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I usually flag answer containing only a link as "Other" and write a comment to the mod such like "Link only answer". Anyway the flag was declined with the statement:

Links only answer – 4 hours ago declined - VLQ and NAA flags have specific usages. If this answer contains just a link, please custom flag it as 'link only answer'. VLQ and NAA do not apply here.

Am I missing anything here? How should have flagged this one?

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marked as duplicate by ɥʇǝS, Hugo Dozois, Lucifer, hims056, Lance Roberts May 13 '13 at 6:05

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.

    
related: Add a "link-only answer" flag reason –  Doorknob May 7 '13 at 12:14

2 Answers 2

up vote 14 down vote accepted

I issued that comment.

We seem to be getting a number of people flagging incorrectly. I love that people flag, but it's important to flag correctly so that if these flags are ever used as heuristics, the heuristics are accurate.

In your particular case, there were three separate types of flags on the same answer (it was a link only answer that addressed the question asked):

You were the only one that 'did the right thing' there, and while I didn't want to punish you, I also didn't think it was appropriate to give a free pass to so many incorrect flags.

Keep doing what you're doing.

For link-only answers, a custom flag is the way to go. Extra points if you leave a comment for the OP and let them know that they should include more information in their answer than just a link.

I think we've become too reliant on moderators to handle this workload of 'link only' answers.

If an answer is a link only answer, it could still be a good answer, it just needs to be edited into shape. If more people took the time to edit an answer into shape instead of summarily dismissing it (or flagging for it to be deleted), we'd be better off.

When an answer is flagged as link only, here are our options:

  1. Leave a comment for the OP asking them to include more information
  2. Edit that information into the answer from the link
  3. Delete the answer.

Anyone in the community (within reason) can do #1 and #2! There are many more people who can do that than there are moderators to do it (by sheer numbers, if the community does it it scales better). Moderators and trusted users can do #3, but then information that helps the question asker is gone, and that's not necessarily fair to them.

As the comments with @Gilles have borne out, we're getting into deeper terroritory of what you should do with Link-Only answers. From a moderator's perspective (and from the Question Asker's perspective), this is what I believe to be the best approach is:

  1. Comment on the post. Let the OP know they've posted a link only answer, and they should expand it (Gilles has an excellent template text in his (now revised) answer.

  2. If you see that the post has been commented on, and the OP hasn't fixed the answer to include more than just a link, then flag the answer for deletion with the reason: "Link only answer".

  3. If you're feeling especially generous, you can always edit the answer to include information from the link that answers the question directly. This is a good thing because it ensures the information lives on, even if that link dies. It helps the community keep from losing valuable information. It helps the OP solve their problem, and it makes our content better.

As a moderator, I will usually only delete a link-only answer if the following criteria are met:

  1. Answers exist that answer the question with content this answer has through its link.
  2. The link only answer is older than a few weeks.
  3. A comment has already been left in the past for a user to address it and they haven't.

There are reasons for this. First and foremost, we want high quality content. If we just delete answers that are links without letting the OP know why, we're not giving them a chance to improve, and we come across as harsh. Since we have a system built around editing, why not edit? It scales well when you have hundreds or thousands of users making posts better, instead of 10 users (moderators) unilaterally deleting content. Second, if the link addresses the question (and it should, otherwise it should be flagged as "Not an answer"), then there's value in that for the OP and for visitors. It's not the value we want long term, but it shouldn't be subject to immediate deletion before we give the user a chance to fix it (see the three criteria above).

We can stick to dogmatic "DELETE ALL THE THINGS" approach for answers that are mostly just links, but that could just be an algorithm. Before you flag to delete, think about how you can improve the site and its community. Is it by deleting? Or is it by editing the content into the answer? How about by letting the OP know what they did wrong, so they can change their behavior?

I vote for the latter. It's friendlier, it's better for the community, and it puts the work in the hands of people who can do something about it, instead of passing everything to moderators to handle.

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2  
I strongly agree with George's update here. I've talked to many good contributors who honestly believed they were helping by leaving link-only answers, and then were confused when they were removed without comment. This is a policy that is not obvious to those who never stop by Meta or read every part of the FAQ. I don't think we should blindly remove those links in all cases, but judge each on its merits and give people a chance to expand upon these answers. –  Brad Larson May 7 '13 at 14:49
    
@Gilles I'm rolling back your edit. I agree with your original post (even though I think you stepped over the line with your revision by assuming what you believe moderators should do -- even if that doesn't hold on large sites like Stack Overflow), and I believe your original post is in line with my answer fully. Your updated answer, not so much. If you want to label it as a 'dissent' and still have me as the author, then you should pick your second revision as the dissenting view. –  George Stocker May 7 '13 at 14:51
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@GeorgeStocker sigh You evidently read my post too quickly. Nowhere did I state that a “not an answer” flag does not apply. Although I did not state it in so many words (my bad), it is logical that since “such answers should be deleted”, a “not an answer” flag is valid, and should prompt the moderator to delete the answer. –  Gilles May 7 '13 at 15:00
    
Is conversion to a comment no longer an option? –  martin clayton May 7 '13 at 21:46

It's possible someone else flagged the same post as VLQ or NAA, and your flag was simply dismissed along with them. Open flags on a post are handled as a group, not individually.


I just checked your history and found the flag in question; indeed, there were numerous flags on it, and some were of the types you noted. That message, then, was meant for those flags, but there is no way for moderators to dismiss/accept flags individually.

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1  
I wish custom flags (Other) were not grouped in with the other types of flags so they could be dealt with separately instead of as a group. There are other uses for custom flags than just flagging a question –  psubsee2003 May 7 '13 at 11:41
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Well it could be very helpful to have such an option like "Link only answer", it would make flagging even easier. –  OneMore May 7 '13 at 11:46
    
@OneMore The problem is, in this specific case, your flag still would have been dismissed for the same reason, due to the other, invalid flags. –  Andrew Barber May 7 '13 at 11:47
    
But the message does not make sence, how can one flag NAA or VLQ and write a comment at the same time, is it possible at all? when i click inside the textarea the selected option changes automatically. –  OneMore May 7 '13 at 11:49
    
So the system builds the message according to all flags on the post? –  OneMore May 7 '13 at 11:50
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@OneMore One problem when people flag all the time instead of addressing the problems in the post is that all that work they think they're doing by flagging really just ends up getting pushed to the moderators -- and we don't scale very well. If you leave a comment with the OP, or even edit the answer in yourself, you're doing a 'greater good' than just flagging. –  George Stocker May 7 '13 at 11:53
    
@GeorgeStocker I agree. –  OneMore May 7 '13 at 12:00
    
@psubsee2003 the feature request you ask about seems to be this one: Don't automatically dismiss custom flags (containing a comment from a user) –  gnat May 7 '13 at 12:05
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@OneMore feature request you ask about is: Add a “link-only answer” flag reason –  gnat May 7 '13 at 12:05
    
@gnat Thanks, I knew there was one, but had trouble finding it. –  psubsee2003 May 7 '13 at 16:45

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