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Why do I get exactly the same comment by different users for my link-only answer?

Is there a new policy being enforced on Link-Only answers in SO?

Over the last 24-hours I've noticed a number of my own Link-Only answers being commented (with boilerplate comment "While this link may answer the question, it is better to include the essential parts of the answer here and provide the link for reference. Link-only answers can become invalid if the linked page changes.") and downvoted (by a number of different users) when they contain only a link... in these cases, a generic link to the PHP documentation for the appropriate function that the OP is asking for.

In all cases, they're answers that I provided 15 or more months ago, not to topical or current questions.

It feels very much as though people are systematically going through old questions actively looking for link-only answers and "boilerplate" commenting/downvoting them.

  • 1
  • I can't find any downvotes in your rep history recently.
    – juergen d
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 6:44
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    It feels very much as though people are systematically going through old questions - They are...
    – animuson StaffMod
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 6:44
  • @juergen d - but you might notice the recent acquisition of a Peer Pressure flag
    – Mark Baker
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 6:48
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    Nope, the old policy, that answers only containing a link are crap, is still in place. Most likely some people just found the time to dig through some answers. There have been coordinated clean-ups in the past, I haven't seen something on Meta, but maybe the chat is the HQ for it. Could also just be the new review-system. Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 7:15
  • It's not so much the fact that I'm attracting the comments or downvotes (though the latter is galling)... it's the oddity of it's suddenly started happening, and so far only applies to very old (15 months ago) answers. The new review system is a possible explanation.
    – Mark Baker
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 7:56

2 Answers 2


The policy on answers has always been to explain why something works. The best answers show code examples and help general audiences understand the solution, not just the asker. Links to references or resources or other examples can be helpful, but the material should also be summarized in the answer so that if the link breaks, the answer is still valuable.

The problem is that this rule, while it technically existed, wasn't always enforced. As users, we tend to learn the rules based on what we see others do. So since link-only answers were not always scrutinized, many of us took it upon ourselves to copy the behaviors we saw and also post link-only answers.

The solution to this problem is to edit those answers and improve them, so that the above problems are resolved. However, if you wrote the answer, it's sometimes easier for you to improve it than to expect another member of the community to improve it. If I don't know what the person meant to convey in their posted link and don't think I can do a good job of editing the answer, I'll leave a comment to the answerer.

My suggestion is to go back and look at those answers you wrote, edit and improve them, and then gently ping the people that commented and ask them for more tips. This is a clever way to ask them to remove their downvote without actually coming out and asking them to remove the downvote. It also solicits more feedback, which makes your answer better, helps future visitors, gets your answer more attention since it's been edited and bumped back to the top of the queue, and will likely result in more upvotes than what your link-only answer ever gave you. ;)

While it may seem a bit disconcerting at first to see these comments on what were once okay answers, just focus on the bright side: This helps the community get more out of your answers, and it helps you get a few more upvotes. ;) Good luck!

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    Note that "essentially correct" link-only answers should not attract downvotes, just comments (... and implied suggestions to delete -- are these just downvotes?).
    – Mark Hurd
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 7:18
  • Depends. If I can't figure out what your link meant, then I might downvote. The point of SO answers are to definitively answer a question and not just push someone off to a more opaque reference where it might not be obvious where that answer might be. Likewise, if I can tell what you meant, I may very well edit your answer for you, improve it, and even upvote it. My votes are purely on the content, not the people. However, everyone votes differently so there's no guarantee. Either way, I've seen improved answers get upvotes, so it definitely won't hurt to make an edit. :) Hope this helps!
    – jmort253
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 7:24
  • Actually I was going to delete that comment because I know the implied suggestion to delete is not a downvote because I've received such a response. Anyway, I understand there are various points of view and voting is anonymous where as comments, even semi-automatic ones, are not (until they're deleted, of course -- for average users anyway).
    – Mark Hurd
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 7:34
  • I don't have time to go back through all my old answers improving or deleting them, I'm too busy answering new questions on my specialist subjects - if I see that comment against my current answers, then I'll look to improve; but as I generally answer rather with code examples and description as well as references to the manual pages now I shouldn't get many comments about more recent answers
    – Mark Baker
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 8:00
  • That's what I mean @MarkBaker. I don't think you need to go on a witch hunt. But if someone points one out to you, my suggestion is to take a few minutes and make the update. Good luck! :)
    – jmort253
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 8:02
  • @MarkHurd - Yes, comments are not downvotes. Sometimes people will just leave a comment in lieu of a downvote, and sometimes they'll do both. It depends on the situation and the person. My suggestion is to still follow the advice, since it's usually sound advice that will help everybody win in the end. :)
    – jmort253
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 8:04

It's rather an old policy that has been frequently ignored before.

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.

All above stuff is known for a long time, there's nothing really new there, except for maybe a reinforcement due to recent review changes.

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