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Posting and answering questions you have already found the answer to

Ran into a situation today that I think might be familiar, and had a thought on how StackExchange might make use of it.

The Scenario

I looked for an answer on StackOverflow and couldn't find it (rare, admittedly). Because I was in a hurry, instead of asking the question, I google elsewhere and found a really nice and complete answer. For me, that's where the StackExchange story stops this time.

The Idea

However, what if I could enter my question, suggest this text as the answer, copy it verbatim (unmodified except formatting), and provide the closest attribution possible?

Perhaps I would get some extra reputation for being resourceful, and the site would get credit multiple places in the viewing of the post, with a link since it would be a special type of answer (an "attributed answer", perhaps)

Potential Benefits

  • External content into StackExchange -- more content
  • Connect StackExchange with the rest of the web through the best knowledge
  • Those who have knowledge and write beautiful ways to do things -- that solve peoples' problems -- get the credit that they deserve, and potential traffic
  • Users can rely more on StackExchange and less on Google, which means StackExchange will be their first stop more often than not
  • A minor one: reputable businesses / blogs that have a ton of these answers may want to submit them en masse (for moderation); this could be done for a fee, potentially driving revenues.

Potential Drawbacks (Gotta be honest, right?)

  • I can see some sort of moderation / oversight being necessary to ensure that the answers coming in are legitimate and not an external site flooding with answers or someone submitting variations of "what is 2 + 2" to gain reputation.
  • link bait: instead of answering a question, a user could write the post on their blog site.
    • Potential Solution: I would suggest only allowing these types of answers when the user submits a question and answer pair together
  • Might cause users to favor Google before searching on StackExchange, so that they could submit this sort of answer
    • Potential Solution: the moderation mentioned earlier would be necessary. Similar questions would be rejected

Just a thought; thanks for considering!

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marked as duplicate by The Unhandled Exception, hammar, kiamlaluno, ChrisF, Lorem Ipsum Jan 29 '12 at 16:08

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

Also related: – The Unhandled Exception Dec 15 '11 at 0:10
up vote 2 down vote accepted

Just from seeing other quality sites go through the same issue with Google Panda and all of that "reformation", I think the more "duplicate content" (i.e., stuff that's already on another established page) that you have on a site the worse your standings with the search engines.

Certainly, SO's policies encourage users to integrate the source information into their answers when copyright permits, and this should be encouraged, but to start "scraping" in any form runs the risk of turning the site into a a "Question and Content" site versus a Question and Answer site.

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A very good argument. Hadn't considered that side of it (question and answer vs. question and content) the philosophical difference is much clearer in that context. Thanks! – SeanKilleen Dec 15 '11 at 11:19

Yes, Jeff himself has said on at least one other question that this is allowed, even encouraged:

Having this in mind, is it a good practice to post a question and answer it yourself immediately on stackoverflow/serverfault when you want to share your idea with community?

Absolutely, that is one of the design goals for the site: to be a frictionless technical mini-blog where you get reputation for your hard work.

Related: Stack Overflow is You

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Interesting; I hadn't seen that! So I suppose the question, then is: as good netizens, when people post answers to their own questions that come from elsewhere, and for that purpose only, couldn't we better enforce or encourage attribution? If I post a question and answer by copying text, I get the credit whether I choose to attribute or not. Shouldn't the initial author get the credit as well, and there be a mechanism in place to achieve this? – SeanKilleen Dec 15 '11 at 0:12
Attribution is required for anything you post to StackExchange that you did not write yourself!!!!!! This is enforced by the moderators. If you quote a source, link to it. If you quote another answer, link to that answer (as I just did with Jeff's answer) – The Unhandled Exception Dec 15 '11 at 0:15
I understand this, and I understand that it is enforced. My question is, what stops a new person from coming in and -- perhaps not knowing best practices -- pasting an answer from a site as the answer to their own questions? Do the moderators also Google every answer? My suggestion is that for this instance, where the whole answer comes from another site, would be to have an option for that to make attribution the most obvious path. Should people cite everything? Yes. But 4 years as a writing tutor taught me how little this has made its way into common sense. – SeanKilleen Dec 15 '11 at 1:56
Maybe I'm reading you both wrong, but my understanding is that the important part of @goober's question was about copying answers from elsewhere, whereas Jeff's answer is about answering your own question (not about where the answer comes from) – Benjol Dec 16 '11 at 7:49
@Benjol is correct. The workflow I'm referring to is not 1) have question 2) post question, 3) come up with solution, 4) post answer to own question. The workflow is 1) Have question 2) Find excellent answer somewhere else (i.e. google search if SE search turns up nothing) 3) Post the answer to your now-already-answered question with attribution and a link so people have an excellent resource the first time they search SE. The last step could be achieved by cultural means, but having a process ensures attribution is built-in. – SeanKilleen Dec 16 '11 at 12:57

I am strongly opposed to the concept of copying and pasting the work of others as answers or questions here. If the original authors of that content wish to do this, that's great and I've seen good examples of forum questions and answers that authors have moved over to here. However, that is a privilege of the original author only, not someone else on Stack Overflow or elsewhere.

