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Related: Since moderators are just asking users to flag a custom "Link only answer," can we permanently make this a flag option? (not a dupe, that's a feature request and was closed as a dupe of another one)

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This (old) post does indeed say that Link-only answers can be flagged as NAA, but there are a lot of posts like this one which define Not An Answer is a way that it doesn't apply to link-only answers.

Can we get some up-to-date consensus on this? That link only answers are not allowed is well established.

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marked as duplicate by Gilles, Martijn Pieters, Shadow Wizard, ɥʇǝS, michaelb958 Apr 8 at 1:47

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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Meh, declined – valid flag. I don't see the problem using custom flags at all. –  slhck Jun 8 '13 at 9:30
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@slhck: The problem is that the 10ks can't handle it then. And I guess the mod declined it so he could reply to the flag (we don't have this yet unfortunately). –  Manishearth Jun 8 '13 at 9:49
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I've come to the unfortunate conclusion that "Not an Answer" is apparently impossible to explain. "Not an Answer" means that it is not an answer. "I like grabblesnackers, aren't they cool?" is not an answer. "I have the same problem, have you found a solution?" is not an answer. "This post helped me, thanks a lot!" is not an answer. A bare link to an offsite source that answers the OP's question is an answer, just not an ideal one. –  Robert Harvey Jun 10 '13 at 23:36
    
@RobertHarvey Sure, except if the link is to the top search result for a reasonable Google search for question keywords, but the question itself also becomes one of the top Google results due to Google's trust of SE sites and good SEO, then the answer is just a Google mirror and the only thing accomplished is taking up one extra slot on the Google results page with a link that is already on that page. Decreasing the internet's SNR seems counter to what SE is about. –  Jason C Mar 21 at 0:18

7 Answers 7

Hmm... Lots of good discussion here already, but to answer the question you actually asked...

NO.

No, you can't have consensus on what flag you should use for "link only answers", because as Tim notes you shouldn't always be flagging them, as George notes there's no "one size fits all" flag reason for them, and as Anna notes they're quickly becoming a mythical beast anyway.

I've written about this before... Twice... But I'll try once more to make this crystal clear:

Flags should describe a problem; "links" are not a problem.

There are other sorts of flags that do describe the sort of problems often indicated by link-heavy answers:

  • Shameless self-promotion? Spam!

  • Makes no effort to answer the question (perhaps an answer lies at the end of the link; perhaps it does not)? Not an answer

  • Links to w3schools? Very Low Quality! Ha ha, just kidding. No, seriously, don't flag those. Edit in a link to better documentation.

  • Something else? Describe that in your custom message to the moderator. And by "describe" I mean "in more than three words" - if you're gonna complain about what is essentially an answer that is unhelpfully terse, then it behooves you to not commit the same sin while doing so.

Oh, yeah... And none of this even matters.

So, yeah - the guidance on those two declined flags wasn't terribly helpful. In defense of the mods writing those decline reasons, they at least bothered to type out more than three words. There's a length-limit there too, and face it: mods on SO are busy. This is one of those unfortunate cases where something written in haste ends up exploding and wasting far more time than it would otherwise.

See... Most answers flagged as "link only" are deleted... As are most answers flagged "Not an answer". They're deleted because they're lazy, unhelpful answers. Believe it or not, most of the "link only answer" flags declined are declined because between the time when they were flagged and the flag was handled, the author went back and fleshed out the answer a bit... Often in response to a helpful comment suggesting that he do so. 'magine that...

That's right: the best way to get your flag declined has nothing to do with the actual reason you give for flagging. Wanna make sure your flag stats never take a hit? Make sure you never give the author of the posts you're flagging any indication that their posts are crap and should be improved.

Of course, if you actually give a rat's ass about improving the content on the site, stop stressing over 3-word magic incantations and talk to people.

