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I've seen many people refer to linking to pages on SO and even other sites as being bad and saying things like "I hope they don't mind". Why is linking a bad thing? I did just read all about Google Penalties but although interesting it didn't really seem to answer why linking is a "bad thing".

So is linking "bad", and if so why?, or have I heard wrong?

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Jul 20 '09 at 20:19

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It would really help if you'd give an example. –  Jon Skeet Jul 20 '09 at 20:27
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Agreed. Where did you hear it, was it here on SO? –  Treb Jul 20 '09 at 20:30
    
There seems to be some confusion. I'm not talking about answering a question with just a link. I've actually seen multiple people refer to linking as "bad" (primarily referring to doing so without the destination site owner's permission) in and of itself. They were literally referring to linking as a bad thing which is why I was confused. –  Bryan Jul 20 '09 at 20:32
    
I tried to add the above comment to the question but it wasn't letting me edit my question. –  Bryan Jul 20 '09 at 20:32
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@Bryan: who ever told you that was nuts. Linking is what The Web is all about - that's why it's called The Web. –  Shog9 Jul 20 '09 at 20:40
    
@Shog9: Frankly I agree which is why I was confused to see people say otherwise. –  Bryan Jul 20 '09 at 20:53
    
As for example, I can't remember where I've seen people say it but I know the guy apologizing for the link was somewhere in this question stackoverflow.com/questions/… and this guy is looking for a way to make links to his pages not work. stackoverflow.com/questions/1155188/… –  Bryan Jul 20 '09 at 21:07
    
re-reading the linking question I think I get it. I think when I've seen people refer to linking as bad they were meaning linking to specific content on a person's page like a download. Does that seem right? –  Bryan Jul 20 '09 at 21:10
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7 Answers 7

Linking isn't a bad thing.

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If all you do is post a link, then you aren't really answering the question very well.

Actually including content along with links is the preferred way to answer a question.

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Not what I'm meaning. I've actually seen multiple people refer to linking as "bad." Not talking about answering a question with just a link. They were literally referring to linking as a bad thing which is why I was confused. –  Bryan Jul 20 '09 at 20:25
    
Well, see @ceejayoz's answer then. –  jjnguy Jul 20 '09 at 20:26
    
Those three answers I posted were not good answers. I have since gotten much better at answering questions and have formulated the opinion that just posting links is not good practice. Thus, I try to give very good answers that include code and explanation. –  jjnguy Jul 20 '09 at 21:42
    
Fair enough, I'll remove my down vote since you took the time to clarify. –  Ian Elliott Jul 20 '09 at 21:46
    
You don't have to do that. But, thanks. Do you actually think posting just a link is acceptable? –  jjnguy Jul 20 '09 at 21:48
    
I think it can be in a few instances where users ask very trivial questions, for good documentation, and things like that. As a rule of thumb I would say it's unacceptable just to prevent people from answering all questions in that manner, but I wouldn't forbid it. –  Ian Elliott Jul 20 '09 at 21:54
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Linking is not a bad thing as long as you actually provide some context to your answer. If all you are going to do is post a link in your answer, you aren't really answering, you are just providing a detour for the user. At the very least you could explain where the link goes and what it is going to show the user (maybe even quote some of important stuff in the answer so that the OP doesn't have to click the link to possibly answer their question).

To answer your revised question, most people who say that linking is bad on the web have absolutely no clue how the web works. The only thing bad about linking is the fact that you have no guarantee that the thing you are linking to will be open tomorrow or the next day or 7 years down the road. That's the only problem. There is a reason this is called a web and it is because everything is supposed to be interconnected. If it wasn't you would never make it past your browser's home page half the time.

A related (yet not really) "bad thing" was the use of "hotlinking" images, meaning you would put the image tag in your own code and the link source was pointing back to the other domain. This would cause the browser to download it from that source, meaning it was taxing the resources on the originator's website when people were visiting your page.

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StackOverflow is NOT real-time, unlike IRC. With IRC, links are fine. But here, your answer will become absolutely useless if something happens to the blog/resource in question. –  Michael Butler Mar 12 '13 at 19:57
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If the link is helpful or on point, why would that be a problem? The implied answer to the question is "I found your solution here." Why waste time and risk the ethical violation involved in copying over anything other than a short blurb? I think the link is fair to the content creator since he or she gets blog hits (or whatever) and good for the question asker if the link answers the question. It's not great for SO because the content is elsewhere and subject to change, but that's a issue any content aggregator has to deal with.

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The problem isn't linking per se, it's the transient nature of the web. Those linked-to pages may not be there in a week, or a month, or years from now when someone has the same problem again. That's why the best course of action is to provide a link, but, whenever possible, include the specifically relevant material from the linked page in your answer in order to preserve it.

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Links in general:

One problem with links is that they can die/expire, the pages on the target site get reorganised or deleted, and the link is no longer valid.

One other thing to consider is copyright, if you copy & paste content from another site, you may violate the rights of the original owners. From that point of view, a link is better, because it clearly indicates the original ownership (provided that the site you link to is the original owner, and did not copy & paste..)

Links on SO:

As TheTXI points out, posting only a link as an answer requires the person reading the answer to perform an additional action (click on the link) in order to see your answer.

That is why I try to do both: Put a link to my source and copy the most important parts from the target site or at least a small summary int omy answer.

I also follow that approach for links to other peoples answers on SO (see example above), because I consider it polite to attribute ownership where it's due.

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If you quote a source and provide the link, that is "fair use" and could never really be seen as copyright infringement. –  TheTXI Jul 20 '09 at 20:31
    
Generally I'm happy if people give me links in answers especially when the other contents of the link is not 100% answer to my question but might give me some clues to solve my problem. It's better in that case to give me a link because I can read the context on after the jump, I would not expect them to summarize what I will find at that link - even though hints are helpful. –  stefanB Dec 9 '09 at 22:37
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The only thing that comes to mind that could be bad about posting a link on a high-traffic site like SO is the ensuing stream of visitors causing traffic overload, congestion and traffic bills on the linked site's end (that may not be equipped to deal with those kinds of traffic at all).

However, different from a link posted on, say, Slashdot, the effect is minuscule on SO. While SO itself has huge amounts of traffic, a single question rarely gets more than a few hundred views. Only a percentage of those people then goes on to follow the link. The amount of traffic resulting from that should be handleable by even the tiniest of web servers.

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