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I recently ran through some "Not an answer" flags, and I've noticed a recurring theme.

There are a large number of answers that take this form:

Check this link: http://example.com/blog-post-that-seems-relevant

Is it correct to label these as "not an answer", or should they be flagged as spam?

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marked as duplicate by Josh Caswell, Second Rikudo, Martijn Pieters, Lucifer, yhw42 Mar 13 '13 at 1:59

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.

3  
I've read so many of those questions today that I actually clicked the example.com link. =/ –  hjpotter92 Mar 12 '13 at 22:56
3  
Do not flag them as spam unless they're explicitly spam spam. I got this message once when flagging a link-only as spam: Spam and abuse flags head right to the top of the queue so we can deal with real spam, harmful stuff such as viagra, manhood embiggening treatments and handbag ads. –  LittleBobbyTables Mar 12 '13 at 23:44
    
@LittleBobbyTables I've flagged answers as spam that were clearly the user plugging their own product and may not have been the right tool for the job anyway. I often follow the links just to confirm. Would those fall in line with 90% off Viagra kinda spam? Should I not flag it as spam but 'needs moderator attention'? –  Adam-E Mar 13 '13 at 0:58
    
@Adam-E - I usually flag with a custom message "Not an answer, link only, possible spam", and that seems to get much better results. YMMV. –  LittleBobbyTables Mar 13 '13 at 12:59

4 Answers 4

(Opinion follows)

The correct answer is probably that it is both, either, and neither, at the same time, it all depends.

If the link goes to something completely unrelated to the question/answer at hand, then obviously it is spam.

If the link goes to something that is related, but is linking to a commercial product, and was posted by someone related to the company that makes/sells said product, then it might be spam, then again it might not. It depends on whether the person actually could post a better answer without breaking some legal rules (like copyright, etc.)

If the link goes to something that answers the question, and is not spam, then it might be ok, but probably isn't.

Why "isn't"? Because of link rot.

If the answer can be re-posted on the site, even a verbatim copy from the linked reference, then that is a much better answer than a link to the answer.

Stack Overflow isn't a traffic source for personal blogs, and there are enough links on the site that has been left for dead for a long time, beyond the life of the page/site they refer to, effectively making these answers now a no-op.

However, if the source in question cannot be copied, for licensing/legal reasons, then it might be the only option.

However(2) If it was me, I would still distill the topic of that linked reference down to something that could be posted as a real answer, and then provide the link for further reference.

The real answer here is that you cannot make a catch-all rule that will handle all cases correctly.

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A link isn't an answer, it's a link. The best ways to deal with these answers are probably one of the following:

  1. Flag as not an answer and hope a mod or someone else deals with it. A perfectly acceptable option, but not very helpful to the site.
  2. Leave a comment telling the poster that posting a link isn't much use (mention 'linkrot' so they know why as they'll probably understand the meaning of that one) and hope they expand the answer.
  3. Follow the link, take the relevant details out of the link and create a decent summary content to add into the answer leaving the link there as a citation reference. The better the summary the more use the answer will then be. Then bask in the upvotes that someone else recieves even though you did most of the actual work in answering the question. It provides benifit to people visiting the site, but you don't get any recognition yourself for doing so. But it is the right thing to do.

Most people would do one of the first two options. What sort of person are you? ;)

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1  
The problem with #3 is that there's no incentive for users to improve their own answer -- they'll expect others to do it for them. You will certainly have improved the question, but perhaps at the expense of the rest of the site. –  William Shakespeare Mar 12 '13 at 23:25
    
@Caleb well perhaps, but then if there are people who insist on only posting links they're likely to be flagged up for bad posts which will be logged against them and dealt with at some point. And if you've also got people who are quite happy to follow links and summarise them then the site isn't really suffering. People visiting don't care if the answers they find are by the original authors or if they've been edited by someone else provided that they actually get to find an answer without having to go link exploring. –  JonW Mar 12 '13 at 23:29
    
You could always follow the link, summarize the right answer, and post it as a new answer under your own name. That way you'll earn the rep, the site gets better answers, and lazy users aren't rewarded. –  William Shakespeare Mar 12 '13 at 23:34
    
@Caleb yes you could, but I'd wait a while to give the original poster the opportunity to improve it themselves so you don't get duplicate answers. They may be new users who think that such answers are acceptable and not realize that link-only answers aren't really useful on Stack Exchange sites. Maybe leave a comment saying "can you summarise the content of this link? If not then I'll follow the link myself and use the content to create a better answer". (But then that seems a bit on the cheeky side). –  JonW Mar 12 '13 at 23:37

I saw all of them. I hate these answers. I've always been under the impression that link-only answers were discouraged, but still answers. Any time I've flagged one of these I get a decline, dispute, or helpful (with no deletion), so I have been leaving them alone.

But I totally disagree with these being answers. They are awful and should all be deleted. There is no explanation of what's in the link or why it solves the problem.

Here's a bunch of horrible ones recently in the queue:

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1  
It's hard to argue that a good link isn't better than nothing at all, but a real answer is of course better than a link. Deleting all the link-only answers seems counterproductive. –  William Shakespeare Mar 12 '13 at 23:31
    
@Caleb I'll definitely make that argument. SE answers aren't just to solve the OP's immediate problem, they are a database of solutions to solve future problems. Links to blogs frequently break. If you can't be bothered to write even a simple description, don't bother answering. Also, I think link-only answers are highly correlated with poor questions (that are easily googled). The answerer just googled the question and took the first link and pasted it as an answer. They most likely know nothing of the topic. Bad question, bad answer. –  ThinkingStiff Mar 12 '13 at 23:37
    
That's why substantive answers are always preferred. But partof the goal is to help the guy that asked the question in the first place. And while links do break, they can still help more than just the OP. so, not ideal, but not worse than nothing at all. –  William Shakespeare Mar 12 '13 at 23:46
    
An example from those I listed (stackoverflow.com/questions/12705252/…). I googled "How to setup Varnish logging?". Third result, with nearly the exact title, is the "answer" that was posted. –  ThinkingStiff Mar 12 '13 at 23:48

Downvoting with a comment asking the author to summarize the information in the linked page seems like the best option, assuming the linked page contains information that address the question.

To answer the questions: No, don't flag as not an answer unless the link doesn't relate to the question. The author may have been short on time but generous enough to at least point the OP and any others to a useful resource. Flag as spam only if the link is a spammy link -- commercial in nature and not responsive to the question.

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