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Trivia: this was flagged as "link only answer". Whatever problems it might have, a preponderance of links ain't it. this one though, takes the cake - it does not actually contain any links at all. –  Shog9 Jun 9 '13 at 4:09
    
See? Once again, none of us is as dumb as all of us. This. –  Tim Post Jun 9 '13 at 4:13
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Technically "Either flag is OK" is a valid answer to this question. I don't like nitpicking about flag reasons either (though there is an important point to note that using a completely wrong reason may lead to the mod looking for the wrong thing), but if mods are handling/actioning these flags differently due to lack of consensus, we need to have it out there. –  Manishearth Jun 9 '13 at 5:27
    
Not so much that both are ok, more that when an answer is visibly crap you could flag it with "Bubblicious" and it'd still be deleted/validated @Manishearth. It matters most for the edge-cases, for unusual scenarios that need to be called out as such - and by definition, you're not gonna have a stock reason for an unusual situation. –  Shog9 Jun 9 '13 at 15:39
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"Makes no effort to answer the question (perhaps an answer lies at the end of the link; perhaps it does not)? Not an answer" The OP did exactly that and the flag was declined. So I fail to see how this is a good answer when some moderators clearly don't think it's an appropriate flag. –  Nicol Bolas Jun 9 '13 at 16:11
    
Not the OP, @Nicol - that screenshot came from this comment. It was an ill-advised decline reason, made worse by all of the context-free discussions it's since prompted here on Meta (see George's answer for details). Note that take-away wasn't supposed to be, "use a different flag" - that's just how the flagger interpreted it (presumably without reading the linked discussion). –  Shog9 Jun 9 '13 at 16:48
    
+1: for NO. –  WChargin Jun 9 '13 at 17:15
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Really, though, in the case of link-only answers, can't moderators just decline or accept? By your logic, the consensus should reasonably be "if the flag was helpful, mark it as such." This gets rid of all this nonsense of declined - valid flag. –  Emrakul Jun 9 '13 at 17:34
    
@Knights: yeah, "declined - valid ..." isn't great. There's no way for mods to leave a custom message along with a "valid" mark, which is probably what led to this - but as you can see, it just causes more problems. –  Shog9 Jun 9 '13 at 17:36
    
That's true, and I can understand the reasoning behind it. Still, I would like to see moderators accept or reject both custom flags and "not an answer flags" on link-only answers solely because of the content, and not because of the flag type used. –  Emrakul Jun 9 '13 at 17:44
    
@Knights: that is what happens in the vast majority of cases. There are hundreds of these flags, and maybe a dozen declined for that reason. The intent was to encourage folks to be more discerning in their flagging, but of course that didn't happen. –  Shog9 Jun 9 '13 at 17:49
    
Ah, that makes sense. Human error strikes again! We really should stop this pestilence that is "humanity." –  Emrakul Jun 9 '13 at 17:52
    
@Nicol Shog is exactly right here. I have only so many characters to leave a reason when I decline; I tried to make it concise and as such, the intent wasn't fully communicated. I've explained more in my answer. –  George Stocker Jun 9 '13 at 18:43
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+1 - for Links to w3schools? Very Low Quality! –  Lynda Jun 9 '13 at 22:18
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If the answer is completely without value, don't even wait to flag, @Jason. If there's something worthwhile there, then vote your conscience, comment if you feel like it, and don't bother with flagging. –  Shog9 Mar 21 at 0:17

I have two major problems with link only answers. First - Stack Overflow is supposed to be the site where opening new tabs to finally find your answer stops. Granted, some answers basically refer you to specific documentation that is housed elsewhere, but all answers can at least summarize the linked resource in a way that:

  • Someone looking for the information now has what they need. They found their answer on Stack Overflow, and now they have additional reading if they want it. The point is, they didn't have to go any further.

  • The answer is still useful even if the link breaks. If it's documentation, summarize the relevant section.

The second issue is link rot. We have quite a few broken links on the site that need to be updated, and this is a tedious thing to ask people to do. In the places where those links constitute most of an answer, this means we have quite a few useless answers on the site.

