Bounties for Awesome

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This page is currently an proposal that's waiting for execution. Mel is clearing out some time in late spring to sprint on prototyping a base software system for this; contact if interested.

Pencil.png NOTE: The contents of this page are not set in stone, and are subject to change!

This page is a draft in active flux ...
Please leave suggestions on the talk page.


What is Bounties for Awesome?

A bounty is a prize that someone announces they will give to anyone else that completes a task. For instance, I might have a math problem that I can't solve, so I post that I'll give $50 to whoever can find a proof that shows such-and-such. This idea has been used in mathematics, open source, and open content.

"Awesome" with a capital A is a usage that means "of or relating to human rights, social entrepreneurship, sustainability, or the general saving of the world." (Paraphrased from OSA)

Bounties for Awesome uses bounties as a way for people to post, tackle, encourage, and support projects that are Awesome.

How does it work?

That's what we're trying to figure out now. Please contribute!

Problems to solve

These are a few things we will have to address in order to make BFA work.

  • How do you find the bounties that have been posted? How do you find out who is working on a bounty (so that you can collaborate with them)?
  • How do you make sure the problem that's posted is important, helpful to the world, and possible to complete?
  • What happens if you are only able to post a small amount of money as a bounty for a project that is very difficult (but important)?
  • How do you make sure that bounties are completed well or to sufficiently high standards - who determines when a bounty has been "claimed?"
  • How do you make sure that people who complete bounties are rewarded properly?

Current idea

BFA provides:

  • a place for people to collaborate on posting and refining problem statements
  • a way for people to find problems to work on and collaborate with others trying to do the same
  • a way to judge or moderate whether a problem has been solved, or who has posted the best solution (and therefore who should "win" what portion of the prize)
  • a sort of "escrow," a safe place for people to donate their money/resources for a specific problem to; BFA will hold on to that cash until the problem is solved and then distribute it to the "winner(s)"

Types of people in the BFA

There are four types of people that BFA deals with. Anyone can fill any role.

  • Posters: People who have or know of a problem that should be solved. They are the ones that post the original bounty proposal. Bounty proposals are collaboratively edited by anyone who wants to contribute.
  • Sponsors: People who donate money (or supplies, space, expertise, etc.) to those who have solved, or are trying to solve, a certain problem. They decide which moderators should have control over the resources they are donating, and turn over their resources to BFA, which holds them in a safe place until the moderators judging that bounty have decided where to distribute it.
  • Moderators: People with the expertise to evaluate solutions to the problem and determine whether they will actually work. They are selected by the sponsors of a bounty. They serve as the judges that determine who has "won" a bounty.
  • Solvers: People who work on bounties and are trying to solve the problem (and possibly win a prize).

Example use case

  1. Marco, a middle school teacher, has a problem he wants solved - he would like somebody to write an open content geometry textbook for his classroom. Marco (as a poster) describes the project and posts it to the BFA site.
  2. Marco (as a sponsor) says that he will give $100 to somebody who writes him a good textbook. He gives $100 to BFA, which holds Marco's money in a safe (and preferably interest-bearing) place.
  3. Marco decides that he will be one of the people that determines when someone has "won" the bounty, and lists himself as a moderator. He asks his friend Chandra, who is also a math teacher, whether she would like to help him and be a moderator as well. She agrees, so Chandra and Marco are now moderating Marco's $100 bounty.
  4. Andy and Ben are college students who find out about the bounty and decide they want to try to make the math textbook. They begin working together on the project (as solvers).
  5. Chris, a student from another college, finds out Andy and Ben are working on the textbook and asks if he can join their team. They agree. Andy, Ben, and Chris are now working together as a single team of solvers.
  6. Boris, the parent of one of Marco's students, finds out about the bounty and thinks it is a good idea. He (as a sponsor) donates $50 to the bounty and asks Marco and Chandra to moderate his money as well, since he trusts them to make a good decision.
  7. Mel, one of Marco's friends, thinks the project is a great idea and wants to sponsor it too, but wants only Marco to moderate her $50 since she does not know Chandra. The project now has a total of $200 towards its completion. Chandra and Marco are moderating $150 together - $100 from Marco and $50 from Boris. Marco is also moderating another $50 from Mel.
  8. Andy, Ben, and Chris finish their math textbook. They submit their textbook to Marco and Chandra for evaluation.
  9. Marco (as a moderator) decides he likes the book and wants to award Andy and Ben the prize. He gives them the $50 from Mel (which he was the sole moderator for) and asks Chandra if she would like to award them the $150 they are moderating together. Chandra thinks the 2nd chapter isn't good enough yet, and suggests to the solvers that they fix it before she approves their submission.
  10. Andy, Ben, and Chris fix the 2nd chapter and resubmit it, and Chandra is satisfied. Together, Chandra and Marco release the $150 they were entrusted with and give it to Andy, Ben, and Chris, who decide how to split it amongst themselves.
  11. Marco goes off happily to his middle school classroom with his new open content textbook and teaches geometry.

