I spend a decent amount of time on Stack Overflow reading questions and answers, so I also end up flagging a lot. Yesterday, I flagged this answer as not an answer because:

  • it only contains a link to the documentation.
  • probably not important, but that link doesn't even answer the question, as the user which asked the question didn't have problems with the basic usage of the class, he had problems with customizing the behavior of the class.
  • the rest of the answer is a comment.

But the flag got declined with the usual:

declined - a moderator reviewed your flag, but found no evidence to support it

So, in the end, is that a real answer? Does linking to the documentation(instead of a tutorial somewhere) makes it an answer? On the same question there is a deleted answer(by a moderator) like:

You can try this tutorial: link-to-yet-another-blog-with-tutorials

If this deleted answer was in the form of my flagged answer above(let's say with the link to the documentation replaced by the tutorial link), it would have escaped the deletion? In my opinion, the answer that qualifies as a real answer(to a certain degree) is the other non deleted answer, which funny enough points to a question which has the correct answer a link to a tutorial on some blog.

Also, regarding flag decisions(although I feel that there could be a duplicate question for this), I also flagged this answer as not an answer(even it's author later said it was a comment). The flag was helpful but the answer remained. Shouldn't have been deleted?

  • I wouldn't say the other answer is any better of an answer. – animuson Dec 16 '12 at 8:00
  • Note that the deleted answer's link is no longer working, which pretty much means the moderators will delete it. The answer you flagged does have a working link, however... – jmort253 Dec 16 '12 at 8:15
  • @jmort253 Yes, but generally users post answers that are valid at least at the moment when they post the answer. That link could have gone bad after the deletion by a moderator. – Luksprog Dec 16 '12 at 8:21
  • Yeh, true, we don't really know why the post was deleted, and it's very likely it was deleted by one of the moderators who feel that answers should contain more substance. – jmort253 Dec 16 '12 at 8:38
  • "No matter what flag you use, there can always be a feasible explanation that it was wrong. Explanation will of course depend on the flag... one shouldn't expect answers like your flag was right and decline was wrong..." (flagger's guide to link only answers) – gnat Dec 18 '12 at 8:18
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    @gnat Great answer. I'll take it in consideration. – Luksprog Dec 18 '12 at 8:26

The first post you linked to is an answer. Maybe a bad one, but still an answer.

Proper course of action in my opinion is downvoting such answer and maybe explaining to the author why the downvote.

If you feel it's really horrible answer that is misleading or doesn't offer any good content you can also vote to delete with over 20K rep, but I don't think moderators should be bothered with those things.

"Not an answer" should be used with cases where the user asks his own question or posting totally irrelevant answer. We get enough of those as well. :)

  • Which link are you referring to? I would strongly disagree that the first one he linked is an answer, but the second one he linked definitely is an answer, just poorly worded (I fixed that). – animuson Dec 16 '12 at 8:04
  • @animuson true, checked only the first and was referring to it.. – Shadow The Burning Wizard Dec 16 '12 at 8:05
  • Downvoting and commenting is still appropriate (and recommended) for answers that are misleading. A downvoted answer basically says "see this? it may seem like a good idea, but don't do it". I think deleting those is sometimes a disservice to SO and the internet at large. – Adam Lear Dec 16 '12 at 8:08
  • @AnnaLear that's what I think too, like I said voting to delete should be done only in case of "horrible answer that is misleading or doesn't offer any good content". Each case is specific though, can't really see any way to give general rule for this. – Shadow The Burning Wizard Dec 16 '12 at 8:11
  • @ShaWizDowArd I agree that it's a case-by-case thing. I was mostly responding to the part where you say a misleading answer could be deleted by folks with 20k+. It's technically true, but even if the answer is somehow "horrible", there might be a case made for keeping it around for instructional purposes. I'd hesitate to say "you could delete it" because you know someone will read it as a recommendation whether it's intended that way or not. :) – Adam Lear Dec 16 '12 at 8:15
  • At least if an answer is heavily downvoted first, then when it's flagged as not an answer, there's a better chance some 20Kers might intervene before it hits the desk of a moderator. There are enough 20Kers around to where the post would likely get 3 delete votes, including yours, Luksprog, as you're a 20k user on SO. :) – jmort253 Dec 16 '12 at 8:17
  • @Anna I have a feeling that currently 20K+ users are deleting answers for much less "crappiness". Can't prove it, but I believe it's worth checking. Wanted to start a discussion for some while but couldn't find time to formulate a proper discussion about it. – Shadow The Burning Wizard Dec 16 '12 at 8:19
  • After reading your answer, I realize that maybe I was to quick to jump on the not an answer flag(as I know what the question is about I can say that linking to the documentation *isn't really the answer*(if that were the case, a large number of questions could be answered with a simple link to a docs somewhere)). Regarding the last part of your answer, I'm flagging a lot of link only answers(with results of helpful) I hope I wasn't doing this wrong from the start :) – Luksprog Dec 16 '12 at 8:19
  • @AnnaLear - I do feel there's a difference between a comment and a really short answer, but the bulk of this answer is off-topic commentary and requests for clarification in the question... I'm going to at least edit the off-topic commentary out of it... – jmort253 Dec 16 '12 at 8:19
  • Luksprog, it depends on which moderator gets to the answer and again, whether or not it's been downvoted. Some mods feel links are not answers, whereas others do. However, if the answer has a -1 score, then any 20k user who sees the flag can also intervene, increasing the chances it's deleted. Of course, the other course of action, if it's obvious, is to edit the post and improve it, which is more favorable to deletion.... – jmort253 Dec 16 '12 at 8:20
  • @Luksprog I won't say you done wrong, nothing here is set on stone - just sharing my own opinion and what I'll do in similar case. – Shadow The Burning Wizard Dec 16 '12 at 8:21
  • @jmort253 I understand that I could have dealt with the answer in a different way. I generally don't vote to delete to much as I always felt that was something related more to a moderator action. – Luksprog Dec 16 '12 at 8:25
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    @AnnaLear If deleting these is a bad idea, then why is there a "link-only answer" option underneath "delete" in the LQ queue? I feel that these ought to be converted to comments, personally. – Manishearth Dec 16 '12 at 8:58
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    @Manishearth - I'll play devil's advocate... At least with the 20kers handling them, we're sure to keep anything that's really important. If a link has 2 or 3 upvotes, there's a good chance it's helpful. If that's the case, it's probably okay to keep around. When I was working with Objective C last month, I found some link-only answers that, despite my dislike of link-only answers, actually helped me solve my problem... – jmort253 Dec 16 '12 at 9:11
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    @Manishearth I feel that it really varies and some (but certainly not all or even most) link-only answers are helpful the way jmort253 describes. Unfortunately, there are only so many handwavy, "it depends" kind of guidelines we can introduce and hope to be effective, so we do need some sort of mechanism around to strongly discourage link-only answers because even if they are helpful, they're still rather subpar and not the kind of answers we truly want. So, offering a delete option serves that purpose. – Adam Lear Dec 16 '12 at 17:55