Perhaps my academic background influences me here, but I find it highly offensive to take the work of others and claim it as your own. This is plagiarism, and I do not tolerate it here. I flag every instance of this that I find, and in almost all cases the content is deleted by moderators.

If you really do find a better answer than something else out there, and you feel compelled to add this as an answer to a question here, use your own words to do so. If there are critical sections of that answer that you need to reproduce, place them within quotes and provide a link and other proper attribution to indicate the original author and source. As in any kind of long-form writing, if all that you write in your answer is just a quote from another source, many still regard that as plagiarism even if you provide proper attribution.

Every person who's had a research-based writing assignment in school has had to do this, so I would expect the same out of professionals contributing to the Stack Exchange network.

I find automated republishing of other people's content to be repugnant, and one of the things that's wrong with the Internet in its current state. Marco Arment had a good article about this recently, after he found some of his articles being republished at another website, implying that he wrote for them. Even in the case of proper attribution there, it reflects badly on those who do this, and I would not want Stack Exchange to join their ranks.

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I don't think he was suggesting automating this, nor copying texts without attribution. – Benjol Dec 16 '11 at 7:50
@benjol is correct. I too come from academia, and would never advocate in any way ripping off the intellectual work of another. In fact, what I'm suggesting would be to allow work to come into StackExchange with attribution when someone has already found it to answer a question that StackExchange could not. In this way, it drives traffic to the orig. page and gives a proper attribution, which is something that's currently lacking; there is a general cultural understanding, but for those unfamiliar or non-academic, it may not be as obvious. Making it an option highlights the right way to do it. – SeanKilleen Dec 16 '11 at 12:54
@goober - As I state, if an answer is merely a quote of a long post somewhere else by another user (with the possible exception of referring to documentation), with no additional information, even if it has a link to the original content I generally consider it plagiarism. Unless this is set as Community Wiki, if you post this under your account, you are earning reputation for someone else's work. Again, see Marco's article for why I think this is inappropriate, even with attribution. Why is it so hard to rephrase things in your own words? – Brad Larson Dec 16 '11 at 15:33
@Benjol - The use of the term "scraping" almost always implies some sort of automation. This reads as a feature request, too, so I take it as asking for the process of pulling content from another site to be enabled by some sort of automated helper. – Brad Larson Dec 16 '11 at 15:35

It's an interesting idea but I don't really think it's the right thing to do. After all, Stack Exchange is first and foremost a place for people to get their questions answered. The goal of being a repository of information for future visitors is an important but secondary one, in the sense that it should only be accomplished as a side effect of the first goal.

If somebody happens to ask a question that is answered really well by an external source, and if the external source's license allows you to copy and paste it here as an answer (with attribution), then sure, go ahead and do that. But actually asking the questions just to enable yourself to do this is too much.

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After all, Stack Exchange is first and foremost a place for people to get their questions answered. The goal of being a repository of information for future visitors is an important but secondary one, Interesting, I always thought the idea behind it was the opposite, i.e."make the internet a better place" by flooding it with high-valued knowledge; the Q&A format is the best fit for this if you want interaction (and not a static enciclopediac page), compared to regular forums for example – Damien Pirsy Dec 15 '11 at 20:07
Yes, the point is to make the internet a better place by giving people high-quality answers to their questions, not by flooding the net with as much information as possible (even good information). An encyclopedic site (i.e. Wikipedia) is more appropriate for the latter purpose because the content there is driven by whatever people want to create an article about, there's no "need" to wait for someone to ask the question. But SE is not trying to replicate Wikipedia. – David Z Dec 15 '11 at 20:18
Uhm, maybe I didn't phrase my thoughts correctly, I didn't mean that..I was just thinking that the different importance between it being Q&A and the knowledge repository is not so strict, when not them being at the same level. – Damien Pirsy Dec 15 '11 at 20:27
@DavidZaslavsky, the case I'm proposing would be for someone to be able to post the high-standard-of-excellence knowledge, with their question. StackExchange (in my impression, given the auto-search on related questions, etc.) wants you to see relevant answers when you search for something. Adding an additional high-quality answer doesn't change this; it merely buildds attribution into the process and says it's okay to post a question when you already know the answer, if you're bringing in the high-quality answer from an external site. It could still be commented on, down-voted, etc. – SeanKilleen Dec 16 '11 at 13:01

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