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More than often I get a lot of itch when I see an answer which contains only a link. For example this one.

Check this link, it will solve your query..

http://publib.boulder.ibm.com/infocenter/wasinfo/v6r0/index.jsp?topic=/com.ibm.websphere.express.doc/info/exp/ae/rdat_dawp02.html

This answer does not explain in any way why and how it solves the OP's concrete problem without the need to click the link. Also, if the link ever goes down, then the whole answer is completely useless.

I am very tempted to flag this as "not an answer" and hope that the moderator understands the hint and converts it into a comment.

Can I flag them as such?

Related:

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marked as duplicate by gnat, hims056, Tobias Kienzler, Rory, Aziz Shaikh Jul 17 '13 at 12:36

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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In that case, the person answering has at least some rep, so why not leave a comment and tell him to improve the answer by adding some information? If the answer is really bad, I'd also consider downvoting. –  slhck May 24 '11 at 13:36
    
Most (all?) should be auto-flagged by Community anyways, so it's probably better to directly address the issue by editing (or commenting, as Anna says). –  Matthew Read Jan 6 '12 at 22:23
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@Peter: It's not a dupe, that's just discussing whether or not link-only answers are considered good. Here the discussion is on whether or not they should be flagged. It's related (as you can see it's even referenced in the question) but it's by no means a dupe. –  Jeff Mercado Feb 25 '12 at 21:15

4 Answers 4

up vote 50 down vote accepted

TL&DR: Yes, do flag link-only answers.

The user perspective

In the past, on such link-only answers, I used to just leave a comment asking the answerer to provide context for links. I would only downvote or flag as not-an-answer (or spam if applicable) if the content of the link was not relevant to the question.

But really, consider the value of a link-only answer:

  • For the reader, it's not directly helpful. And very often, while the content behind the link is helpful, its applicability to the question is not immediate. Even if the content is helpful, what if the linked site goes away? What if the reader is reading an offline copy of the question page?
  • For the answerer, such an answer represents zero effort. Given the existence of reputation, an upvote is supposed to reward the answerer in a way. Why reward someone who couldn't be bothered to write even one relevant sentence?
  • For the reviewer (i.e. a potential voter/flagger), following the link is extra effort. Each reviewer and each reader ends up doing that extra effort that was the answerer's job in the first place.

So now, my policy is to judge an answer by its explicit content alone. Links are an extra bonus, and indeed an answer can be better because it includes links to code samples or reference documentation. But if an answer only reads “see this link”, then I'll vote on it based on what I see. At the moment, I downvote and comment on such answers, because I think it's more effective in discouraging these answers than a not an answer flag that won't be followed through (unfortunately, some moderators, especially on Stack Overflow, refuse to delete link-only answers). But ideally, such answers should be deleted (or improved).

Oh, and if you see a question which has one answer with just a link to relevant content, it's legitimate to write a competing answer with the content (summarized or rephrased), plus the link as a reference, and downvote (and flag for deletion) the link-only answer.

(Note that an answer like “you want the Foo.Bar module <link to the official documentation>”, to a question like “how to I do task X in environment Y?”, is not a link-only answer. The name of the module is the most important part of the answer, and it's included directly in the answer, so that's fine. If the answer didn't have the module name in an apparent way, the appropriate reaction would be to edit it, e.g. replace [use this](http://example.com/Foo.Bar) by use [Foo.Bar](http://example.com/Foo.Bar)..)

The moderator perspective

(This section spells out the logical consequence of the first section, plus some additional advice for moderators.)

A link-only answer is not a desirable answer. Therefore, any flag that suggests the deletion of a link-only answer should result in the deletion of the answer, and should be marked as helpful.

If the link looks like it may be useful, convert it to a comment. A link that is spammy, redundant or irrelevant should be deleted outright; a link to a page that looks like it contains the answer should ideally be in a comment (“here's something you could extract an answer from”). If in doubt, converting to a comment is the best default choice: it removes the clutter from the answer section while preserving the information.

If you're feeling extra helpful, you might leave a comment to explain why you deleted the answer. A canned comment can fit most link-only answer.

Please [do not post an answer that consists essentially of a link](http://stackoverflow.com/questions/how-to-answer). Include the important points in your answer; leave the link for extra information or as a reference.

or this one:

Welcome to Stack Exchange. This is a [questions and answers site](http://stackoverflow.com/about), not a link collection. Please include relevant content in your answer, not just a link to where the content may be. The link is nice to have in addition for reference or for further information. For more tips, see [How to answer](http://stackoverflow.com/questions/how-to-answer).

Leaving a comment is especially important on young sites where it is important to welcome and guide new users; if you're an SO moderator who handles hundreds of flags a day, I expect you to click “delete” and move on. The comment has to be left by the moderator just before deleting the answer, even if the flagger has already left a comment, because posters are not notified of comments on their deleted posts except when the comment is left by the moderator deleting the answer just prior to the deletion.

