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A user walks into Stack Overflow and asks a question. The answer for his question is in the first result of a Google search. Well, it is the fourth result, to be precise, but the first link in the discussion under the first link leads there anyway.

Long story short: the question is very simple and the answer is two clicks away in Google. What should I do? Should I give user the link to answer or should I point him to the Google Search results? What is Stack Overflow, a place to learn something (even if it is googling) or a black box "insert question, receive answer" machine?

(Meta Stack Overflow's policies prevent me from posting a link to Google? WTF.)

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marked as duplicate by gnat, Martijn Pieters, hims056, Aziz Shaikh, ben is uǝq backwards Nov 11 '13 at 13:05

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.

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This has so many duplicates that I cannot even begin to pick: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/7515/why-is-linking-bad, meta.stackexchange.com/questions/15650/…, meta.stackexchange.com/questions/13607/what-makes-a-bad-user. Interestingly I found these searching MSO and off the siderbar :) –  Diago Aug 30 '09 at 17:14
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Unfortunately, none of these duplicates were in the "possibly related" suggest bar. –  n1313 Aug 30 '09 at 17:17
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As an alternative, you can downvote the question. –  Eric Aug 30 '09 at 17:46
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IF the current answers are out of date, feel free to unaccept Kyle's answer. –  Cole Johnson Nov 3 '13 at 4:38
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7 Answers

up vote 17 down vote accepted

There's nothing to be done except to answer the question. Where the solution ranks in Google is irrelevant, and it's discouraged to provide an answer that's basically a link to another source (as links may get broken).

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Amen. Be thankful for the easy rep and help us build a canonical site. Yeesh. –  Eric Aug 30 '09 at 17:39
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I would say this is no longer accurate. –  Pëkka Nov 3 '13 at 14:08
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A downvote on the question would be highly appropriate since if the answer is easy to google, the OP clearly didn't do enough research. –  Gordon Nov 3 '13 at 17:25
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Bill's and Kyle's answers may have been valid in 2009, but they no longer are. With 7,000+ new questions a day, answering every trivially Googleable question is no longer an option, nor does it send the right message.

What I do when a question is so trivial that it can easily be Googled :

  • Downvote

  • Closevote using the appropriate reason, often as "Off-Topic" > "Questions asking for code must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved."

  • If it's a newbie, leave a comment along the lines of "Hi, please always remember to Google first. A simple query for how to flobber the gargle should give you everything you need."

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Also, imo since OP is no longer around the correct course of action is probably to open a new question, answer it and then mark this as a duplicate. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Nov 3 '13 at 15:08
    
@Benjamin that's a very good point, didn't think of that when starting the bounty. (Ugh, and now we can't close it.) –  Pëkka Nov 3 '13 at 22:11
    
@probablyPekka if only you were a community manager, you could go into the database and remove the bounty ;) –  Cole Johnson Nov 3 '13 at 23:22
    
@ColeJohnson Regular mods can refund bounties. –  Servy Nov 6 '13 at 17:55
    
@BenjaminGruenbaum - Seen yesterday on StackOverflow. –  Martin Smith Nov 6 '13 at 18:06
    
Remember that with personalized search, Google often provides different results for different users for exactly the same terms. –  KatieK Nov 6 '13 at 19:48
    
@Katie yeah, there should be a "neutral" search mode that is guaranteed to give the same results across the planet. I wonder whether such a feature exists. –  Pëkka Nov 6 '13 at 20:12
    
"With 7,000+ new questions a day ..." are Stack Overflow's servers going to explode if too many questions are asked in a single day? –  Andrew Grimm Nov 10 '13 at 0:14
    
@probablyPekka anonymous browsing gets you part of the way to neutral search. –  Andrew Grimm Nov 10 '13 at 0:15
    
@probablyPekka startpage.com –  Michael Hampton Nov 10 '13 at 2:10
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You should answer the question, but it doesn't hurt to also tell the person what you searched for to find it. In a lot of cases where an answer is easy for you to find, the person asking the question already searched and couldn't find it. Sometimes when you know a partial answer, the right search term is more obvious than if you have no idea at all. I won't speculate more than that about the root cause, but some people just don't have strong Google-Fu. You can help them learn if you include what search terms you used in your answer.

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It depends on the question. I'd tend to ask myself a few questions

  • can I aggregate great information from multiple sources to make an answer greater than the sum of its parts?

  • Does my answer illustrate with sufficient original material the answer? (I'm mainly a SU guy so this would be things like screenshots)

  • Can I be arsed to answer this question in sufficient detail?

  • Is my answer self contained ?

I'm not a fan of easily Google-able answers, but if I can create a great answer, that references these things, my answer will be what google finds. As such, if you go above and beyond just paraphrasing (or god forbid, copy pasting... or worse just linking {special place in hell for link only answers}), there can be, potentially value in something that seems easily googleable and self evident. In many cases though, it makes more sense to leave it be and close vote, or to comment a google search link, explain why the question needs to be close voted, and do the necessary.

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If the question has otherwise met Stack Overflow's minimum criteria, then answer the question in the usual way, linking to the Google result as a reference.