In the case of link-only answers, this is a subject of much debate. On one hand, they're highly discouraged, but on the other hand, it's possible that a link only answer may provide some value.

Since the diamond moderators are extremely busy dealing with over 600 flags per day, the Stack Exchange team and community decided that moderators should not judge the technical correctness of an answer, which is important when it comes time to decide if an attempt to answer a question that is flagged as not an answer should really be removed.

Now, if the answer is a request for clarification, a question posted as an answer, then it's obvious what action the moderators should take, but with link only answers, which do attempt to answer the question, the answer could either be edited and improved, left as a comment asking the poster to improve it, or it could be deleted.

What's more, many of these actions can be performed by regular users. Any user could read the link and try to incorporate the main ideas into the post, and any user can leave a comment with a downvote asking for clarification on the answer.

The downvote is the important part, because this empowers the community of 20k users to take action where a moderator doesn't have time/technical expertise. I have just enough experience with Android to tell that this answer isn't helpful, so I downvoted it. If I had 20k on Stack Overflow, I'd also vote to delete it, not because it's a link only answer, but because it simply isn't helpful in answering the question.

In short, as a 20k user, and as someone not responsible for going through 600 flags per day, you have a bit more time, if interested, to actually evaluate this answer from a technical standpoint. If you can't see how to edit and improve it, and you don't think the original poster will improve it, and it has at least a score of -1, you can vote to delete.

A vote to delete puts the post in the 10k Tools under "Delete", which means other 20k users will see it! IMHO, this is better than flagging because it puts more eyes on the post, gives it a chance to possibly be improved -- low rep users hate downvotes more than high rep users -- and, if there is something worth saving, someone can step in and help stop the post from being removed by editing and improving it.

  • ...a link only answer may provide some value - only when the link is still alive. I don't think there is something more annoying than searching for a solution to a problem, finding a question that is almost similar with your own only to find that the highly voted link only answer is dead. – Luksprog Dec 16 '12 at 8:44
  • If it makes you feel any better, I personally despise link only answers. If I was the moderator who handled your flag, I'd give the link a quick once-over, and if it wasn't immediately obvious to me why the link is helpful, I'd either delete it or convert it to a comment on the question. However, what I've outlined here is a great way to get the community as a whole involved in removing content that, in yours and my opinion, doesn't belong. In fact, Meta Stack Exchange Chat could be used to actually find other like-minded 20kers to help you get rid of crappy content. ;) – jmort253 Dec 16 '12 at 8:47
  • Or more likely, Stack Overflow Chat. It only takes three 20k users to delete an answer, and there are many people who will agree with you. – jmort253 Dec 16 '12 at 8:49

As I see it there's two issues in your question:

it only contains a link to the documentation.

You could of course edit the answer to include a summary of what's behind the link, or leave a comment asking the person who posted the link to do so. A link to an answer isn't as useful as an answer on the site (that might include a link elsewhere for extra info) but if it solved the problem being asked then I'd be hard pressed to say it was that wrong.

probably not important, but that link doesn't even answer the question, as the user which asked the question didn't have problems with the basic usage of the class, he had problems with customizing the behavior of the class.

This is actually the most important thing here and it is something that could be dealt with by leaving a comment for the author of the answer, explaining why you believe its not an answer and asking them to clarify why they believe it is. And/Or you could downvote the answer. I'm assuming the answer is a sincere but misguided attempt at answering the question and not merely a spam "buy my product and it'll help!" type link.

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    The answer is here. You can see that it's a half-hearted attempt, and if you look at the first revision, it comes off more like a genuine attempt to take a stab at someone less knowledgeable and new to asking technical questions than a genuine attempt to be helpful. – jmort253 Dec 16 '12 at 9:18
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    @jmort253 point taken - that original answer certainly has... problems shall we say. I stand by my reply in general terms but I'd be happy to see answers like that deleted. – Rob Moir Dec 16 '12 at 10:29
  • Sure, your reply is awesome! :) – jmort253 Dec 16 '12 at 10:52

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