Stack Overflow is supposed to be the place where you land and know you're done - not the place where you pound your fists on your desk after clicking an upvoted mostly link answer just to realize it's broken. That's like getting to page 19 of replies on a PHPBB forum, finally finding the link for which everyone was replying with 'thanks, this fixed my problem', only to realize it's gone.

This is the workflow I suggest:

  • Does the link work? Do something to expand the answer. Suggest an edit, leave a comment, use your votes. If it got through our quality filters, it's probably not flag worthy at this point - use your best judgement.

  • Is the link broken? Can you fix it? Great - edit / suggest edit and move on. Otherwise, flag it as not an answer (or, ideally 'other' with a broken link alert), as it's not an answer. It's a sentence with a broken link that needs to be fixed. Until it's fixed, it should not be left around to aggravate people, or prevent someone else from answering a question.

I don't disagree with Anna - sometimes a link, along with some context is just what's needed to answer a question. However, one of our goals from the start was to not frustrate people looking for information even more than they were when they arrived, we need to keep that in mind.

We shouldn't be zapping useful information before it has the opportunity to improve, but we should also in no way suggest that terse answers consisting of little more than a link are something to cherish - at least in my opinion.

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If the link is broken, I'd prefer a custom flag stating something to that effect. A flag reading "Link-only answer, and the link is broken" is really easy for me to act on, because I simply need to confirm that the link is indeed broken. A not-an-answer flag might take me longer to figure out what's going on, and I might miss the broken link. –  Brad Larson Jun 9 '13 at 2:49
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You're absolutely right. However, not having an answer at all (even one that points to an external site and requires more clicking/reading/guessing) has got to be even more frustrating. :) –  Anna Lear Jun 9 '13 at 3:14
    
@AnnaLear I don't disagree. An answer that is (mostly) just a working link is what I'd consider to be our minimum quality threshold. We should encourage people to strive to contribute at least marginally above that minimum though - I don't want to be in the habit of saying those are perfectly fine answers. –  Tim Post Jun 9 '13 at 3:47
    
@TimPost I don't think anyone says that those are perfect answers and of course if a link is broken, there's no reason to keep the post around. I think we can assume as a baseline that the link works and is at least somewhat relevant to the question; otherwise it's a very clear "not an answer" or "spam". I may be suffering some confirmation bias here, but in my experience folks aren't targeting only broken links. It's getting to the point where even including a link in an otherwise decent answer results in comments/flags and that's not right. –  Anna Lear Jun 9 '13 at 3:58
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@AnnaLear I could also have been out of the 'salt mine' a bit too long myself, but the majority of the flags I saw to that effect were on answers like 'Just click this link, the answer you want can be found there' or similar. I haven't seen decent answers that happened to contain a link flagged that way very often. That isn't to say it doesn't happen, but I didn't see it. –  Tim Post Jun 9 '13 at 4:09
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+ 1 I absolutely echo your opinion on "Link Only Answers" Not the culture I wanna see in SO definitely. –  Siddharth Rout Oct 8 '13 at 10:20

I declined the first flag you showed, it was on this answer.

The answer was pointing out the question was a duplicate (and where to find the answer), and there (over time) were nine total flags on that answer, and all of them pointed out that it was 'not an answer'. Yet none of those that flagged the answer did anything about the question.

So, in this particular case, the problem wasn't the answer, it was that the question was a duplicate.

Also, if you argue that you flag link only answers because link-rot, would that link-rot really extend to other Stack Overflow links?

Just some observations around that particular flag.

In the second flag, it was once again against an answer that points out this question had already been asked before (and answered, incidentally).

Yet this time, the question was not closed as a duplicate.

I'm starting to see a pattern.

