When you propose a bounty, these points are immediately subtracted from your score, and can never return, even if there is no satisfactory answer.

I think this is unfair; can someone explain the reasons for such a policy?

For example, I have several questions, such that the answers would be very precious for me, and I am ready to give many of my points for them. But I am not willing to risk loosing many points in the case nobody gives an answer which would satisfy me.

EDIT. If bounties are "advertisement fees" then what is the point of having them in the range 50-500? All bounties get in a quite short list which is called "featured". Then there in no point at all in paying more than minimum amount. Or the amount should be proportional to the time it stays on this list:-)

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    $\begingroup$ Well this may or may not be the truth but i think the reason is: If we could get back the points if no one would answer the questions, we would propose a lot more bounties (i personally would). Thus it wouldn't be as big of a deal that there is a bounty for a question. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 22:39
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    $\begingroup$ I think this rule makes sense (you invest capital, the venture flops, you lose). The main problem is that 7 days is a ridiculously short time to make bounties effective in a field like mathematics. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 22:54
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    $\begingroup$ I always found MathOverflow to be a site where bounties were a really silly feature to keep. Of course it's not our choice in the matter, and there's no real harm if someone wants to waste internet points. But a question that would normally be bountied is one that has a reasonable answer. If you know that there is an answer in the literature, but not sure where, a bounty makes sense. If you think the question is open, a bounty is plain wrong. Especially in communities of researchers, where open questions are usually open for a reason. $\endgroup$
    – Asaf Karagila Mod
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 23:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Asaf Karagila: I disagree with you. Bounties are useful. We have many questions posted every day, and most people do not have time to read all of them. But we have a small list of featured questions which attract much more attention. So we pay for advertising, and this is useful. I have this experience when one my question was solved as a result of bounty. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 23:45
  • $\begingroup$ @Stefan Kohl: and "satisfactory answer" has to be decided only by the person who pays the bounty, but by the others:-) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 23:48
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    $\begingroup$ @StefanKohl how do you propose to decide in actual practice what constitutes a "satisfactory answer"? If it is only up to OP, this is wide open to abuse. Indeed, the current system does only auto-award bounties to "satisfactory answers" (by a criterion of score; one might want to raise it). The reason the bounty expires is also, perhaps mainly, to have some point when it is auto-awarded. I agree one could think about keeping bounties active if there is no "satisfactory answer" at all (possibly taking them of the featured tab) but I can also see reasons against this. $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 0:22
  • $\begingroup$ @StefanKohl as I said I could imagine to raise the "satisfactory answer" requirement as decided by the community from only "score +2" to something more substantive. However, I also feel that making explict votes there could be a source of conflict besides seeming a bit exaggerated. Generally speaking, I consider it as a bad idea to make the bounty system (and anything related to points) more serious; it should be a playful thing (as most monetary awards in math are, too). $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 12:03

1 Answer 1


The reason that a bounty costs points is two-fold. On the one hand the points are a direct incentive for somebody to answer. Yet, on the other hand, the bounty gives significant additional visibility to the question.

The second point seems at least as important as the first one. It is this additional visibility for which you have to "pay" no matter what.

Bounties need to "cost" something to stay effective. If they would be free, somebody could put a bounty on essentially unanswerable questions all the time, under-cutting the effectiveness of bounties.

You could think of a bounty like an advertisement. One normally has to pay the newspaper, the radio station or whatever medium irrespective of the effect the advertisement has on ones sales.

A specific strategy in your situation could be to place only a small bounty for the visibility (that is essentially the same with 50 or 500 points on this site). If you get an answer you can then give a larger bounty to reward the answerer if you want.

Added on edit to not have it only in comments: It is true that for visibility the amount of the bounty does not make an immediate difference, and personally I would recommend to start with a low bounty. However, the amount becomes relevant in case of repeated bounties (same user, same question), then one has to at least double the amount of the previous bounty or put 500. Stretching the advertisement analogy, one could think, for visibility, of the lower bounties as promotional rates one gets only once and the actual rate is 500.

  • $\begingroup$ I can, and I did pay 100-200 points for "higher visibility". But there are questions for which I would pay 5000 or 10000 points, if the answer satisfies me:-) $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 23:25
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    $\begingroup$ It is not possible to offer 5000 or 10000 points at a time. The maximum bounty is 500. If you want to award as high bounties as you say, you would have to work outside the system regardless. You could state your intent to award the points for an answer in the question or a comment to it. (Personally, I do not believe bounties that high are useful though.) $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 23:32
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, I understand. But then there is no difference between awarding 50 and 500 because all bounties are advertised on the same small list, correct? $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 23:42
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    $\begingroup$ For visibility initially there is no difference this is true. However, note that if you want to add a bounty to the same question a second time you need to at least double the bounty (and so on), or put 500 if doubling exceeds it. [I might misremeber the details, but it is certainly something along these lines.] Thus, even purely for the aspect of visibility there is some purpose in having a range of points. $\endgroup$
    – user9072
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 0:00
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks I did not know about that doubling rule. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 0:01

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