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I flagged an answer 10K only link that looked like this:

This is not my article but have a look at <external URL> which looks like it will work for you.

I used the "Other" flag, with a custom message: "This answer looks more like a comment to me because it does not offer much besides a link to an external resource." As far as I can tell, the answer has been converted to a comment but my flag was declined with the following message:

Please use the "NOT AN ANSWER" flag type for these "answers"!

Please help me understand the decline reason. Did I do anything wrong?

http://i.stack.imgur.com/UzZ9b.png

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marked as duplicate by gnat, Hugo Dozois, Tobias Kienzler, Jim, Danny Beckett Jul 17 '13 at 16:25

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.

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Just as a bit of related info; I tend to only use "other" for "Not an Answer" when it is a bit difficult to see that a post is "not an answer", and it might need some explanation. Link-only answers do qualify as "Not an Answer" for this purpose. –  Andrew's a Unitato Oct 30 '12 at 8:14
    
No, you didn't do anything wrong. But if we're going to convert it to a comment, it helps our workflow more if you pick "Not An Answer" over "Other" (we have more options for NAA). The only way we can convey that back to you is through a decline message on the flag (we can't set the flag as "helpful" and send a message to that effect). If you're flagging a lot of answers as "other", we'll typically do this in the hopes you'll flag as NAA. –  casperOne Dec 5 '12 at 4:56
    
Other than that, what @AndrewBarber said is right, if it's link-only, it's NAA and we know enough to take it from there. In cases where it's not obvious, then other is helpful to point out the specifics, but that shouldn't be the norm if it's a link-only answer or an answer that's really a comment. –  casperOne Dec 5 '12 at 4:57
    
Semi-related question: For a user posting a somewhat relevant link to their own blog, should I still continue flagging using other->"questionable self promotion etc" or just flag as spam? Marking as spam seems a bit harsh when they seem like they're genuinely trying to be helpful –  WebChemist Dec 5 '12 at 5:15
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@WebChemist you might be interested in this discussion: Is this really not spam? "...user linking to a site with same name as the user, the link was also in the profile. Additionally the answer seemed rather content-free. I was surprised to see the flag declined..." –  gnat Dec 5 '12 at 7:43
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5 Answers 5

up vote 6 down vote accepted

flagger's guide to link only answers

Although link-only answers are rather heavily discouraged, a flagger needs to take into account that currently, these carry a certain risk of flag decline. In addition, types of flags that go through 10K tools queue at Stack Overflow carry a risk of being disputed by one of few thousands * 10Kers.

No matter what flag you use, there can always be a feasible explanation that it was wrong. Explanation will of course depend on the flag, for example:

  • Not an answer
    Without additional message, it is difficult to find out what's wrong with flagged post. * Alternatively, one can find a statement that this flag isn't appropriate for link only answers. * Flagger can also be referred to the statement in respective canned message in low quality review queue: "link may answer the question..." *

  • Very low quality
    Link only answers typically don't qualify, as these are very often salvageable through editing. *

  • Other
    These flags bypass 10K review, thus increasing load of moderators. *

For those confused about particularly peculiar decline, there is an option to ask at meta. If the question is spelled in a way that doesn't hurt feelings of meta readers, one can even get some upvotes for asking, but generally one shouldn't expect answers like your flag was right and decline was wrong (see above for examples of how it will likely be handled).

  • Side note. In some meta posts or comments you may see moderators suggesting / requiring particular kind flag to be used (or to avoid) for link-only answers. Convenient litmus test in cases like that is to ask author whether this is their personal opinion or a statement that can be quoted in tag wiki (wiki for respective flag or for link-only answers). Tag wiki are quite authoritative reference; anything else, read: use at your own risk.

With above in mind, options available for flagger are about as follows.

  • Zero effort, no risk
    Don't flag link-only answers at all. No gain, no pain.

    • Those inclined can also consider link-only answers into better shape. That's a no-risk option too, but effort wise it's certainly more than any kind flagging.
  • Minor effort, some risk
    Pick and stick with particular kind flag that feels most appropriate. Learn to live with occasional declines, learn to expect that these will be explained as your fault if you ask at meta.

  • Substantial effort "in exchange" for less risk
    Invest some effort into analyzing the garbage you're flagging and pick a flag that looks like having least chances to be misunderstood. Note this doesn't completely guarantee that flag will be accepted, you only make best effort to avoid decline. That's sort of an art. *

    It depends on what the poster tells us. Is it "You can solve the problem by doing this, and this, and that. See this link for reference.", or is it "I had the same problem and found a truly remarkable solution that solves everything. I wrote a marvelous article explaining it all on my blog (full of non-relevant ads). Read all about it!". It isn't the amount of text that might accompany the link, what matters is if there is something relevant to the question. If not, it is really link-only no matter how much other text there is...