"Not an answer" flags and answers with only links have traditionally been 'easy pickings' for someone wanting to boost their flag rate. They're rarely declined, and they're easy to find. Look for a short answer, or an answer with a link (and short) and you probably have a good candidate for one. Look for an answer with a question mark in an SEDE query and that can probably help you find some more.

The problem is, we don't need people to flag things that follow a set formula. If they're that prevalent and that's the criteria people use to flag them, then we can automate that process:

  • "Answer less than 100 characters containing a link" - Link only answer
  • "Answer with Question Mark" - Not an answer
  • "Answer containing link to another Stack Overflow question or answer" - Link only Answer, or Not an answer, depending.

I'm glad there are members of the community that want to help us clean up. What we really need help on is the thousands and thousands of questions each day that get asked that probably already have answers, or aren't written well enough to be answered, or even the sock puppet rings that pop up. Those are things that aren't trivial to automate.

Having addressed the specific flags you've asked about, let me directly address your general question:

Different moderators handle it different ways. I personally think Link only answers are answers, they're just not very good answers. I think that before you flag them, you should leave a comment telling the user to improve their answer by editing in salient details from the link.

I also think it's a poor user experience to post a link and just have it summarily deleted without comment. If the thousands of users that flag posts every day seemingly don't have the time to leave a comment before flagging one post, what makes you think the 10 moderators handling 2500 flags a day will have time to leave a comment on each and every one?

It all comes down to what you expect us to do about link only answers.

Do you expect us to delete them? If so: why? We can build a tool that just doesn't let people post short answers containing a link. There's no reason to make that flaggable.

Do you expect us to leave a comment? Again, why? Shouldn't you have done that before you flagged? If you did just leave a comment, then why flag? I'm just going to decline it because the user needs time to act on your advice.

Overall, I understand that this is a contentious issue. You (collectively) want a clean site, and you want it now. I understand that. I want a clean site. But I want a clean site that people want to use. A new user coming in and posting a helpful link is not going to want to stick around if his content is deleted just because it was a link. They especially won't want to stay around if people don't inform them it's a bad practice.

Contrawise, they might stick around if people engage with them or even edit their answer to include the relevant information.

The rule shouldn't be "Flag everything that doesn't meet criteria X", the rule should be: "Engage, and if that doesn't work, flag."

If the community isn't willing to take on that little extra work with its thousands of members, then it's doubly unlikely this site would be successful putting it on the backs of its 10 moderators.

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This is more or less where I was going with my answer, but you said it a lot better. :) –  Anna Lear Jun 9 '13 at 1:11
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Different moderators handle it different ways. So in short, there is no consensus? Not trying to be a jerk, just genuinely curious, since I've flagged a large quantity of these recently with a custom message (since I thought that's what we were supposed to be doing) and none of them have been rejected. –  LittleBobbyTables Jun 9 '13 at 1:39
    
@LBT There's always a first time :) –  hjpotter92 Jun 9 '13 at 2:05
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@LBT: the consensus among mods is: delete crap answers. Folks stressing over which 3-word incantation best accomplishes this are kinda missing the whole point. –  Shog9 Jun 9 '13 at 4:04
    
Ah, makes sense. I actually went on an SEDE-powered NAA spree a while back. Not for badges or anything; I just really hate such answers (primarily because it's always my luck to find a link-rotted one when Googling). At the same time, I did find quite a few Not Constructive and Duplicate questions which I could flag -- these types attract link-only-answers. –  Manishearth Jun 9 '13 at 5:30
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"would that link-rot really extend to other Stack Overflow links?" - yes it would. During last 2-3 months I deleted at least one of my own answers and successfully flagged for deletion two or three other's answers solely for relying on SO links that were gone 404 (aka 10K only) –  gnat Jun 9 '13 at 11:01
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"A new user coming in and posting a helpful link is not going to want to stick around if his content is deleted just because it was a link. They especially won't want to stay around if people don't inform them it's a bad practice." It seems to me that the problem therefore is that people aren't informed when their questions/answers are deleted and why. This is a problem that could easily be solved. –  Nicol Bolas Jun 9 '13 at 16:15
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@NicolBolas If only it were so. If users left comments? Yes. Absolutely. That's what I advocate in my answer. If you expect a moderator to leave a comment every single time they take action on a post, you're tilting at windmills. If every user commented before they flagged? Then we'd be in business. –  George Stocker Jun 9 '13 at 18:41
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@GeorgeStocker: Leaving a comment doesn't deal with the short-term problem of having a bad answer. We have a solution for that: deleting it. Leaving a comment may not fix the problem, and I certainly am not going to waste my time checking back after a day or so to see if a link-only answer was improved. By your logic, we shouldn't delete "that helped me too" answers because the person might be convinced to turn their answer into the actual method they used to solve it or something. –  Nicol Bolas Jun 10 '13 at 17:32
    
