On /review, I am shown many trivial link-only answers. The simplest case are links where the visible text matches the href. Plenty of others have links where the visible text is notably shorter than the href.

Why not just auto-delete those, and harness us gerbils to deal with the ones that have even a pixel of possible point?

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    Assuming there was a way to detect this sort of answer shouldn't the system prevent it from being an answer in the first place? – Mike B Aug 15 '12 at 17:04
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    @MikeB FYI, sometimes the system does prevent link-only answers, but only for links internal to the SE network. – Josh Darnell Aug 15 '12 at 17:07
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    BTW: very short answers are blocked completely - and only the displayed text of the link counts toward the minimum length allowed. – Shog9 Aug 15 '12 at 22:18

Link-only answers shouldn't get an automatic delete vote. If they should, then this could be scripted. When you go to /review the note under Low Quality Posts says "Identify, then improve or delete low-quality posts." You always have the option to improve the post by clicking 'Edit' instead of delete.

In addition to that, when reviewing a post you're also shown how many other answers are on that question and whether or not the currently reviewed answer is accepted or not. Even if an answer is link-only, I think we should just leave them alone (or edit them, but don't delete them) if they're the only answer or the accepted answer. You don't have to edit these yourself, but I usually leave a comment asking the OP to improve them.

While this may theoretically answer the question, it would be preferable to include the essential parts of the answer here, and provide the link for reference.

Note that this only applies if the link hasn't rotted yet. If the link is already broken, go ahead and flag for immediate deletion. Moderators can leave a comment asking the OP to fix up their post while it's in the deleted state, then they can flag it again once it's fixed.

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    I can certainly see how a link-only answer pointing at a high-quality, relevant page is better than no answer at all. On the other hand, leaving them around sends the implicit message "this level of effort is sufficient," especially if they're upvoted. – Pops Aug 15 '12 at 18:36
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    @PopularDemand I agree on both points. It's a tough balancing act, which is why I prefer to either improve the post or leave a comment asking the OP to improve it. That way at least it's clear that link-only answers are discouraged. – Bill the Lizard Aug 15 '12 at 22:11
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    The review UI rather encourages a tendency to splat them all. It's a lot more work, and a risk of rickrolling, to click on these links and judge them. The choice is not 'this answer is link only and not wonderful enough to keep' but more or less 'this answer is link only.' – Rosinante Aug 15 '12 at 22:25
  • I think we should just leave them alone (or edit them, but don't delete them) if they're the only answer or the accepted answer - that can be scripted, too. – bfavaretto Aug 16 '12 at 2:22
  • @bfavaretto How can editing them into shape be scripted? – Bill the Lizard Aug 16 '12 at 2:41
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    @BilltheLizard Those are the ones that could "be left alone". The script should look for the ones to delete: link-only (or almost) answers that are not the only answer, neither accepted. – bfavaretto Aug 16 '12 at 2:50
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    @bfavaretto I don't think other answers that are link-only should be deleted without someone checking them out first. When they're the only answer or the accepted answer is just the simplest case. They should all be checked by a human to see if there's unique and helpful information behind the link. – Bill the Lizard Aug 16 '12 at 15:04
  • Out of curiosity, when you leave one of these comments and get no response, do you take any sort of further action? – Pops Aug 16 '12 at 22:17
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    @PopularDemand Yes, if the post gets flagged again I'll remove it if the OP has been back on the site and they've ignored my comment. Usually I convert the link-only answer to a comment. – Bill the Lizard Aug 16 '12 at 22:46
  • That seems like a very good policy to me. – The Unhandled Exception Nov 17 '12 at 13:31

Well, fully automated tasks can actually be rather hard and end up with false positives or false negatives.

Some questions, like it or not, are answered with a single sentence or phrase. At least some of these questions, while not good, are not quite bad enough to be deleted (just downvoted). If I have such an answer, and make that entire sentence the text for a link (if that link just happens to be rather long, which isn't unheard of) it could easily be shorter than the link.

It's also worth noting that there are stricter requirements for posting answers now than there used to be (to prevent link only answers). There are currently a fixed number of link only answers and that number will only ever go down. Eventually (hopefully in just a matter of a few weeks) all (or most all) of them will be fixed in /review and no more will be able to come up. It's entirely plausible for this to happen before the SO team could implement the requested feature.

  • I just tested it, and it's entirely possible to post a link-only answer if the link description is 30+ characters. You gave me an idea for a feature-request... – bfavaretto Aug 16 '12 at 16:18

I would rather short, link-only answers be converted to comments, rather than deleted outright. While the link posted isn't a good answer by itself, it might be helpful for others to write real answers. And if the link is totally worthless, the comment can still be deleted afterwards.

Automatic comment conversion is already implemented for link-only answers that link to another Stack Exchange question. Perhaps the feature could be expanded for other link targets.

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