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See also: Are answers that just contain links elsewhere really "good answers"? | Is it okay to answer a Stack Overflow question with a link? | Why is linking bad?

Related: How do I properly write an answer that references my blog?

We all have seen it, and might even given some of them (yes, I think me included, I'll check that later), answers with only one link in it.

This can be problematic for several reasons:

  • I don't know what the answerer tries to tell me until I click at the link
  • The link can go dead and the answer would be useless for people which have the same question in the future
  • I need to go to an external source

In my opinion, the answerer should at least sum up the information behind the link and provide it in his answer. But also keeping the link for in-detail information about the solution.

So, my question is, should there be a policy for this, or is there already one in place I missed?

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marked as duplicate by Peter Mortensen, Bo Persson, Toon Krijthe, Martijn Pieters, hims056 Feb 17 '13 at 12:48

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.

3  
If the link is only to a SE post, it is automatically converted to a comment –  Marc Gravell Jul 19 '11 at 11:08
    
@Marc Gravell: Coool! –  Time Traveling Bobby Jul 19 '11 at 11:17
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see also: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/94022/… –  Kate Gregory Jul 19 '11 at 12:39

5 Answers 5

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Yes, there should be a policy; albeit a community driven one.

The problem with one-link answers is that if the content that drives them is gone, they're gone, forever.

At worst a user clicks on it, sees the dead link and gets discouraged by Stack Overflow. At best the community sees the link die and tries to find a mirrored version before it's too late.

I realize that we shouldn't always copy answers from other sites into Stack Overflow, but if it's under Creative Commons, then not only should we, but we're obligated to (so long as we source it correctly).

Solution

When someone provides a one-link answer, link to this meta question and ask them to provide the details of the answer.

If it's creative commons content they've linked to, then ask them to paste it in and source it correctly.

If it's not Creative Commons content..., then asking the Blog author for permission to copy and paste it is a Good Idea.

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13  
Another alternative is to summarise the post or just quote a small section. –  ChrisF Dec 11 '10 at 23:35
    
@Chris - your comment was exactly what i was going to suggest. I always quote or summarise and then include the link to the original source. An answer with not much more than a link is a crap answer. –  slugster Dec 12 '10 at 2:15
    
+1 very good Answer. Although, I think ChrisF is right, summarising and quoting should be fine as long as the link to the source is provided, since then you're not claiming anything. Though, you can still run into the blogger which goes all "OH MY GOD YOUR STEALING MY COPYRIGHT!" (the misspelling/nonsense is intended) on you, but that's to work out then, I guess. –  Time Traveling Bobby Dec 12 '10 at 11:22
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My issue with just posting a small section is that you may miss the details you need. Summarizing is better, but it's not a catch all -- although with the way some bloggers write, it may be the best idea (Myself included). –  George Stocker Dec 12 '10 at 23:16

I don't think there's an official policy, but when ever I see one of these I leave a comment trying to explain the problem (as outlined by you).

Sometimes I find I've been listened to. Other times it seems like I haven't.

If you feel really strongly about it down-vote, with the optional comment to explain why.

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4  
This. Lack of upvoting and especially down-voting will devalue this kind of lazyness. Be sure to vote for competing answer that make their content local. –  dmckee Dec 11 '10 at 23:57
    
Downvoting seems extreme - especially if you're dealing with a new user who gave a helpful answer, but was unaware of the issues outlined here. Downvoting in this case does not discourage laziness - it discourages participation. Best to simply comment and encourage the answerer to improve his/her answer. –  yosh m Feb 13 '13 at 8:33
    
@yoshm - which is why I don't do it. –  ChrisF Feb 13 '13 at 8:46
    
ChrisF - ACK. My comment was in response to @dmckee 's comment –  yosh m Feb 13 '13 at 15:32

Well. To start with, link-only answers blatantly violate guidance given in How to Answer instructions:

Provide context for links

A link to a potential solution is always welcome, but please add context around the link so your fellow users will have some idea what it is and why it’s there. Always quote the most relevant part of an important link, in case the target site is unreachable or goes permanently offline.

By doing so, link-only answers set a bad example for Stack Exchange users, similar to how it happens with broken-windows questions: "why can't I answer link-to-X when link-to-Y answer exists".

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 (converting to a comment if the link isn't broken yet)... When a question has an accepted answer, it looks like it has a definitive answer, and there is not much point in looking for a better one. People who are looking to improve the site by providing better answers tend to consider questions with accepted answers as very low-priority. If a question has an accepted answer which consists solely of a link, this sends the wrong message, especially after the link breaks. Sure, the accepted answer might have helped the asker, but it's not going to help future visitors, and the community should not be penalized for that answerer or asker's failing.

Given above, it is not surprising that official FAQ -> Why are some questions or answers removed? specifically targets link-only answers:

Answers that do not fundamentally answer the question may be removed. This includes answers that are … barely more than a link to an external site


PS. Out of curiosity, I made a link-only version of above answer, wiping out the relevant quotes that were taken from links. Take a look and make up your mind:

To start with, link-only answers blatantly violate guidance given in How to Answer instructions. By doing so, link-only answers set a bad example for Stack Exchange users, similar to how it happens with broken-windows questions. Benefits of removing (more precisely, converting to comments) link-only answers are eloquently presented here. Given above, it is not surprising that official FAQ -> Why are some questions or answers removed? specifically targets link-only answers.

What an impressive saving of a precious screen space. Or not so precious.

