Googling for a solution to disable HTML5 form validation last night, I came across this question:


There is one answer: (update: post has been converted to comment)

see How do you customize the error message generated by HTML5 by the simple_form gem?

I click the link, and get this answer: (update: post has been converted to comment)

Related question: How do I style the HTML5 form validation error messages with CSS?

I click that link, and get this answer:

This has been answered here: How do you style the HTML5 form validation messages? It only works in Chrome at the moment.

I click that link and finally land on an actual answer. It ended up not being what I was looking for after navigating that maze of links, which prompted this post.

My question is, how should answers that are only links to other Stack Overflow posts be dealt with? I understand that the community generally feels that answers with just a link are "not good answers", but to me they are often not answers at all. The twist here is that the link is to another Stack Overflow post, not to someone's blog, or some reference site, or to The Manual. I'm aware that sometimes the question should be closed as a duplicate, but not always, and these type of answers will persist regardless.

Another lesser reason that irks me is taking credit for other people's work. For some reason, these SO-link-only answers always seem to get upvoted, I suppose because the link is in fact useful, but the actual answer was supplied by the original author. I do believe a link is complimentary to an answer, as long as the answer itself provides some unique information.

I see a lot of these kinds of answers, just a link to a related post. So, what do we do with them? Do they deserve flagging, downvotes, etc? Where is the line between acceptable and unacceptable? Are we making exceptions for links to other SO posts?

My personal feelings are that they should be converted to comments, but I'm not so sure because I see them highly upvoted or accepted quite a bit, rarely downvoted, and I don't want to send in a barrage of flags unless the community agrees.

  • I always flag answers that are links to another question or answer on SO. If I agree that the link was useful, then I'll usually vote to close the question as a duplicate of the one linked. – Cody Gray Aug 2 '11 at 6:23
  • Update: Since posting this, some of the linked questions have changed quite a bit, including a merge that made one very useful in comparison to when I originally viewed it. – user159834 Aug 3 '11 at 5:37
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The answer you linked was created May 24th, this predates some new code we introduced that automatically converts "answers" that are brief amounts of text, followed by a link to a Stack Exchange post, to comments.

see Answer appears automatically converted as a comment

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    Aha, so this is very new then? I'm happy to see that it's being handled automatically now, great work! Hopefully this will prod some folks into composing more complete answers instead of just deferring the solution elsewhere. If that last link I clicked led me back to the first one, I think I'd have lost my mind! – user159834 Aug 1 '11 at 23:13
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    I think I need to accept this answer, the fact that this was even implemented is proof that link-only posts are not sufficient as answers, but make excellent comments. – user159834 Aug 2 '11 at 18:49
  • I was surprised to see this happen to one of my answers, makes good sense to me! – Asciiom Aug 21 '12 at 10:25

If it's just a link to another SO question, then it probably should have been a "close as duplicate" vote instead. I always convert these types of answers to comments before considering whether I should close the question (so flag them for moderator attention when you see them).

If it's a link to another SO answer then that's a little bit different (as @jjnguy pointed out in the comments). It may be a valid answer to a different question, so we need to look at these individually to decide what to do with them.

If an answer is just a link to an outside source I usually just comment that it would be better to provide a summary answer on SO, and still provide the link as a reference. We don't like to delete these links if they provide any insight at all, so encouragement and/or editing is the best we can do.

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  • So if the question is old and unlikely to accumulate close votes, flag it? How about if the question is not a duplicate, and the link-only answer only partly covers the question? Not talking about outside sources, specifically I mean links to other SO answers. – user159834 Aug 1 '11 at 16:12
  • @Wesley: Yes, flag it. If the link only answers part of the question I'd still convert it to a comment, but not close the question. – Bill the Lizard Aug 1 '11 at 16:14
  • On active questions, do I flag the answer in the meantime, while waiting for the question to possibly be closed? – user159834 Aug 1 '11 at 16:15
  • @Wesley: Yes, those often get overlooked during closing, so it's okay to flag them separately. – Bill the Lizard Aug 1 '11 at 16:20
  • All right, I'm good with this - pretty much what I wanted to hear. Do you expect anyone else (primarily moderators) may have different feelings about it, or should I just give this the green checkmark now? – user159834 Aug 1 '11 at 16:24
  • @Wesley: I don't think any moderators will object. I've seen other moderators doing the same, and it only takes us a few seconds to process those types of flags. – Bill the Lizard Aug 1 '11 at 16:33
  • Well, and depending on the triviality of the link-answer, it'll now be auto-converted to a comment anyway. – Tim Stone Aug 1 '11 at 16:46
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    "If it's just a link to another SO post, then it probably should have been a "close as duplicate" vote instead." - I disagree. Just because one answer works for two questions, doesn't mean that the questions are exact duplicates. – jjnguy Aug 1 '11 at 16:46
  • @jjnguy: Do you think link-only answers should remain as answers in cases where they're not exact duplicates? – Bill the Lizard Aug 1 '11 at 16:51
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    @Bill, I think link-only answers should automatically be converted to CW. Just because the answerer didn't put in much work, doesn't mean it's not a valid answer. – jjnguy Aug 1 '11 at 16:53
  • @jjnguy: Good points. I edited my answer. Let me know what you think. – Bill the Lizard Aug 1 '11 at 17:04
  • @Bill, I like the changes. I think they are more accurate. – jjnguy Aug 1 '11 at 18:24