It is also worth keeping in mind that if one casts flags in series, there is an additional risk of having series of declines. 1, 2, 3


Related resource deserving dedicated analysis is "Are answers that just contain links elsewhere really “good answers”?" and particularly, a 200+ voted top answer: "links are fantastic, but...". It is sometimes referred to as a definitive discussion on link only answers *.

Besides being generally very enlightening reading, it can be also of a great help if a flagger needs to explain that their intent was to be helpful. It should be noted though that post is "definitive" from moderator perspective, but not from one of a flagger.

  • For a moderator, the post can be a major help to resolve misunderstandings that may happen when link-only answers are removed. Moderator can just refer to it and safely expect their decision to be understood and supported by reasonable SE users.

For a flagger, use of the post is rather limited to case like mentioned above (flag intended to be helpful).

Attentive reader will notice that (as of now) the very word "flag" is not mentioned neither in the question, nor in any of the answers, not even in comments.

Post is essentially about what makes link-only answers troublesome, but not about how to flag these. Flagging issues are simply out of scope of discussion. As a result, an attempt to use it to justify particular kind flag would carry a substantial risk of being dismissed and labeled as a matter of a subjective (mis-)interpretation.

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If it's a 100% link-only answer, there is no need to use a custom flag. Just flag as "not an answer". It doesn't get any simpler than that. –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Nov 7 '12 at 15:35
    
@BoltClock'saUnicorn hm declined flags on answers like "PowerShell" (*) and "I am sorry I am kind of sleepy .. but you can read here to get an idea of your problem :) [dead URL]" (*) do not look like supporting your theory –  gnat Nov 7 '12 at 21:31
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This is a real problem with link-only non-answers: it depends completely on the whim on the moderator servicing the flag. There is no set of objective criteria that one can apply, either as a flag submitter or a flag “servicer”, to these link-only non-answers. I feel this is a real problem. I do not see how link-only answers enrich SO, or the Net in general, either. I do not understand why they are tolerated by a few here, especially given how many do not tolerate them. We should have a policy, and we don’t. –  tchrist Mar 4 '13 at 3:04
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Why don't we add the "Link only answer" option in the flagging pop up?

It should enable filtering in the 10k mod tool, and at the same time reduce the work for community moderator.

It will also educate people that posting a single link is frown upon. There is no clue about this besides the FAQs (if it is mentioned), and not many people is going to read the whole FAQs upon registration.

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To put it simply (in addition to what others have said on the issue), your reasoning given when using the "Other" option was as follows:

This answer looks more like a comment to me because it does not offer much besides a link to the external resource.

This can easily be summed up by the already-existing "Not An Answer" option:

This was posted as an answer, but it does not attempt to answer the question. It should possibly be an edit, a comment, another question, or deleted altogether.



That said, there seems to be a fair amount of debate on the topic (or on similar/related topics):

And there's even more to be found when searching MSO for "link-only answer"...

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The option you quote has "does not attempt to answer" part - how does it apply to link-only answers? –  gnat Oct 30 '12 at 9:22
    
@gnat - It depends a bit on how "link-only" it is. If it hints at a solution where you just could get it without the link, it is borderline ok. In your case it just says "Here's a link, there might be an answer at the other end". That doesn't answer any part of the question. –  Bo Persson Oct 30 '12 at 10:51
    
@BoPersson well in my case there was "...it will work for you" part there, which looks like an attempt to answer doesn't it? –  gnat Oct 30 '12 at 10:54
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@gnat - No, I don't see that as a real attempt. If the link goes away, we have absolutely no clues at what the solution is. Then it is not an answer. If the poster had told us anything about what's at the other end, it might be different. –  Bo Persson Oct 30 '12 at 10:59
    
@BoPersson well if the posted has told us what's at the other end, how would it then qualify as a link-only answer? –  gnat Oct 30 '12 at 11:01
    
@gnat - It depends on what the poster tells us. Is it "You can solve the problem by doing this, and this, and that. See this link for reference.", or is it "I had the same problem and found a truly remarkable solution that solves everything. I wrote a marvelous article explaining it all on my blog (full of non-relevant ads). Read all about it!". It isn't the amount of text that might accompany the link, what matters is if there is something relevant to the question. If not, it is really link-only no matter how much other text there is. –  Bo Persson Oct 30 '12 at 11:54
    
@gnat: In my opinion, it depends more on the value of an answer assuming that any and all links it provides are dead. If they provide enough context in their answer for it to be capable of answering the asker's question, then it's fine. Otherwise, it shouldn't be considered a complete attempt to answer it. –  Nightfirecat Oct 31 '12 at 0:31
    
@BoPersson interesting. The way you describe it, using not an answer flag for link only answers sounds a bit of an art. I mean, one has to carefully estimate whether post wording is bad enough to convince moderator / 10Ker with a simple flag, or it is slippery to an extent when it's safer to use other flag with custom message. Also it sounds a bit of a russian roulette - having this flag in a 10K queue means anyone of few thousands 10Kers can dispute it - which sounds more than likely, given that per my experience even some mods think it's not quite appropriate. –  gnat Oct 31 '12 at 9:02
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@Nightfirecat this would be a smart heuristics but per my past experience those handling not an answer flags won't necessarily take it into account (even when links are dead indeed) –  gnat Oct 31 '12 at 11:03
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As Yannis said, "Not an answer" flags pop up in the 10k queue. This means that 10k users who see the flag can edit the post and try to improve it, or they can leave the user a comment asking him/her to improve the post. Depending on how nice you are to the user, the post may get improved. In my experience, you catch more flies with honey than you do vinegar.