@NicolBolas No, you're conflating the two. On the one hand, it's relatively easy to turn a link only answer into an actual answer, as Shog9 points out in his answer. In your example, that's not possible. –  George Stocker Jun 10 '13 at 17:43
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@GeorgeStocker: "In your example, that's not possible." Sure it is; all they have to do is post the source code that they used, with a bit of explanation for it. Sure, it would almost certainly be virtually identical to an already existing answer, but they could provide that answer, and it would be a legitimate if redundant answer. –  Nicol Bolas Jun 10 '13 at 17:46
    
@NicolBolas I'm not sure you how you make the leap from "that helped me too" to "Here's an answer". With a link, we have something to go on (the contents of the link itself). What do we have to go on with "That helped me too"? –  George Stocker Jun 10 '13 at 19:49

For this to happen, moderators and SE team need to first find out about size of the issue and come to consensus about what to do about it.

  • Size of the issue can be estimated using SEDE query Marginal short answers with links.
     
    For example, when run with parameters: AnswerScoreMax=99, AnswerScoreMin=1, AnswerLength=127 it shows about 24000 problematic answers with positive score (for comparison, there are two answers like that at Programmers - that's 2, t-w-o).
     
    Hm expecting active flaggers (500 Marshals / 2500 Deputies at SO) to somehow downvote / comment / edit all these instead of flagging sounds like a wishful thinking to me. Just downvoting these answers would "cost" -24K reputation - anyone willing to "invest"?

One thing worth taking into account is that idea of link-only answers being somehow... not OK is not widely popular. Canonical meta post promoting this attitude has 46K views; that means vast majority of SO users have no idea about it, not to mention supporting it (top voted answer has 262 upvotes - a drop in the ocean).

When an inexperienced SO user looks at (one of few tens thousands) link-only answer with positive score, it would be just silly to expect them to think "oh that's bad, it should be downvoted / expanded". I'll venture a guess that they think it's a reasonable way to answer and gain reputation. Every link-only answer with positive score "flags" (pun intended) its readers that it's OK to answer that way and serves further proliferation of this style of answering.

Have to admit, I particularly enjoy suggestions like "Look at the question instead, link-only answer may indicate that question is bad. Close it, close it and leave answer alone". As if next newcomer looking at +5... +10... +20 answer will pay special attention to question being closed, as if they will think like, "oh I shouldn't answer like that, even if it can bring me 5... 10... 20 upvotes". Yeah sure that's just what they will think, give me a break.

Given amount of problematic posts and generally tolerant attitude of SE audience to these, if (if) Stack Exchange wants to do something substantial against link-only answers, they would better make sure that these are dealt with quickly, uniformly, and with as little effort as possible - just like it currently happens to not-an-answer / spam posts.


From above perspective, a feature of conversion to comments (preferably condensed) looks worth considering. It keeps content of the answer visible to all users, allowing to easier resolve discussions about deletion and it makes it easier for answerer to find, assess, edit and request undeletion when needed.