Leaving out the case a question is a duplicate of another one, answers that just link to another answer given for another question are like answers that contain just a link to an external site; if the question containing the answer that is linked (or the answer itself) is deleted for any reason, the answer that contains that link would become useless, as it doesn't report what the other answer said, and only 10K users are able to see deleted posts.

If you see answers containing just a link, and you can edit them to make them clearer, then edit them; otherwise, flag them as "not an answer."

When you see an answer that links to an answer for a different question you could think the question is a duplicate of the other question. It could also be that the linked answer doesn't answer the new question.

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    NO, don't flag them as "not an answer". Yes, it'd be nice if they had summary information, but if the link still works, and it leads to an answer, then it is an answer. – Lance Roberts Aug 1 '11 at 17:09
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    Who wrote the linked answer could delete it. There is nothing that assures a link to another answer has less link-rot problems than a link to an external site. – kiamlaluno Aug 1 '11 at 17:24
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    I hate linkrot, and always try to fix it when I see it, but fear of linkrot shouldn't leave us not linking to anything. It would kindof ruin a lot of the web concept. – Lance Roberts Aug 1 '11 at 17:25
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    @Lance: No one is saying "don't use links". I'm saying that a link to another SO answer, by itself, is not an answer itself. IMO They are fine as comments, and great when they are part of an answer, but not the whole answer. i.e. "This was answered already, see this other person's answer" – user159834 Aug 1 '11 at 17:29
  • At least the answer should try to make a summary of what reported in the other answer. External links are fine, and it would not make any sense to report exactly what reported in the external link; still, the answer should give a hint of what the linked page is reporting, at least to let the users choose when to follow the link. – kiamlaluno Aug 1 '11 at 17:31
  • @kiamlaluno, yep, a summary is always good, and it will usually help the answer garner more votes, so it's win-win. – Lance Roberts Aug 1 '11 at 17:34

It just highlights an existing problem that's still going on: duplicates are not being culled quickly enough.

First off, it seems like people aren't closing duplicates. But further, I believe that if a moderator comes across a duplicate, they should close it. Given that all these questions have comments that say they're duplicates, maybe they aren't being attended to by the moderator? (Or worse, no one is flagging them even though they are saying they are duplicates)?

Feature Request:

If a user comments that something is a duplicate (it contains the words 'dupe' or 'duplicate' and it contains a link) then perhaps the user should be prompted to also submit as a flag?

Instead of an 'enter' for the comment it should say, "flag and comment".

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They are occasionally useful. In one case, I specifically asked for such an answer (follow link, read comments). I admit that's an unusual case.

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While it's nice if they provide a summary of the answer, links to an answer are acceptable. I guarantee you I have no problem on my questions getting links for answers, as long as they help me solve my problem. Some people are just terse, and with the large amount of duplicated information out there, you'll probably just see more links.

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    So then, you propose that posting nothing but a link to someone else's answer is acceptable as an answer? Did you see the merry-go-round nonsense that I encountered looking for an answer earlier? – user159834 Aug 1 '11 at 17:26
  • @Wesley, I'm saying it could be improved with a summary, and a more direct link would certainly have been better. If I'm going to link to something I like to get to the source link myself. but if his link led you to a solution that you've been tearing your hair out for 2 days over, you'd probably be ecstatic. – Lance Roberts Aug 1 '11 at 17:33
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    Links to other answers on Stack Overflow should be subject to the same scrutiny as links to anywhere else; i.e. bare links are not acceptable. – user102937 Aug 1 '11 at 17:46
  • @Robert, no, while bare links aren't preferred they are acceptable. I'd accept a bare link if it answered my question any day. Do you have a FAQ reference to back up your statement? – Lance Roberts Aug 1 '11 at 17:48
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    From stackoverflow.com/questions/how-to-answer: 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. – user102937 Aug 1 '11 at 17:53
  • @Robert, yep, context is good, that's a great guideline. Thanks. – Lance Roberts Aug 1 '11 at 17:56
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    The thing is, SO is not here only to help you solve your problem, we have to be there for the other folks too, including googlers. Link rot alone will make these posts completely useless for the future, never mind links to SO posts that can get edited or deleted. – user159834 Aug 2 '11 at 18:52
  • Again, making decisions based on linkrot is poor criteria for a web-based Q&A site. – Lance Roberts Aug 2 '11 at 19:43

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