Also, these are actions you can do too, in lieu of flagging.

Lastly, if the answer is really really bad, 20k users have the ability to cast delete votes on negatively scored posts, so it's possible that a post that requires removal gets removed by a few 20k users.

These same rules also apply to the "Very low quality" flag option.

The "flag as other" option is only visible by moderators, and moderators on Stack Overflow deal with something like 600 flags per day, so anything we can do to help reduce that workload makes a good contribution.

Now, in some cases, I've come across a post that I thought needed to be removed, but I felt that flagging not an answer or very low quality needed an accompanying description, just in case the moderator missed what I was seeing. They're human too, after all.

In these cases, I'll leave a comment to the user, usually I know the comment is in vain, but I write it anyway just as I would to a user who I thought might learn something.

Hello user, while this link may have been helpful in the past; currently it is broken. Can you edit your post and fix it, or possibly expand the answer to summarize what was once in the link?

In this case, if the user doesn't get to the post by the time the moderator sees the "not an answer" flag, he/she will see my comment and take action. This strategy works well for users whose profile says they haven't been online in months. Think of this as using the comment field to message the moderator, but by actually addressing the user. ;)

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Flags other than the "moderation attention" one can also be handled by 10K+ users.

Stack Overflow gets hundreds of "moderation attention" attention flags every day, and there's no reason at all to use the custom flag if any other type of flag applies. You are unnecessarily adding more work for the moderators.

It's not forbidden to use "moderation attention" flags, but it would be a lot more helpful / effective if you'd chose one of the normal flags (when they apply).

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And I guess declining is the only way to send an actual message, right? –  Bart Oct 30 '12 at 6:13
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@Bart There are various ways to communicate these matters (public chat, private chat, mod message, suspension), but declining the flag is the faster and more convenient. On Programmers I'd probably go for chat, but SO mods don't have as much time as I have... –  Yannis Oct 30 '12 at 6:16
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per my reading you consider link-only answers a (a subset of) not-an-answer kind, is that correct? –  gnat Oct 30 '12 at 6:17
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@gnat Yes, and the same goes for the mod who declined your flag, (s)he's advising you to use the "not an answer" flag after all... –  Yannis Oct 30 '12 at 6:19
    
@YannisRizos I see. Does this apply to this particular answer or to any link-only answer in general? –  gnat Oct 30 '12 at 6:20
    
@gnat Link only answers are generally considered "not an answer", but sometimes they can be salvaged with a simple edit, if, for example, you quote the link in the answer provide context (in which case editing would be preferable to flagging). –  Yannis Oct 30 '12 at 6:22
    
@YannisRizos 'Link only answers are generally considered "not an answer"...' - in the past, I've seen some mods taking rather opposite position (1, 2), did that change recently? –  gnat Oct 30 '12 at 6:34
    
@gnat Nothing changed, I wrote they are generally considered "not an answer", there might be exceptions. Also, what you linked to is not really the opposite position, commenting and trying to fix a post before flagging it is preferable always. If you don't feel like commenting, or in any case can't fix the post, feel free to flag. –  Yannis Oct 30 '12 at 6:38
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@gnat Also keep in mind that flags are just a communication mechanism, there isn't a right or wrong here, it's more a matter of helpful vs not helpful communication. The mod who handled your flag pointed you at a more effective way of flagging, I'd say that counts as helpful communication. –  Yannis Oct 30 '12 at 6:42
    
@gnat The definitive discussion on link only answers is: Are answers that just contain links elsewhere really “good answers”? –  Yannis Oct 30 '12 at 6:50
    
@YannisRizos this sounds like mods are free to decline both not an answer and other flags for link only answers at their will, do I understand correctly? As for editing, I often do that (1, 2, 3, 4...) - but only when I understand the topic well, which was not the case here. –  gnat Oct 30 '12 at 6:51
    
@gnat Yes, mods are free to decline any flag at will. There's general guidance on erring on the side of dismissing as helpful, but at the end of the day the decision of how to handle a flag is completely up to the moderator handling it. Also my point on editing was general, you know I'm well aware that you edit all the things ;) –  Yannis Oct 30 '12 at 6:56
    
let us continue this discussion in chat –  gnat Oct 30 '12 at 7:55
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