Ironically, the very measures recently introduced to prevent new link-only answers from leaking into the system will probably increase tension around the backlog of old ones. Users equipped with newly acquired knowledge will start noticing problems right where they previously had a blind spot.

  • "Hey, this one is like one I recently voted to delete in Low Quality queue for being a link-only answer" (or, "Oh, this is similar to recent answer of mine that has been rejected by quality filter.") "There's got to be a problem here..."

It would be unreasonable to expect of a recently educated user to carefully dig through obscure details on how such answers would be dealt with in a perfect world. Most likely, they will just throw a "best guess" flag... and get disappointed and left with a bitter taste when it gets declined for a reason that can be understood only by a dozen of MSO regulars.

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The first problem with that query is that... It doesn't actually do what it purports to do. The first two results I get are: 1, 2 - which don't contain links at all! The other problem is illustrated by the third result, which is actually a perfectly good answer to the question asked - and contains within its 4 characters of non-URL text enough information to suffice should the link break. Deleting these - or converting them to comments - would accomplish little. –  Shog9 Jun 9 '13 at 15:56
    
@Shog9 well with all due respect I probably know better about what this query does than you. Last 2-3 months I've been working with several hundreds answers discovered by it at Programmers. And before you ask, no it wasn't thoughtless flag-and-run crusade. Downvotes, comments, edits, studying of involved questions - all that jazz –  gnat Jun 9 '13 at 17:05
    
it's not a complicated query. Hint: Posts.Body is baked HTML - if you want to find actual links, look for <a href="... - with a little bit of effort, you can even extract the domain being linked to and prioritize differently based on, say, links to jsfiddle vs. MSDN. –  Shog9 Jun 9 '13 at 17:08
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And no, you're not gonna convince me that converting answers that link to canonical documentation into comments because they showed up in a naive query is a good idea. I would like to do more to discourage stuffing important information into comments, not replace one broken window with another one. Programmers has problems with short answers that SO does not, purely because of the subject matter involved; there are a surprisingly large number of SO questions where the most useful answer is: "function_name()". –  Shog9 Jun 9 '13 at 17:11
    
Regarding the "look at the question" advice... When the question is literally "give me a link", do you honestly think the folks posting links are doing so because of the poor example set by other answers? –  Shog9 Jun 9 '13 at 21:09
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@Shog9 well, whatever. You have several thousands posts telling readers loud and clear: link-only answers are welcome. And this amount will only grow, because 260 guys who upvoted that famous link-only manifesto won't make a difference - at least not until their hands are tied behind their backs. Regarding your note on comments being broken windows, I don't buy it sorry - as far as I can tell, this is only so because SE doesn't want to condense them. –  gnat Jun 9 '13 at 21:31
    
Using a more generous definition of "link-mostly" == "less than 512 characters with [characters part of link] > [characters not part of link]" and taking into account both deleted answers and answers on closed/locked questions, here's the breakdown by month for Stack Overflow's entire history: i.stack.imgur.com/sHRpX.png To further put this in perspective: there were 329K answers posted on SO last month, with about 2% qualifying as "link-mostly". –  Shog9 Jun 9 '13 at 22:08
    
@Shog9 interesting, thanks. Am I reading it right that about 8K suspicious answers are added monthly since Jan 2013? Also, are you using 512 chars to get "at most" kind estimate? I ask because in my experience, even at 250 chars "marginal script" results were becoming somewhat slippery, even by Programmers standards. It would be interesting to see a breakdown for a more suspicious case, like 128 chars –  gnat Jun 10 '13 at 18:10
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I'm using "less than 512 characters" so that the query actually runs in a reasonable time-frame; and yeah, most links are much shorter than that (median and average are under 100 characters). As to whether these should actually be considered "suspicious"... I'm kinda skeptical. If I was gonna query for "suspicious", I would tighten up the criteria considerably (consider only URL / text ratio, look for specific keywords, whitelist certain domains). This is the most generous "link" query I could come up with. BTW: I posted a couple other graphs in the Tavern. –  Shog9 Jun 10 '13 at 18:32
    
