6

Stack exchange frowns on answers containing only a link, even if it's to relevant information, because:

  1. It requires extra effort from the reader
  2. It is vulnerable to link rot
  3. The stated goal of Stack Exchange is to host content, not just link to it

A common approach to these answers is to leave a comment asking a user to add some more information and/or quote an excerpt from the link target.

However, what should we do if the author does not follow through?

On the one hand, the answer might still be very useful for future visitors who do follow the link. On the other hand are the numbered items above.

This has been discussed on meta stackoverflow - and there are basically two highly-upvoted answers there, one encouraging a downvote, the other encouraging deletion or improvement (both recommend leaving comments first). Which way should we go?

Notice that there is no appropriate post annotation for this (like there is for unsourced answers)

15

If the author does not improve the answer and if no other user goes ahead and edits the post, it should be converted to a comment. It still might contain valuable information, but a link alone is not an answer by SE standards.

7

I have a couple problems leaving these type of answers around:

One problem is determining what the answerer was trying to say. Sometimes it's so blatant that the answer doesn't really add anything - for instance, linking a Wikia article about the subject. It's probably in the top 5 Google search results for this particular question, so it's lazy and not particularly useful.

Sometimes the link isn't so blatant, and then it's a matter of guessing what the poster meant. In these cases it might be a link to a forum thread or the general troubleshooting page for a game. I can visit the link, and maybe with some searching try to figure out what the answer should've been, but I have no idea what they were trying to point out to the question asker.

Basically, the person answering the question is not providing the information the asker wants - they're just saying "your answer might be here" with no further evidence or effort invested.

Now, I could take this link, and do a bunch of work to create an excellent answer by editing. Why should I do this? This gives the lazy poster free rep (which has come back to bite us in some cases by giving privileges to underperforming community members), and encourages this kind of behavior.

In my opinion, the best thing to do if the answer has been abandoned is to remove the answer. If possible, call attention to the question so that it gets a "proper" answer.

  • You raise good points. But what if the question is "how to connect PS3 to my bellybutton" and the answer is a link to a tutorial explicitly explaining how to do that? Do we automatically assume that just because the author did not explain the link, that link must not be very good? I have seen both cases - good links and terrible links - and I'm a bit wary about removing the good with the bad. – Oak Mar 25 '12 at 15:00
  • 1
    @Oak and what if the link dies? He should still summarize what the post says or why he thinks that link solves the problem, else its never a good answer – Ivo Flipse Mar 25 '12 at 16:12
  • 1
    @Oak, if it's a good link, it's the start of a good answer - it still requires work to make it a good answer. Converting to a comment might be appropriate, or perhaps posting an answer that is more thorough. Doing some work to improve an answer is good, but doing extensive work to save an answer seems counterproductive to me. – agent86 Mar 25 '12 at 16:15
  • @agent86 "it still requires work to make it a good answer" - yes, but it's still an answer. I'd think deletion should be the exception, not the norm, when it comes to posts that genuinely attempt to answer the question, even if poorly. – Oak Mar 25 '12 at 16:54
  • @Oak, it's my contention that eventually these answers will be supplanted by better answers which are more deserving of upvotes - in this case, these "bad answers" will end up likely in the negatives, and having a significantly negative answer makes it a decent candidate for deletion. I certainly don't condone knee-jerk deletion of them, but I don't think that heavily editing them or allowing them to stick around in the long term is a good idea either. – agent86 Mar 25 '12 at 17:10
6

The big problem here is we're supposed to be providing answers not link to answers, which is why every answer should stand alone. I should be able to tell the following from your answer, at the least:

  • Where your link is going
  • What I'm supposed to get out of the link
  • The gist of the link in case I don't visit it

Sometimes your link has too much content (like a huuuuge table of information) to accurately represent, but I need to at least know what's there, and if possible a one line summary like "Yeah, Link's Sword does X damage" instead of expecting me to figure it out from the linked content.

They shouldn't be deleted though, comment asking for further explanation. If the link is literally all the content in the post or you feel the poster didn't put effort into the answer, downvote too. Sometimes the answer is at the other end of a link, so these should at least be converted to comments if no one steps up to edit the post.

