lot to clean up the site. – nhinkle Dec 20 '11 at 5:50
  • @nhinkle Just as with my question on AskAnSUMod yesterday, it's not clear whether something like this would be flag worthy, or, if I flagged multiple posts in a day, just lead to a rejection spree that resets my flag weight, like what happened here. I'm still going for Marshal, so that'd be good to know. – Daniel Beck Dec 20 '11 at 5:57
  • @nhinkle, with regard to what Daniel Beck said, just recalling what happened earlier in the year with me. – soandos Dec 20 '11 at 6:02
  • @DanielBeck and soandos, I'm not suggesting an all-out flagging spree - if it's going to be a large number of questions based on a data query, I'd suggest a meta post with a list of them, so the community can vet the decisions. It's possible we could organize some sort of "all-hands-on-deck" event where the mods help delete and the users find old abandoned questions, but otherwise, a large number of posts might be better posted on meta than flagged. – nhinkle Dec 20 '11 at 6:22
  • @soandos FYI you can save queries and link directly to them – nhinkle Dec 20 '11 at 6:22
  • @DanielBeck, link is here and I would appreciate it if you can find the error in it (unless there really are only 47 questions that mean nhinkle's description of old and abandoned. – soandos Dec 20 '11 at 6:27
  • @soandos LastActivityDate will probably be refreshed by Community bumping questions to the front page. – Daniel Beck Dec 20 '11 at 6:30
  • @DanielBeck even if I remove that statement entirely, there are a measly 341 results. Seems very low. – soandos Dec 20 '11 at 6:32
  • @soandos AnswerCount is NULL unless set explicitly by adding or deleting answers (or moving them as part of a merger). Use (Posts.AnswerCount=0 or​ Posts.AnswerCount IS NULL)​ instead. Don't you just love how the database folks can't even get integer data types right? – Daniel Beck Dec 20 '11 at 6:41
  • @DanielDeck Still seems low (595). – soandos Dec 20 '11 at 6:42

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