Note that "Didn't do enough research" is not a close reason. It is, however, a reason to downvote. If there are other problems with the question by which you can cast a close vote (such as troubleshooting questions without code, or code requests without a fundamental understanding of the problem), feel free to do that.

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The answer for his question is in the first result of a Google search.

  • If the first result of a Google search is a link to StackOverflow, then flag the user's question as a duplicate.
  • Otherwise, use the first result of the Google search to answer the question so that in the future, the first result will be a link to StackOverflow.
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But why should Stack Overflow hijack perfectly good search results that result in a canonical resource? That's not making the Internet a better place, IMO. I'd opt for destroying the question instead. –  Pëkka Nov 7 '13 at 15:00
    
Unless the purpose of the search result is to give recognition to the first site that provided a valid answer, I don't consider it hijacking. I just want a valid answer to a question I'm researching. If I have 2 valid hits instead of 1, then I feel my Internet experience is better. –  もしもし Nov 7 '13 at 16:55
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But consider the outside world's point of view. When, say, the first result for "How do I do xyz in Ruby" is a link to the canonical Ruby documentation, what value does a Stack Overflow question have that potentially pushes the canonical result down, and contains the same answer as the documentation - with the difference that the Stack Overflow answer may become outdated eventually? How does this meet Stack Overflow's mission of "making the Internet a better place"? –  Pëkka Nov 9 '13 at 16:22
    
If the SO answer is outdated, or in any way worse than any other search result, canonical or otherwise, it takes away from my Internet experience. I don't want to see any bad SO answer, regardless of the other results. I'm only speaking of valid results. And if the SO answer is better than the canonical resource, then I'd rather see the SO answer first in my personal search results. If SO can explain to me how to do xyz in CoolLanguage better than CoolLanguage.org/canonicals/, then my goal is better satified by the SO answer. –  もしもし Nov 12 '13 at 13:11
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I think, regardless of google, bing, and other search engines, if you know the answer and you want to spend your time answering it, then answer it.

If the answer is that it is another stack overflow (i.e. duplicate) then say so and reference it.

I have many books on c++ programming. Much of the material is overlapping, but the presentation and extra information presented by each author provides a broader picture. I often find that I need to look at not one but several stack overflow articles with differing perspectives to really get an answer I can use. Stack overflow has the advantage of differing views on the same question, sometimes multiple times as it is asked with subtle variations. These help me to find answers that google may not.

Also, while entering a question in stack overflow is relatively simple, they may not find the answer so easily in google. Not everybody is a good googler. Google has amazing algorithms slicing and dicing the data. Stack overflow has a community of people who look through the new/open questions (yay). I think it is better to answer the question than make the value judgement that they should have just googled it and gotten the answer.

So my response to the question is: Give the user the link if you found it to be relevant. Expand and add to it if you can (adding to their potential understanding beyond just giving them a link). Leave the judgement about whether or not they should have found it by googling behind and just be helpful to the community.

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I see your point, but... Stack Overflow gets 7,000+ new questions every day. Many of them are duplicates that have been asked thousands and thousands of times over. Are you really saying we should answer every one of them separately, often with the exact same answer we have given hundreds or thousands of times already, even though it could be answered by a 10-second Google search? What expert would want to do that, long term, for free? –  Pëkka Nov 9 '13 at 23:24
    
Does this mean that because Stack Overflow has become successful, it can no longer act like the community that created that success? (ok, a bit melodramatic). Besides, the google search may not work tomorrow; Google search criteria and scoring is fluid. But the answer and any value added to it by the community member(s) willing to spend a few minutes typing it will persist. That has value. –  FuzzyBunnySlippers Nov 9 '13 at 23:30
    
Google's search criteria have nothing but improved over the past few years. It's become amazingly good at translating how to do xyz in abc into an actual, canonical manual link. And as said - is taking the OP's question title, Googling it, and copy/pasting the #1 search result into an answer, a couple thousand times every day, a good use for the time of IT experts which they are volunteering? –  Pëkka Nov 9 '13 at 23:36
    
Absolutely that does not seem like a good use of their time. If that is what they are doing, then Stack Overflow should automatically do a google search for every question and present a box below the question with the first 4 results automatically. Also, if any of the links point to other SO pages, they should go to some kind of moderation automatically as potential duplicates. Maybe this goes on already? If the reader googles, picks, and wants to add to it to make it more informative, that seems like a good thing (and good karma). –  FuzzyBunnySlippers Nov 10 '13 at 0:21
    
that's a very interesting idea. Stack Overflow already auto-suggests search results, but only from within Stack Overflow. –  Pëkka Nov 10 '13 at 0:24
    
I'm going to add it as question. –  FuzzyBunnySlippers Nov 10 '13 at 0:28
    
We expect people asking questions on SO to have put at least a reasonable effort into finding a solution themselves before asking the question. If the answer can easily be found via a Google search and two clicks, they obviously haven't done so. Post the link as a comment (I usually add a note about putting at least some effort to find a solution first before asking at SO and a link to the help and about pages), and vote to close the question as off-topic because of the lack of effort. While it's nice to help people, SO shouldn't be used to replace doing basic research first. –  Ken White Nov 10 '13 at 0:38
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