2

My personal opinion is to not delete those answers. Ultimately they do point to information which may be useful for the question and not necessarily easy to find. Yes, the list of "problems with link-only answers" above is real, but those are all secondary considerations to our core goal of answering questions.

I do think that beyond encouraging the author to edit it via a comment, we should encourage anyone else who cares to edit it if the author does not follow through.

  • 2
    I'd rather see the person who would do all the work to edit it into something useful instead post their own answer with the link plus info. Why reward the lazy linker by giving them the rep? – Sterno Mar 25 '12 at 15:17
  • Why reward someone for plagiarizing content from the original writer? – Decency Mar 26 '12 at 5:26
  • @Decency Because it's not plagiarism. Imagine the high school student who, rather than writing a paper, simply checks a book out of the library and turns in that book to the teacher saying, "All the info is in here, somewhere. Knock yourself out." Let's say another student sees the first student check out that book, says "Yeah, that looks like a good reference source", and uses it to write a paper which he then turns in. That second student is certainly not guilty of plagiarism. And that first student can look forward to a nice fat F. – Sterno Mar 26 '12 at 12:09
  • I don't really think that analogy fits at all. A teacher is looking for comprehension- an asker doesn't require it. For my answer, I have no clue whatsoever where to watch StarCraft matches live in person, I've never gone. I didn't do more than skim the links I gave, I just knew where to look for them. – Decency Mar 26 '12 at 12:13
  • @Decency And I have no problem with your answer. In fact, in the case of your example answer, the equivalent in my analogy would be if the teacher was specifically asking "go find me a book". The link is the answer in your question. In the types of questions Oak is talking about in the main post, the link just points you at a page which probably, somewhere, contains the answer. – Sterno Mar 26 '12 at 13:04
2

Should I flag answers which contain only a link as "not an answer"?

  • 7
    Nicely played sir. – Wipqozn Mar 25 '12 at 15:20
  • Care to elaborate on why that posts answers the question? :P – Ivo Flipse Mar 25 '12 at 16:13
  • 3
    That system message below sounds like it already answers this entire meta question for us. "Answers that don't explain anything will be deleted." – Sterno Mar 26 '12 at 0:35
1

Pretty much the only reasonable way to do this is to copy the entirety of relevant information in the link, reformat it to fit nicely on StackExchange, and then cite the source as not being yourself. Not only a massive waste of time, this also serves the purpose of pulling traffic away from the original author, who deserves it much more than someone who copies the information.

If a link expires, THEN you can hide/delete the answer until the author updates the link. With Wayback Machine, it's ludicrously easy to find old content that's not around anymore if you have the link. Disallowing legitimate, useful answers because they might not be valid in five years is just a silly principle. The text answer itself probably won't be valid in five years, either.

Example answer: Where can I watch Starcraft/Starcraft 2 matches in South Korea live in person?

  • 1
    Nobody is saying people should copy sites verbatim, but rather that you summarize the information to try and answer the question or to show why the content on the site you linked to is so great that everyone who's interested should check it out. If it were so easy to Google the answer yourself, most people would have already stumbled on to it – Ivo Flipse Mar 26 '12 at 5:44
  • The recent number of LoL posts that can be answered in a 15 second Google search doesn't help your point. Things ARE easy to find through search engines, but a lot of people are dumb. – Decency Mar 26 '12 at 5:47
  • See the answer I gave, for example. What could possibly be gained from me rewriting that information, and what could I add to it to make it better? It's "this is my question" ... "here's a link to a really good answer" and I don't see anything else that needs to be said. – Decency Mar 26 '12 at 5:48
  • Because on most topics every person and their dog decided to blog about it or its buried in a 50-page forum thread. Having someone knowledgeable like yourself find the post that actually answers it is what Stack Exchange is all about. I actually think the text you added to your example is sufficient, its better than simply linking two links and be done with it – Ivo Flipse Mar 26 '12 at 5:53
  • 2
    @Decency For what it's worth, I think your answer is great. It contains a link, but it also provides some context. The issue I think we're dealing with is when people leave answers that look a like the one I left to this question. A straight up link with no context. Plus, in the case of your question, the person was specifically asking for a link, which makes it a bit of a special case. The real issue is when people just slap on a link to a wiki page that requires you to then dig through the page to find the answer you want. – Sterno Mar 26 '12 at 12:04

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .