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I am personally starting to be a bit fed up with the prevalence of what I call "linking hit-and-runs" answers (Example).

The major problems with these types of answer are that:

  • They require the asking user to read a complete article (or worse, actually browse the site) to find something that may be buried really deep.
  • They usually steal reputation from people who are putting an effort in their answer.
  • The links may die unexpectedly, leaving future visitors without the answer they are looking for.

As you can see from the numbers below, the problem is quite prevalent. I've defined a "link-and-run" (LAR) as a post where links occupy >= 15% of the body and the character count is lower than or equal to 200.

For a possible solution, please see Reduce posting of “linking hit-and-runs” answers.


LAR Calculator

The following program calculates the ratio of posts considered to be "linking hit-and-runs" in the Stack Exchange Network data dumps. Simply run it in the same directory as the data-dump you want to parse.

It will show you two ratios. LAR/Total is the number of LARs relative to the total numbers of posts. LAR/Qualify is the number of LARs relative to the number of posts below 200 characters.

Source: Read Source


Current LARs

These numbers are calculated with the application above using the January 2010 data dump.

Stack Overflow

       Ratio          LAR /      Total   (  Percent )
  LARs/Total        97787 /    1819345   (   5.37 % )
LARs/Qualify        97787 /     459812   (  21.27 % )

Server Fault

       Ratio          LAR /      Total   (  Percent )
  LARs/Total         3918 /      94217   (   4.16 % )
LARs/Qualify         3918 /      22399   (  17.49 % )

Super User

       Ratio          LAR /      Total   (  Percent )
  LARs/Total         6751 /      84934   (   7.95 % )
LARs/Qualify         6751 /      28233   (  23.91 % )
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5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I agree with the idea that "Link and Run" answers are bad, but, given that, I have to point out that your second bullet point makes no sense.

Usually steals reputation from people who are putting an effort in their answer.

If they're bad answers, I doubt they're going to steal much rep. Given that they are just bad answers, I say we just treat them as such and downvote them. Also, continue to provide and upvote good answers. People learn to adjust their behavior through both positive and negative reinforcement.

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They are not inherently bad for say... For example, if a PHP's question solution is to simply use, let's say, array_merge... Some people will simply link to the documentation page without any other explanation or example... He will get the rep while someone in the back is writing the exact same thing, but with example and an explanation as to why. –  Andrew Moore Feb 2 '10 at 22:56
    
In an ideal world those link-and-run answers wouldn't have accumulated any upvotes while the other guy is typing his post. Sigh. –  Mark Henderson Feb 3 '10 at 1:43

Yes, there are those who answer quickly with a link & run vs. those who spend time writing a complete answer. I tend to do the latter but often find someone else gives a link & run and the asker accepts their answer as the best answer almost immediately making it unlikely the asker will reward me for my extra effort.

What I was thinking would be helpful would be if StackExchange could add a feature where it told (at least the asker) how many people were working on an answer at any given time. This could be implemented by a Javascript timer that was reset every time an answerer types a keystroke in the answer textbox and with a periodic client pingback to the server as well as a timeout on the server if it hasn't heard from a client in the past few minutes.

If the questioner clicks to select the best answer while someone is still working on an answer then SE could ask if they want to wait before selecting to give the other person a chance to finish. That way those of us who do take pride in writing up quality and comprehensive answers wouldn't be as penalized by the opportunistic link & run crowd.

JMTCW.

-Mike

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I like this idea, it adds a little "magic" to the site: "The minions are still working on a answer, please wait a little!" This could tie into the "competing answer" polling that you get when you are typing an answer. Instead of spending a lot of time on an elaborate answer, I sometimes write a quick answer and then edit it so it grows. Only if a question is older (and the LAR coyotes have passed), I invest more time in one go. –  Jan Fabry Nov 1 '10 at 9:47
    
Hey @Jan Fabry - Thanks for the comments! –  MikeSchinkel Nov 1 '10 at 10:21

As you can see from the numbers below, the problem is quite prevalent. I've defined a "link-and-run" as a post where links occupy >= 15% of the body and the character count is lower than or equal to 200.

I don't know if I agree that this is a "problem" at all; can you cite some actual examples of said 'link-and-run' answers for us to judge ourselves?

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I dunno about the prevalance of them. Take this answer for example. One word, 100% link, and was all the answer that was required.

I don't see many of them on ServerFault that aren't spam (and those are dealt with real quick)

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1  
That's not such a good example, as the answer to the question really is just simply "hyper threading" with a link to the Intel product page to explain a little bit more (I would have linked to Wikipedia's hyper threading page personally). –  Zypher Feb 3 '10 at 2:10
1  
@Zypher, that's my point. Just because an answer is heavily link-dominated doesn't mean it's a link-and-run. And yes I meant to link to the Wikipedia page but I copied from the wrong tab, and by the time I noticed he'd already accepted the answer, so why bother –  Mark Henderson Feb 3 '10 at 4:06
    
@Farseeker: Sorry ... brain didn't prccess the last part of your first sentence ... forgive me please. –  Zypher Feb 3 '10 at 4:25
    
And if ever the link goes dead, the answer just lost its meaning. That's why I think you should always provide a summary with your answer. –  Andrew Moore Feb 3 '10 at 5:28
    
@Zypher, no apology needed! –  Mark Henderson Feb 3 '10 at 8:43
    
@Andrew in general yes, but in this case, the word hyperthreading is probably sufficient. Besides, do you know something about Intel I don't? –  C. Ross Jun 22 '10 at 12:29

I don't understand why this is a big problem.

Many times I simply link to man pages of the relevant function the user is looking for, or similar. Those websites existed for over a decade and I doubt the links are gonna be dead any time soon.

Also, the people writing the manuals/documentation obviously know a lot and I don't see how an answer written by me can possibly be better.

Anyways, pretty often my answers that contain the name of the function with a link to its manual page and not much else are accepted by the asker, so I guess they don't consider it a problem.

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I always try to highlight the relevant part of the page I'm linking to. Two reasons - firstly it directs the OP where to look on the page and secondly it is that insurance against link rot, however unlikely it's going to be. –  ChrisF Jun 22 '10 at 10:43

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