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Why do I get exactly the same comment by different users for my link-only answer?

Got a notification of a new comment on my answer to this question.

The commenter criticized the answer because it was basically link-only. I'd all but forgotten I had answered this question because I answered the question almost three years ago.

The linked information really didn't help the question asker, and he politely said so at the time. It got a downvote as well (not recently). I tried to help, and it ended up not being helpful.

So this leaves me with a bunch of actions, which either don't benefit the community or don't benefit my standing in the community:

  • Delete my answer. The system doesn't like me deleting answers, so doing so would hurt me.
  • Add the linked information. Pointless, because the linked information wasn't helpful to begin with.
  • Do nothing. Everyone henceforth gets to see why my answer was sub-par.

Why are people applying 2012 standards to 2009 answers? It's a bit like my 12th-grade English teacher digging up a paper I wrote in 9th grade -- one that wasn't really good to begin with -- and asking me to change the way I formatted the footnotes. What's more, I can't throw away the old paper, because my grade today depends on me keeping it.

Is there a better way to handle this? I mean, I've learned to use the site better with time just like everyone else. Why are people asking me to clean up these ancient answers?

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marked as duplicate by gnat, amanaP lanaC A nalP A naM A, Toon Krijthe, animuson, Jim Nov 16 '12 at 20:13

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.

4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

What makes you think "The system doesn't like me deleting answers, so doing so would hurt me"?

There are two badges encouraging deletion of answers: Peer Pressure and Disciplined

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2  
If you want I can downvote the answer and then you'll almost be eligible for the Peer Pressure badge! ;) –  Richard JP Le Guen Nov 16 '12 at 18:25
1  
Thought there was an unpublished/secret score that is affected by deleting answers. (As in, if I delete too many answers, I'll be banned from answering.) I mean, if it doesn't hurt me to delete my answer, I'll delete it, but I thought it did. –  John Nov 16 '12 at 18:32
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@John: You'd have to delete a lot of answers that have very bad scores in order to trigger that at this point. Deleting one answer will make absolutely no difference for an Overflowian at your reputation level. –  animuson Nov 16 '12 at 18:34
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OK, looks like I was worried over nothing. I'll delete the answer. Thanks! –  John Nov 16 '12 at 18:39

That is a canonical, automatically-posted comment that can be chosen from the Low Quality Posts Review Task when Recommending Deletion of a low quality post. It is only a link and the deletion recommendation is perfectly valid.

So, if you know it wasn't helpful at all to the OP and you don't believe it will be helpful to other visitors, then yes, you should delete it since it doesn't answer the question. You're making people read things that won't help them, which is bad.

If you believe it might hold some value to other visitors and not necessarily the OP, then you need to pull in some context from it that you believe it relevant to the question, so that visitors don't have to visit the link and read through it all to find the relevant information.

As for applying 2012 standards to 2009 posts, the standards really haven't changed that much, just that they're being enforced more strictly now.

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Just because an answer is old doesn't mean it no longer matters. One of the primary missions of SO is not to just answer questions, but to leave behind an entire network of lasting information that will be valuable to future readers (thanks to the magic of search engines). Critiquing an answer, whether new or old, is entirely appropriate. It's also appropriate to edit/improve older content, answer old questions, etc.

As to why someone choose to comment on your old answer; it's likely that it came up in one of the review queues, which are designed to bring possibly problematic answers to the attention of community members so that they can be handled appropriately (through editing, deleting, getting the OP to improve it, etc.). It's possible, but unlikely, that the person just happened across that old answer.

So what should you do? Your premise that you shouldn't delete the answer, or that it would harm you, is false. If you deleted the answer your rep would increase (the downvote rep loss would go away) so it would help you. As for the site, it would mean the removal of an unhelpul answer (a.k.a noise) which is an improvement.

Doing nothing would mean leaving an unhelpful answer out there, which is harmful to the site.

If you want to improve the answer instead of deleting it that too would be great. Don't just bring in the content of the link to make the answer technically live up to the minimum standards of an answer though (given that you yourself feel that the content of that link doesn't answer the question well). Take the answer and, now that you're much more experienced than you once were, make it shine. Find the best solution to the OP's problem (even if it's entirely unrelated to your link) and explain that. If the question already has another high quality answer and you don't feel you could add more value, then that's fine. You don't need to do any of this, but if you want to and can it would be fantastic.

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Deleting my answer would increase my reputation, but doesn't that also contribute toward banning me from answering? Thought there was an unpublished/secret score for that. –  John Nov 16 '12 at 18:31
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@John Considering you have hundreds of answers and dozens of questions, many with lots of upvotes, I wouldn't be concerned about that in the least. The question/answer ban applies to users for which the vast majority of their contributions are deleted/closed/downvoted. Unless you happen to have 600 other deleted questions lying around (and probably even then) you have nothing to worry about. If you only had 3 other questions, none with positive votes, then this might be a concern. –  Servy Nov 16 '12 at 18:34
    
I don't know about vast majority. I've seen some comment threads involving banned folk who have asked 7 questions, 4 of which are now deleted. For one of those people, every deletion is significant. But I think once you have a few dozen asnwers deleting one doesn't matter at all. –  Kate Gregory Dec 8 '12 at 23:56
    
@KateGregory Again, this user has hundreds of questions with lots of positive votes. This is absolutely not a concern at all. –  Servy Dec 10 '12 at 1:33

Stack Overflow's selling point over that of a forum is that posts should be able to be edited as new information comes about. The fact that the system makes editing a first class system lends credence to that. In this case, we've learned that links rot, and the answer should be in the answer and not elsewhere. I've talked about this recently.

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