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Where I think this approach fails is that it puts more work at the feet of the moderator (who doesn't scale) rather than the community (which scales). You say, "additional advice for moderators" and then you say we should leave comments. Shouldn't comments have been left before this by users? Also, a link only answer is an answer, and a "Not an answer" flag is not appropriate (As your original answer states). A flag is appropriate, but flag correctly, and take some time to let the OP know before just dumping it on the moderators. –  George Stocker May 7 '13 at 13:58
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@GeorgeStocker Comments cannot be left before by users because the engine doesn't support it. I would welcome an engine change, because I agree that the burden should be on the flagger (and as a flagger, it frustrates me that the guidance comment that I do post won't reach the flagger). But the fact is that now, if a user comments and flags, and a mod deletes the post, then the comment does not reach the poster. –  Gilles May 7 '13 at 14:02
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@GeorgeStocker A link-only answer is an answer in the technical sense that it's posted in the answer section, in the same sense that an answer containing only “I like turtles” is an answer. That doesn't make it any more of an answer in the semantic sense. The same flag is appropriate for “I like turtles” and “see this link”. –  Gilles May 7 '13 at 14:03
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You're missing my point. Comment first. Then (if you want), come back later. If it's not been addressed, flag it. Likewise, if you see a link only answer with a comment that asks the person to address the issue and they haven't, then flag it. If you take these steps, you're taking the same steps a moderator would anyway, but you're helping us by doing some of the actual work of making the site better yourself. –  George Stocker May 7 '13 at 14:04
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@GeorgeStocker No. That doesn't scale. As a user, I'm not going to keep track of all these answers. The option that minimizes work for everyone (OP and flagger and moderator) is to leave a comment and delete the post, and then the OP can post a new answer if they wish. Unfortunately, due to an engine limitation, only the deleting moderator can leave a comment. –  Gilles May 7 '13 at 14:06
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I'll use your own words to disagree with your 'I like turtles' assertion: "while the content behind the link is helpful, its applicability to the question is not immediate." "I like Turtles" is not helpful, because it doesn't address the question. Not an answer should be used for answers that do not address the question. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/167624/… –  George Stocker May 7 '13 at 14:06
    
You don't have to keep track of them. Just limit your flags to those that have comments (or meet the three criteria I laid out in the other post you're currently commenting on). You only have to keep track of them if you really want to. We have enough people flagging that sooner or later, someone will see your comment, see the link only answer, and flag it. –  George Stocker May 7 '13 at 14:08
    
@GeorgeStocker: Can I confirm that the current stance that "not an answer" is not appropriate for link only answers? I'm asking as almost all "very low quality" flags that I do seem to be disputed by reviewers, they certainly aren't spam or offensive and using an "other" flag for something as routine as this doesn't really seem appropriate. –  Qantas 94 Heavy Nov 19 '13 at 6:09
    
@Qantas94Heavy The current official stance is that there is no official stance, so it's up to the whim of individual reviewers or moderators. As a user or moderator, I don't let link-only answers stand (I either add useful text, convert to comment, or delete). I recommend to use VLQ when the link is useless or redundant and flag as other if the link is useful and should be converted to a comment, but many moderators have a different policy. –  Gilles Nov 19 '13 at 10:58
    
@Qantas94Heavy If I'm processing your flag and you flag something that as 'not an answer' that is an answer (albeit crappy, rhetorical, or lacking good information), I'm going to decline your flag. Key question to ask, "Is the individual attempting to address the question and the problem being the question?" If that answer is yes, regardless of its utility, it's an answer. It could be 'very low quality' (broken link, very poorly written and hard to parse, or some other drastic issue). Otherwise, flag with a custom flag, and tell us what's wrong and what you want us to do about it. –  George Stocker Nov 19 '13 at 13:25

Not every answer with just a link in it should be a comment. So long as the links are answering the question, I don't think flagging as "not an answer" is appropriate.

So I'd leave a comment instead of flagging. I usually do something alone the lines of

Your answer is helpful, but you can make it better by including a summary or relevant portions of the pages you're linking to. This will also help your answer remain great even if the links you included break in the future.

If the user doesn't respond, I downvote since an answer with just links in it is not a good answer.

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Thank you. I posted a comment. –  BalusC May 24 '11 at 13:44
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I would not downvote unless the link was not helpfull to anyone. –  Ian Ringrose May 24 '11 at 14:22
    
@Ian: I didn't find the link helpful. It contains pretty a lot of noise. It shows a servlet with a lot of IBM WebSphere 6 (a Java EE application server) specific imports/code to handle connection timeouts on a container managed JNDI datasource. It was not obvious from the question that the OP is developing a Java EE web application and targeting IBM WebSphere 6 as server and using a JNDI datasource as connection source. –  BalusC May 24 '11 at 14:26
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@AnnaLear Agree with the 2nd part (egg user to add more info), disagree with the first (I think every 1-link answer should be just a comment, and if the user wants to expand on that, that should be an answer) –  bobobobo Apr 21 '12 at 13:15
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I'm unaccepting this answer as the general community consensus seems to be different these days (which I strongly feel to agree with) and I didn't want to imply that I disagree this consensus by having this answer accepted. Feel free to edit and improve. –  BalusC Sep 28 '12 at 14:23
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Good post, I linked to it here. –  Eugene Seidel Jun 8 '13 at 11:01

I think this is not only a good idea, but it's the community supported one. Perhaps there was grounds for significant debate in 2011 when this question was posted, but as of today (2013) when performing review tasks one option for "low quality" posts is to mark it for deletion, in the possible reasons we see a non-spam, link only answer.

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If it's acceptable for a reviewer to mark a link only answer for deletion, there should be no issues with flagging one for deletion outright and having the mods move it to a comment.

I, however, as a general courtesy to the poster, always put in a similar comment to below before flagging just to let the poster know they may wish to improve upon the answer.

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There is a default flag option for "very low quality" that would actually fit better with the review logic. –  Shog9 Jun 1 '13 at 13:54

Yes, absolutely.

These are not answers and should be flagged as such.

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