Solving the Problem

One possible way to allow people to accomplish the challenges is through project teams. After a challenge is posted, the first person who wants to try to solve it forms a project team. This team may consist of only one person, or may include other people they know. At this point, they are the only people working on the challenge. On the site, the person who created the team must specify exactly how the bounty will be distributed amongst the team if it is won. The issue becomes more complicated when a new person wants to try to solve the BFA challenge posted online. They have two choices: start their own project or join team one. If they want to start their own, they will be in competition with team one and thus will need to not only accomplish the task, but do it better than team one. The judges will need to set clear guidelines for what is "better" ahead of time so that judging can be as fair as possible. If they decide they would rather join team one, that team’s leader must approve them as a new member and revise how the bounty will be distributed to include the new member.

Whether a project should have more than one team competing for a single, unshared bounty is still in question. It would encourage competition, something that has been the cornerstone of the marketplace for years. On the other hand, it could create destructive conflict and waste time that would be better spent on another initiative. If, for example, there was a project to start a recycling program in small Wisconsin town, it may not even be possible to determine who is actually responsible for starting it up, making it nearly impossible to judge. I believe that many projects can only have one active team, but they are required to post biweekly progress/status reports on the BFA website, and if the judge (who would be in charge of tracking progress) determines that the team is inactive or no longer making progress, can reopen the bounty to a new team. This can continue until the goal is accomplished or the bounty expires. This idea runs into trouble if different judges can control different people’s bounties, unless each judge chooses whether or not they will recognize additional teams (thus team one may be able to earn $250, while team two has a max of $100).

Overall, there is still a lot of discussion to be had on specific policies that will allow teams to form and solve challenges.

Some important points

  • All bounties have a sunset clause. Nothing's allowed to stand forever - bounty terms can be extended, or successive bounties for the same project can be posted, but only active problems that people are paying attention to should actually stay in the system.
  • People can fill multiple roles simultaneously (even for the same project). For instance, I could post a problem, sponsor it, and act as a judge to evaluate it. I could also donate (sponsor) to the cash pool for a project I am working on (solver).
  • Anyone can judge. However, it's in the participants' best interests to get judges who have as much expertise and impartiality as possible. It should be possible to create "groups" of judges for which application is required for membership, as in the Content stamping idea - that way people can decide that the "MIT Professors" group is trustworthy without evaluating the credentials of every single person in that group (essentially trusting the moderators of that group to only let in good-hearted, qualified people).
  • There might be multiple bounties for the same project.

Interested people

  • Mel Chua - One of the original authors of the proposal. Interested in making this happen. In particular, I'd like to work on partnerships with open content organizations, publicity (writing explanations of stuff, marketing, making things pretty), legalities (incorporation, financing), and am (if time permits) willing to contribute to code as needed (but don't want to lead the technical aspects of this project - not sure what is needed yet).
  • Andy Pethan - one of the original authors of the proposal.
  • Marco M -sounds incredible! I don't know how I could help, but I'd love to hear any news...(P.S.-I felt like I was reading a MetaOlin case study for that example ;P)