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I keep finding broken links on Stack Overflow, currently I add a comment in the hope someone will return to update it or if I find a link I edit the answer.

I imagine this will only increase over time so I wonder if there could be a standard way to manage this? Then like review people could update broken links as they may know an alternative?

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I like the idea but the problem with it is finding and replacing the links - if you don't know what the original link lead to, how do you know that the replacement is right? –  Oded Nov 28 '11 at 10:22
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True, although the link usually has some text suggesting what it was. –  John Nov 28 '11 at 10:27
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No, what's the point? Moderator has no magic powers to bring dead links back to life. If the goal is to delete such answer, just flag as "other" stating it points to dead link that has no replacement. –  Shadow Wizard Nov 28 '11 at 13:22
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The Internet Archive Wayback Machine can sometimes help, but usually only if the resource had been around quite a while ago. –  Al E. Nov 28 '11 at 14:58
    
definitely needs to be addressed, links to forum threads on external sites (like Sun forums) are particularly suspect –  prusswan Dec 28 '11 at 7:16
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@ShaDowWizArd: Who said anything about the flag being directed at moderators? Anyone who can suggest an edit could potentially do the bulk of the work to fix a link, after all. –  SamB Feb 13 '12 at 23:15
    
@Sam sorry not sure what you mean. When you flag a post (question or answer) for moderator attention, it's directed for moderators. What suggested edit got to do with that? –  Shadow Wizard Feb 13 '12 at 23:23
    
@ShaDowWizArd: I mean, there's no reason that all "flagging" has to be for moderator attention. It could work as Mr. Wizard suggests, for example. –  SamB Feb 13 '12 at 23:26
    
@Sam good point, but still - moderators still have to wade through all the flags, they can't count on enough 10K+ members present all the time willing to do such job. –  Shadow Wizard Feb 13 '12 at 23:36
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@ShaDowWizArd: It doesn't have to hit the moderation queue at all, such links could just be listed in the "broken links" tab, and highlighted using an obnoxious color scheme. –  SamB Feb 13 '12 at 23:40

5 Answers 5

The standard way to deal with this is to make the answer not rely on a link in the first place. An answer should contain some sort of relevant summary, excerpt, or explanation from the content it links to so that if the link breaks, the answer is not compromised. If you're finding answers that contain practically only links, they might not be salvageable.

As for a flag for this reason, I wouldn't mind seeing a flag like "Answer is a broken link". Or even "Answer is a link"...

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I completely agree. Often there is a description (though not always) but this link would be to the framework or code library. –  John Nov 28 '11 at 11:55

I don't like this.

Flags should be used to inform moderators that there is something they need to take care of. Cleaning up links isn't one of our duties.

  • Users can edit posts to fix or improve them. That includes fixing broken links.
  • Answers which consist of nothing of worth except for a link should be either deleted or converted to a comment; this is covered already by NAA.
  • You can always leave a comment for the OP to fix their broken link.

Adding another flag suggestion will lead users to believe that mods should be handling this situation first rather than as a last resort.

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I think it would be good to note that Won't (aka Will) is an SO/MSO mod. As such, he sees hundreds of flags each day, and commenting/deleting is the only thing he has time for. Most any non-Trilogy mods would be happy to get a cleanup flag and work to improve/grow their SE 2.0 sites, and a lot of Trilogy mods do quite a bit of editing in spite of the load. Perhaps this flag reason should be restricted to SE 2.0 sites? –  Kevin Vermeer Nov 28 '11 at 13:19
    
@KevinVermeer: Good point. But then again, I don't believe any mod should waste their time trying to fix links. If the answer doesn't stand on its own without the link, its not an answer and should be deleted IMHO. If it does, then there is no rush to fix the link. Either leave a comment or edit to delete the link. –  Won't Nov 28 '11 at 13:25
    
I can see your point, at of all the things moderators have to do this is not important. –  John Nov 28 '11 at 13:35
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I'm a mod on Super User and agree with Will: as moderators, this isn't our job. If the link is broken, there is nothing we can do to bring it back that other users can't. Either edit the link yourself if you can find a google cache, internet archive, or new site with a link, or else edit out the link and do your best to make the answer still useful. If it's no longer useful, vote to delete, or use the custom flag option to request deletion. –  nhinkle Dec 19 '11 at 7:42
    
@John doesn't suggest moderators should be responsible for updating broken links, only that they should be marked which I thoroughly agree with as all to often an answer is insufficient without proper context, I understand your concerns though so what if posts with broken links were marked and any user that repairs the link would get bonus SO points? –  Dead.Rabit May 13 '13 at 9:43

I imagine this will only increase over time so I wonder if there could be a standard way to manage this?

I agree, this is a huge problem that I think needs addressing.

Wikipedia has a fantastic model, I think we should follow. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Dispenser/Link_checker.

The core solution should include an automated tool that trawls and confirms all the external links are good (on a regular basis) and annotates all the cases were links are broken in some way (redirect, plain dead, etc.) ... then the community should have a UI to work through all the problem posts.

I think this is a big issue we should tackle.

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Currently, in Review mode there are tabs:

  • first answers
  • low quality posts
  • first questions

And so on. If it is possible to add a broken links tab I think that would be a good solution.

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How about a "mostly links" tab? That would help us find these before they're broken. Triggered by an absense of (much) text other than the link text. –  Kate Gregory Nov 30 '11 at 15:25
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@Kate I think that broken links should have a higher priority, so I would favor having either an automated detection of 404-type errors, or if that is too costly, user flagging of broken links which then appear in this list for others to review. I think posts that are just a single link with very little text should appear under "low quality posts." –  Mr.Wizard Nov 30 '11 at 15:36

Mods are outnumbered, and the few of them on SO (relative to user base) probably spend a lot less time browsing questions -> following links than us commonfolk. If I see a post with a broken link, I might look around near the link's location for the intended content, but if I can't find it, I edit the link out, and the description says so.

If anyone wants to go through the edit history to find the original link, and do more thorough searching, have at it. But I don't think we ought to just "flag" a post for a moderator to fix later. It's removing a link; we can all handle that work ourselves (rather than push it off to someone else).

And as Sam said, this should be tackled, because nobody wants to crawl through posts all day removing broken links. The link checker is a great idea. But that's a separate feature request; until it gets implemented, can't we collectively handle this?

My opinion: low-rep users ought to be able to do a special kind of edit - specifically for reporting broken links - that, like a normal edit, needs approval, but only from decent-rep (say 2,000, the same for instant editing) users, and mods aren't bothered by it.

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