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Isn't the following a link only version of your answer: meta.stackexchange.com/a/143996/179419 –  ben is uǝq backwards Aug 18 '12 at 9:07
    
@Ben well not quite so I think, but pretty close anyway: stackoverflow.com/questions/how-to-answer, meta.stackoverflow.com/tags/broken-windows/info, meta.stackoverflow.com/tags/convert-to-comment/info, meta.stackexchange.com/a/116360/165773, stackoverflow.com/faq#deletion - that would probably be link-only version of my answer in a "pure form" so to speak –  gnat Aug 18 '12 at 9:18
    
While I agree with your answer, I also think that your example actually understates the problem; the OP is talking about answers that are literally just a link, with maybe some utterly superfluous text to go with it like "find the answer [here]". The interesting thing about these answers is that they're usually indistinguishable from spam until you actually click the link and see where it takes you. –  Aarobot Aug 18 '12 at 15:30
    
@Aarobot yeah. Thing is, even understated the outcome is clear that such answers should be removed. It's like, you know, if someone asks whether it's allowed to drive at 200 mph, I wouldn't mind posting an answer pointing that speed limit is 70 - simply because this prohibits driving at 100, 150, 200, whatever is above –  gnat Aug 18 '12 at 17:16

What if the link is to the entry in the documentation that exactly answers the question?

Am I expect to cut and paste the page from say Qt rather than just link directly to the entry that answers the question? Not only does the answer I have posted then go out of date, it doesn't include the links to other parts of the docs - and probably violates the copyright of the library.

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4  
You're expected to summarize what the documentation has to say about it - or don't answer at all. A documentation link might be useful to add as a comment, if you're not too snarky about it. –  Aarobot Aug 18 '12 at 15:27
    
Yes, you're supposed to do that. Even links to official documentation can rot. Not only does the answer I have posted then go out of date... When was the last time you've seen an answer which got plain out of date if it was from the official documentation? ...and probably violates the copyright of the library. You mean of the documentation? I have never seen an official documentation which it was not allowed to quote from (NDAs and similar aside). –  Time Traveling Bobby Aug 20 '12 at 7:04

•I don't know what the answerer tries to tell me until I click at the link

•The link can go dead and the answer would be useless for people which have the same question in the future

•I need to go to an external source

For your first bullet I would say "Click the link then". I suspect the poster isn't wanting to copy redundant data from one location to another. This is counter intuitive if the original source (link) gets updated with a more relevant / appropriate answer. Now my copy / paste of that solution is out of date and I could potentially be providing you bad or stale information.

For your second bullet I would ask "Why is the link dead? Did someone remove it on purpose?". I would really question why those sources are being removed in the first place unless somehow flagged as inappropriate.

And for your final bullet I would simply say "Okay" with a shoulder shrug. You hit external sources anytime you do a search in a search engine and pick a link. It's the nature of the internet. In my opinion you should be practicing safe web surfing (antivirus, phishing detection, etc.) if this is a real concern. To be honest if I was to post a small blurb right before the link with a relevant yet fake quote from that site, I could get you to click it anyway right?

I for one am not going to post redundant information multiple times if I am referencing where someone else already addressed a person's question. The benefit of copy / pasting the same answer over and over is outweighed by the benefits of just quickly referencing the URL where the person can find a solution. Not to mention the negative aspects I have detailed above.

Just my 2 coppers worth.

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1  
1. The idea is to have a copy here and the original. The local information can be updated if necessary (and if someone cares), otherwise there's still the link to the source. 2. Did you ever search three days for the solution of a problem and found a forum post which goes like this: "found the solution: dead-link.org/this/sucks";? 3. The whole SE network, but especially SO, aims to be a professional resource...visiting random sites at work is not really desirable, and if possible should be avoided. –  Time Traveling Bobby Dec 18 '12 at 14:36
    
1. I equate this to a company having an electronic policy and you print it out to have a copy. What do you do when the policy has been updated in the electronic form? You now have stale content. I'm sorry but you won't convince me otherwise. 2. Not really. Even if this did happen, I suspect the rate at which those links cropped up would be small. It isn't as if we have an outbreak of "The Walk Dead: Links Edition" occurring throughout SE. 3. And there are many people in different lines of work who appreciate SE and SO. I wouldn't have time for random surfing even if my company allowed it. :) –  MAllen22842 Dec 19 '12 at 14:12
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In addition, my gut reaction to all of this is that there is a very simple programatic solution. Why not do like Facebook, Google+, etc. When a link is posted you dynamically pull the description and post it here under the answer / comment. Then you (a) solve the lack of description problem and stale issues and (b) allow folks to just post a link without having to go attach details to the same redundant data. The fact of the matter is this doesn't have to be as hard as it is being made out to be. Such as having a long winded policy discussion. –  MAllen22842 Dec 19 '12 at 14:22
    
1. If the electronic form is lost, it's better to have that stale copy instead of nothing, no? 2. Actually, we had, multiple times. Link-Shorteners went out of business, it was a mess as no one could find out anymore where those links were pointed. Or the purchase of Sun by Oracle, hundreds of Sun-Blog links went dead overnight. 3. That was my point. –  Time Traveling Bobby Dec 19 '12 at 14:23
    
I would prefer no answer at all as opposed to misinformation. For your second point I wasn't necessarily referencing link shortners (and I disagree, they are not "out of business" and most provide link preview capabilities.. tinyurl). I was referring to using something similar to OpenGraph, Lint, and other similar tools for scrapping the target location on behalf of the user. In conclusion, I suspect we are just going to have to agree to disagree here. –  MAllen22842 Dec 21 '12 at 18:18

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