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One of Literature's biggest problems, as can be seen even from the Area 51 stats, is the unanswered questions. At the time of writing, we have 138 questions with no upvoted or accepted answers, out of only 575 questions total.1 A very significant proportion of our questions just aren't getting answers - perhaps because not enough people have read the works being asked about, or because those who have miss the question, or because people simply aren't motivated enough.

In an effort to eliminate at least the third reason, and perhaps the second too, I suggest we try to come up with some kind of system to reward people for answering older unanswered questions. The most obvious way to do this would be by a bounty, but I don't think we should narrow attention too much by just starting a bounty on one specific question.

  • Perhaps we could compose a list of unanswered questions, and promise to award a bounty every <time period> - fortnight? month? - to the highest-voted (or a random but positive-scoring) answer to a question from this list. The list would be updated each time a bounty was awarded.
  • Perhaps we could decide that an answer would only be eligible if there was a certain time period between the question and the answer, in the spirit of the Revival and Necromancer badges.

A similar idea has been tried on the sister site Movies & TV, where it seems to have been working well.

Of course, for a bounty system we'd need to have a few people willing to give up their rep for this noble cause. I'm happy to be one of them, but not sure if I'd want to be the only one. Perhaps the relative lack of rep so far on this new site means we should wait a while to implement a bounty system, and in the interim come up with some other reward system.

Thoughts? Ideas? Criticisms? Discuss!


1 Please don't keep editing this question as these statistics change. The point stands, regardless of the precise figures.

  • When I first read this, I thought, "why are we rewarding answering unasked questions?" – Aza Mar 8 '17 at 3:34
  • I'm willing to offer a few bounties as well. – Mithrandir Mar 8 '17 at 5:18
  • I would encourage people to offer bounties on, well, questions they'd really like to see answered. You can do that already; that's what the system's for. We could institutionalize it, but... maybe we could try offering a few bounties first, seeing how that goes? – Standback Mar 9 '17 at 13:46
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    @Emrakul Clairvoyancy should always be rewarded. – Rand al'Thor Mar 9 '17 at 21:16
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The questions that are unanswered are mostly unanswered because they're hard. They can't be answered whenever someone feels like spending some time Googling; they require a lot of research and (in many cases) expertise.

From my personal experience answering these types of questions, and from when I've talked to people far smarter than me who write answers on the Mythology Stack Exchange, I don't think that the system of bounties you describe will work effectively.

Here are the barriers that stop experts from answering hard questions, in order of importance.

  1. A lack of time.
  2. If a good question has a mediocre/bad answer, and that answer is upvoted/accepted, most people I've talked to will say that they won't bother answering, because if people can't recognize a bad answer then how will they recognize a good answer.
  3. A feeling that the answer will not be appreciated by the community in relation to the effort that goes into it.

Giving out bounties to whoever answers these unanswered (i.e. difficult) questions won't fix problem 1, and it will increase problem 2. It will encourage people who have the time but don't have the skills to write answers in hope of the fake internet points, meaning more mediocre answers. Bounties don't give people time they wouldn't otherwise have. The only problem that bounties solve in this case is they let members of the community know that their contributions are valued.

I wouldn't encourage making a list of questions that will get bounties. In stead, I would recommend finding high-quality answers to difficult questions, and giving those answers bounties, in the hopes that the people writing those answers will feel that their contributions are valued and then post again.

  • I actually hadn't thought about this. The benefit in letting answers come organically is that there's no incentive for people without much subject matter knowledge to jerry-build a way to an answer. – Aza Mar 8 '17 at 8:23
  • How about this then? We could promise a bounty to someone who posts a really good answer to an old unanswered question, where "really good" is at the discretion of the bounty offerer. This would eliminate problem 3, and potentially problem 1 (some people might make time for writing answers if they get extra motivation), and circumvent (or at least not exacerbate) problem 2 because there's no chance of a bounty being awarded to a mediocre or bad answer. – Rand al'Thor Mar 8 '17 at 11:09

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