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Are answers that just contain links elsewhere really “good answers”?

I'm new to Stack Overflow, but have been around on various forums for a while. I have noticed something that has me a little concerned. I was going to post this over on UserVoice, but I realized that I didn't really have a great solution. So I thought I would solicit the opinion of the community, and see what you all thought would be a good approach to solving this problem (if, in fact, you agree it's a problem).

I see a lot of answers of this type:

Everything you need to know about <question> is here: <link>.

Now, often the answer is correct, the answer is there. The user accepts the answer, and we all go on our merry way. But my concern is link rot. I've been following the Jeff/Joel blogs, speeches, etc. and it seems their intent is to make this site a repository of answers. Three years from now, if I Google a question (or use this site's search feature) and get to a thread that had linked to an answer, what happens if the source site has restructured/disappeared/moved/etc?

Even though linking is expedient, I wonder if it will be detrimental in the long run.

Edit:
This is in response to lothar's comment, but since it expands on the discussion I thought I would move it up here:

And with the necessary rep anyone can edit the answer and update a link if necessary

That's true, and I did think of that. But my concern is lost information. If the site that vanished had really great/hard to find information, a few problems will happen.

  1. The person discovering the link rot will most likely be someone looking for an answer.
  2. There is a decent chance said person will be new to the site and may not even be a member. So they may or may not ask the question again on the site (which we hold to be undesirable). OR they just drift off into the ether, leaving the link still rotting.
  3. In the event that the link rot is discovered by a responsible user... then what? If it was a particularly esoteric question, they still have to find someone who knows the answer, and cares to write it up again. And how will they find that person? They will open a new question.
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migrated from stackoverflow.com Mar 3 '10 at 14:28

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

marked as duplicate by ChrisF, fretje, jmfsg, Adam Davis, George Stocker Mar 4 '10 at 23:28

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.

    
If links do rot and disappear, there's always archive.org –  Adam Rosenfield May 22 '09 at 19:19
    
And with the necessary rep anyone can edit the answer and update a link if necessary –  lothar May 22 '09 at 19:26
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Hi Adam,<br/> Archive.org is a great resource, but I guess I was thinking in terms of making this site the resource.<br> –  Oorang May 22 '09 at 19:35
    
When you post a link you should post the link's human-readable text as well ... so even if the web address changes, at least there's still a text fragment which someone can Google for (or whatever the next thing's going to be after Google). –  ChrisW May 22 '09 at 19:47
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Duplicate of "Are answers that just contain links elsewhere really “good answers”?" at meta.stackexchange.com/questions/8231/… (which is more recent, but exists on Meta much longer.) –  Arjan Mar 3 '10 at 14:34

5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I've always tried to post the answer via a link when it has one and then give a snippet or the answer below. I do this for 2 reasons.

  1. If I find the answer via a search, I want to give credit to whose answer it is.
  2. I find it easier when the answers are actually posted to the questions within the SO site and don't have to navigate away to a random blog out there.

I think you bring up a great third point about link rot.

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You can no more assuredly say that Stack Overflow won't be here than you can the other site. The nature of this site is that if that happens then it will be demoted and no longer relevant.

While if they post more current information on the site that is linked to then it will be more relevant.

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Posting a link to a random Q+A forum is probably bad.

But what about a link to MSDN, or the SGI STL faq, or a Raymond Chen article?
You can't copy+paste them here, and summarizing them is likely to lead to errors.

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I know first hand that link rot is really annoying but it's somewhat unavoidable. Outside articles provide a lot of really great resources to answer questions on these sites. Besides outright plagiarizing those articles it's difficult to get all the information from them on this site.

It would be nice if the SO family consisted of nothing but 100% original content created by the users but that's just unreasonable. Plus you're ignoring the really great resource that is the rest of the web. Just try your best to post as much of an answer as you can so that it is actually answered and then provide a link for more in depth information. That's really the best we can do in these situations.

Also keep in mind that SO will allow us to edit these answers in the future to keep links updated. This is one of the main advantages of SO over a traditional forum.

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"what happens if the source site has restructured/disappeared/moved/etc?"

Isn't that a universal problem with all content on this experiment called the World Wide Web?

Isn't every single web reference a balance between cloning and referencing?

SO doesn't appear to be unique. Wanting to be a repository could mean replicating a lot of information. Whereupon, it becomes out of date here because it was updated there.

There's no right answer -- if there was, the web would have already adopted it.

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lol It's not about a "right" answer, it was intended to generate discussion about how to solve/mitigate the problem:) –  Oorang May 22 '09 at 19:30
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Unfortunately, SO is not a great place for discussion. –  jjnguy May 22 '09 at 19:31

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