@Shog9 regarding your "third example", it is honestly crappy, even by relaxed SO standards. At Programmers, I eat posts like this at breakfast –  gnat Jul 20 '13 at 22:59
    
I've no complaints about folks editing such posts. –  Shog9 Jul 20 '13 at 23:33
    
@Shog9 my point is, example you presented as "perfectly good answer" looks crappy. Not to mention that if haxe.org dies or goes offline, it will become... well at best it will become "search google for this word under the broken link and try to figure how search results relate to the question asked". How could this qualify as a perfectly (perfectly?) good answer, escapes my mind. Low Quality queue -> While this link may answer the question, it is better to... –  gnat Jul 20 '13 at 23:49
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See, that's the problem with general-purpose rules for this stuff, @gnat: you're describing a scenario where the answer to the question (the name of the language) is no longer sufficient to find out anything about the language (relevant links currently dominate Google) and the project website is gone. At this point, we're probably either deleting the question itself or eulogizing the language in the answer. –  Shog9 Jul 21 '13 at 0:34

Note that it's impossible to post a literally link-only answer. The minimum post length requirements ignore URLs. There are cheats and work-around and maybe a few bugs, but for the most part this is a solved problem:

Link-only answers by month

That said, why should they be flagged at all? Link-only answers may be poor answers, but unless the link is completely irrelevant they are answers. They should certainly not be deleted on sight just because they're primarily a link.

Downvote them (and optionally/ideally leave a guiding comment for the author) or edit them to include the relevant information from the link instead.

If somebody is going around spamming an irrelevant link to their blog or product without answering the question, flag that. The "answers" being mostly links is just a symptom in that case.

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Haven't we had this discussion before? The consensus was link rot. –  Richard J. Ross III Jun 9 '13 at 0:26
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@RichardJ.RossIII Sure. So it's a crap answer that's might be useless later. But while it's useful, just outright deleting helpful information feels wrong to me. Fix the answer instead if it can be fixed. If it can't... flag with an explanation of that. I object to a very binary/black-and-white "oh noes this is a link" thinking that ultimately leads to information loss. –  Anna Lear Jun 9 '13 at 0:28
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I've been flagging link-only answers for the past year and they've all been deleted and the flags marked as helpful. Are you saying this was in error? –  Paul Bellora Jun 9 '13 at 1:06
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@PaulBellora I'm saying that I disagree with the practice. The community consensus is certainly on the side of deletion, so the flag handling is clearly not an error from that point of view. –  Anna Lear Jun 9 '13 at 1:09
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Deleting link-only answers does clean up low-quality content to let other people put in something more useful or let the original answerer come up with a better version. So I usually comment before somebody else deletes the answer, and that makes it so that the notification’s there, but then the problem is that a new answer would probably have to get posted. –  minitech Jun 9 '13 at 2:04
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@minitechη Not deleting an answer doesn't stop anyone else from posting another one. There isn't really a limit... Deletion is also not a prerequisite for the original answerer to post something better or edit their answer. –  Anna Lear Jun 9 '13 at 2:07
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Link rot means that at some point in the future, a link may become unusable and we'll lose the information behind it. If we delete these on sight, without offering a chance for a user to edit them, we guarantee that the link goes away and that information is no longer attached to the question. I wonder if in our pursuit of a clean site, we're not causing the kind of information loss we're trying to prevent. –  Brad Larson Jun 9 '13 at 2:42
    
