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Meta question showing community consensus that cash prizes are a bad idea.

A series of questions on main that offer non-trivial amounts in bitcoin for each new best answer:

Please note that I have nothing against these questions - they were not written with any ill intentions and I certainly didn't intend for this to be a trigger for mob downvoting. All 3 have now been edited by the author to remove the offer of cash prizes.


These questions are clearly well-intended and fun, and are causing no problems at present. However, if there is likely to be a problem in future it is easier to introduce a rule now while this is rare, than to try and stop it only once it is established and becomes a problem.

Would we prefer to have simply advice against cash prizes (as in the meta post linked above), but still permit it if people choose to offer them, or would it be better to make an official rule preventing cash prizes?

Consider also whether this should just apply to cash prizes (national currency / cryptocurrencies / gift cards) or also to physical prizes (like giving away a free raspberry pi or a themed t-shirt).

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My view, as a regular user and not as a moderator, is that there's really no way to consistently enforce this. There is no way to prevent a user from, say, emailing the winner of the challenge to offer a prize.

So, the question we should really be asking is: Should we allow users to publicly advertise cash prizes, in a question or a comment?

For that, we can turn to a post on meta.SE by the Almighty Shog:

If I know the answer but am not willing to put the time in to answer your question for free... then I'm probably not gonna do it for $20 either.

But someone will.

Guaranteed, someone, somewhere has time to burn and needs cash. No guarantee they know the answer, mind you... but they'll take a guess at it. And since they really need that $20, they'll likely hang around and down-vote any other answers, while picking fights with anyone who criticizes theirs. Just look at the little fights people get into over rep now, and spice it up with some desperation...

So if you just want answers, and lots of 'em, but don't really care if they actually answer the question... And if you love flame wars... Then yes, this is a great idea.

If you like anything about the way the site works now, then it's a terrible idea.

Granted, our site is a bit different in a few respects. We're not a "normal" Q&A site, so "do you really know the correct answer, or is that just a guess?" doesn't apply here. And, with an objective winning criterion, picking fights with other people's answers isn't really plausible.

However, even though PPCG isn't straight Q&A, the same problem of extrinsic motivation exists. Jon Ericson sums it up very effectively in the excellent linked post (well worth reading over):

If you want to make an omelet, you're going to break a few eggs.

Just don't expect to get chickens.

Adding a real-world, tangible factor would only serve to exacerbate this issue. We'd be flooded with low-quality answers, and even worse, people might begin to prioritize answering questions that involve cash prizes, while ignoring others:

I love answering questions, but I also liked getting my number to go up. Pretty soon, I found that I made a little calculation before starting to answer a question: "Will this make enough of a difference in my number to be worth my time?"

On top of that, the fact that the first meta.SE post I linked was means that there'd be no way to enforce the OP's money/prize offers, making them sketchy at best.

So. Here's what I propose:

As a site policy, we edit out real-world prize offers on sight (and flag comments so they can be deleted).

This also appears to be the consensus on Meta Stack Overflow, and seems to me like the only real option.

This doesn't need to be applied retroactively, but we can follow this guideline (assuming nobody opposes it) for any similar situation in the future.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As a regular user of this site, in my opinion, the absolute best part of this site is the stunning quality of the answers. It is very clear that the people here love these challenges by the amount of effort that is consistently put into them. I would even argue that the average quality of an answer here is far and away above many other SE sites. As such, I oppose any change that threatens to "cheapen" the system or encourage quick answers over the amazing things that pop up here. I think you've hit the nail on the head, Doorknob. \$\endgroup\$ – BrainSteel Aug 10 '15 at 19:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your first quote box's formatting is missing some line-breaks. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Aug 11 '15 at 17:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan Thanks, fixed that. (It showed up in the preview correctly for some reason.) \$\endgroup\$ – Doorknob Aug 11 '15 at 18:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ While I agree with the result of this post, I feel like the argument is faulty. People can be very motivated to gain rep, and offering bounties can (and I imagine it sometimes does) cause the same problems. The only difference I would think is that people are generally more motivated to get money as opposed to rep. \$\endgroup\$ – Nathan Merrill Aug 13 '15 at 14:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BrainSteel I think he hit the door on the knob. \$\endgroup\$ – mbomb007 Aug 22 '15 at 3:45

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