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I recently got into a discussion with a relatively new user over link only answers. We were discussing over How to create a button with a CSS-animated background?, and the OP asked

Anyone have any ideas or guides for similar?

The user I was talking to took this as meaning "What concepts are they using." Now, while this isn't a wrong approach to a question like this, the user took it as meaning that he could just give links out, and gave links for an answer.

It has been discussed very intensely at MSO that link only answers are under no circumstances helpful. So naturally, I used my userscript that leaves a comment about link only answers, along with a downvote and a flag. The comment talks about how link only answers aren't ok because of link rot, and it links to Should I flag answers which contain only a link as "not an answer"?. And with that, the user still wasn't convinced that a link only answer was bad.

At our discussion, I told him that it would be good as a comment, because answers need to give useable information. They shouldn't make the OP search an article, and they certainly shouldn't have to search through google, which is what the links were in this instance.

The conversation ended with him saying

You're clearly convinced of your opninion so let's leave it at that, have a nice evening.

So naturally, I feel like I failed.


Now don't worry. This isn't just a rant. I am just giving some background information to my question.

My question is how can I convince a user on why link only answers are bad? This is important, because if I don't succeed, the user will post more link only answers, cluttering up SO even more.


As Seth put it quite nicely

Answers are meant to answer the question, not point to an answer. If all you have is a link you should post a comment

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I'm not sure I agree with you in that particular answer. Yeah, his answer might've been more detailed; but his answer really was the words, not the links. The right criticism would've been that the answer was insufficiently detailed to be helpful (but at least for me, as a intermediate level CSS/HTML programmer, his answer would've been pretty useful by itself). –  Joe Jul 3 '13 at 22:22
    
I agree that he did help in a sense of where to look to, but I'm not really after the specifics of this scenario. Just a general few arguments –  Cody Guldner Jul 3 '13 at 22:24

4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

My question is how can I convince a user on why link only answers are bad?

There's no sure way to do that; if tales of link-rot and woe don't convince them and down-votes don't sway them, then you might want to just move on to something more productive.

That said, I have two concerns with the specific scenario you're describing:

  1. Anyone have any ideas or guides for similar?

    You could start by cutting this right out of the question, or at very least replacing it with something less likely to prompt answers light on content and heavy on links. A small thing, but important. That question had other issues as well - I've tried to correct them too. Before you go off on answers, try to make the question they're answering at least somewhat acceptable - otherwise, it's just a waste of time.

  2. Link-heavy does not mean link-only

    The answer in question isn't great, but I would hesitate to call it a "link-only answer". Even if the links break, the concepts being described and linked to will remain - to the extent that they offer anything of value to the asker, that value is not completely lost. So don't fixate on links; if there is a problem with that answer, it is that it makes so little effort to provide more than a first step toward a solution.

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It wasn't the fact that it was links, because he did say where to go next. It was more the fact that he just linked to google. The users answer could have been left as a comment, and the OP could have searched on google himself. –  Cody Guldner Jul 3 '13 at 22:27
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But you didn't say anything - at least initially - about the deficiencies of the answer itself (or the information provided by it). You jumped right to the links themselves, which are at best a secondary problem there (and given Google's apparent stability, probably not even that). –  Shog9 Jul 3 '13 at 22:39
    
What do you mean? –  Cody Guldner Jul 3 '13 at 22:40
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I mean your first comment wasn't, "this is a good start but falls well short of giving the asker a clear path to success in his task" or even "linking to google is a lazy way to answer; if there's something useful in those results, why not summarize it here?" - instead, you wrote, "While your answer is good now, if the link were ever to die, your answer would lose it's value." - neither of which are really true. –  Shog9 Jul 3 '13 at 22:44
    
Oh yeah true. I forgot that comment doesn't really apply in this situation –  Cody Guldner Jul 3 '13 at 22:45

Three things:

  • It is not your job to convince them of this. The community has a well-articulated standard regarding link-only answers, and you properly linked the correct resources and voted appropriately. If they choose to disregard what is obvious, it's probably not worth your time to correct them. The system will work them out, or teach them in a broader sense. We, as a community, need you to spend your time on better tasks.
  • The question itself is, well, questionable. When a question asks something poor, like "How do I do x vague thing I've only linked to?" then it is not going to get quality answers. This is a case study in this.
  • It is entirely appropriate to point out the relevant parts of the link answer and surface them either as comments or as your own response. In this way your concern of link-only answers causing clutter is alleviated, because better answers will rise to the top.
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I completely agree. I just don't want them to continue to post link only answers –  Cody Guldner Jul 3 '13 at 22:30
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But you can't control their behavior. Only influence it positively. And you should focus on positive influence where it has the most leverage. S.O. has a pretty good system of ignoring bad content. Note that that answer is the lowest ranked one: no one thinks it's good enough to upvote. –  Nathaniel Ford Jul 3 '13 at 22:31
    
True. But it's a battle I'm willing to fight ;) –  Cody Guldner Jul 3 '13 at 22:37
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Then I wish you luck! Though I might recommend that sometimes being prepared to fight a particular battle precipitates a particular battle. –  Nathaniel Ford Jul 3 '13 at 22:39

Ultimately the link itself isn't the problem; it's the answer extrinsic of the link. If the text that appears in the answer is sufficient to be a helpful answer to the question, then it's a helpful answer; if the text is not sufficient to be a helpful answer, and only following the link gives you a helpful answer, then it's not one. Focusing on the presence or absence of a link itself is a mistake. I'd simply suggest the user evaluate his/her answer in the context of the text available in the answer itself, and then move on if the user disagrees with you (both because it's not worth your time to argue about this substantially - that's what voting and such is for - and because you might not be correct in all cases.)

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If the text that appears in the answer is sufficient to be a helpful answer to the question, then it's a helpful answer; That's not the case. Answers are meant to answer the question, not point to an answer. If all you have is a link you should post a comment. –  ɥʇǝS Jul 3 '13 at 22:28
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@Seth: As far as I can tell, you and Joe just said the same thing: "Consider the answer as if the link wasn't there." –  Josh Caswell Jul 3 '13 at 22:30
    
@Seth, I think you misunderstand. By "text" I mean "the letters that show up in the answer itself, without clicking on anything". You and I agree that the answer itself must answer the question without relying on links. –  Joe Jul 3 '13 at 22:31
    
Ah, you are right. Thanks for correcting me. (cc @JoshCaswell) –  ɥʇǝS Jul 3 '13 at 22:56

If the answer was just this, without any links, would anyone consider this a link only answer?

Yes it can be done with pure CSS.

You'll need:

  • CSS3 animation / @keyframes
  • CSS3 gradients

I don't think so. It's a barebones answer, but it's an answer. Now, on top on that, he put links in some of the terms. That doesn't magically turns it into a link only answer.

Reading the chat discussion, he is saying that the answer is not actually a link only answer:

It was already the answer he requested, I only added links with the keywords in google to make it easier. The links provide no extra information themselves. Please read his question more carefully.

So it seems to me that he was not the one failing to undersand that link oly answers are bad. It was you who failed to understand his argument that it was not a link only answer.

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What he provided was good for a comment. Answers should answer. Not direct someone to where they might find it –  Cody Guldner Jul 3 '13 at 23:58

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