@AnnaLear: Commenting is necessary either way. Doesn’t seem to happen that much. –  minitech Jun 9 '13 at 3:41
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Community benefits of removing (more precisely, converting to comments) link-only answers are eloquently presented here: "If a link-only answer is accepted, it is especially important to delete it... If a question has an accepted answer which consists solely of a link, this sends the wrong message... it's not going to help future visitors, and the community should not be penalized for that answerer or asker's failing." –  gnat Jun 9 '13 at 11:10
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@BradLarson: "Link rot means that at some point in the future, a link may become unusable and we'll lose the information behind it." That's one way to think about it. A better way would be that we never had that information to begin with, so we've lost nothing. If we allow answers that are just a link to some other site, then it turns Stack Overflow into a link-farm. We want information on this site, not links to information. When people see an answer, we want them to see an answer, not a direction of where to look for it. We're not an alternative to Google. –  Nicol Bolas Jun 10 '13 at 17:28
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Oh, the irony of failing a review audit because I clicked "No action needed" on one of these purportedly "useful" answers, after having read this answer... –  J. Steen Jul 21 '13 at 20:02
    
@J.Steen Indeed, my position doesn't seem to align very well with the accepted consensus on SO. –  Anna Lear Jul 22 '13 at 2:18
    
@AnnaLear It's a bit of a gamble, these days, to flag a link-only answer. It might get declined, it might be marked helpful; highly depends on which flag-reviewer happens upon it. It has, however, successfully trained me into the behaviour of leaving a comment, instead. ;) –  J. Steen Jul 22 '13 at 6:08
    
stackoverflow.com/a/4937885/2011734 Just found this one. IMHO this is a link only answer. Some useless words around it and it goes under the radar. It is old. It was upvoted. It was accepted. Will I flag it? Certainly not. –  Greenflow Sep 8 '13 at 19:23

Very Low Quality.

This answer has severe formatting or content problems. This answer is unlikely to be salvageable through editing, and might need to be removed.

This isn't a perfect fit, as it might be possible to salvage such answers via editing, but it's much better than not an answer.


The problem is that many if not most of the link-only answers we see are little more than "read this tutorial it tells you everything!" - where the destination site may be one or more of of:

  • Not quite related to the question
  • Overly broad for the question
  • Wrong or dangerous
  • Absolutely correct and useful
  • 404 Not Found

Most of these are of little use and, I believe, have no place on a site which is supposed to be about answering questions...

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Like this one?? –  hjpotter92 Jun 9 '13 at 0:15
    
@hjpotter92 Yes, like this one. This answer is clearly worthless and should just be flagged for nuking from orbit. –  Michael Hampton Jun 9 '13 at 0:45
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The problem with using VLQ is that it doesn't fit, and I (as a moderator) routinely decline flags that are used incorrectly. "VLQ" seems to be a catch all for "I don't like this post", and that's not what it should be used for. The key is "unlikely to be savageable through editing" -- That's my litmus test. If you can edit it and make it better, it doesn't need that flag. If information is 'wrong or dangerous', then leave a comment explaining why and downvote. –  George Stocker Jun 9 '13 at 1:04
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I'm not sure why this is down-voted so heavily; I can only assume that folks have some mental image of a link-only answer which isn't very low quality, and want to be able to flag it anyway. Fair enough; don't use VLQ on high-quality answers that happen to contain links (and... probably don't use any other flags either). Note that for REAL link-only answers, VLQ works pretty well - indeed, those that aren't outright blocked are marked as such automatically by the system, sending them into /review... –  Shog9 Jun 9 '13 at 17:45
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@GeorgeStocker The VLQ queue offers an option to delete the answer and leave a canned comment with the heading “this is a link-only answer”. How on earth could the flag be inappropriate if that's one of its official uses? –  Gilles Sep 5 '13 at 10:01

So ardently tackled by everyone else involved up to now, I almost feel I should flesh out my thoughts out more thoroughly, but as it stands I don't see much of a real problem here, and so my process goes like this (very straightforward, actually):

  1. Downvote;
  2. Comment on the post to highlight its deficiency;
  3. Flag using "Other" with a message of "Nothing but a URL\NARA";
    1. Optionally adding "Candidate for a comment", if it is.

Takes all of thirty seconds, maximum, and is as clear as day.

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