There have been several times in the last few days where one of two things have happened:

  1. I find an old post that answers a question with only a link (bad practice), but it's the accepted answer, and no other answer or summary has been posted. The link is dead.
  2. A new post contains a link with no good summary of the content of the link (Not accepted).

I desperately want to either downvote these answers or flag them. Occasionally I have edited them to include a summary. But honestly if I'm going to spend the time doing that I'd rather summarize it in my own answer. But that feels scummy.

What's the correct behavior for a good S.O. citizen? I know mods have discussed the opposite side of this issue here.


Seems like this has already been answered:

After some trial and error, I have come to flagging link-only answers as Other with a comment like:

"this answer looks more like a comment to me because it does not offer much besides a link to external resource."

  • I flag link-only answers always - no matter accepted or not, no matter how many upvotes it got and no matter how high the rep of the author.

By Gnat

Along with that, an argument that such answers should be edited (preferable) or flagged/deleted especially if they are accepted:

  1. Answers should not consist of just a link, this has been amply covered already.
  2. 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), and it has to be done by a moderator because the community cannot delete accepted answers. 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.
  3. This is an example where the answer isn't just a link. In fact, the main point of the answer is the name of the function to use, and the link to the documentation of the function is provided as support. This is exactly what a link in an answer should be used for.

(Of course, if you can edit the answer to make it useful, it's preferable to deleting the answer. Editing the answer is a community job, not a moderator job, and if you don't have the time, skill or willingness to edit the answer, deleting it is the right thing.)

To reiterate my main point here: if an answer consists of just a link, then its being accepted reinforces the need for deletion by a moderator.

By Gilles

  • 1
    well. :) "Although link-only answers are rather heavily discouraged, a flagger needs to take into account that currently, these carry a certain risk of flag decline... 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..." (flagger's guide to link only answers)
    – gnat
    Dec 19 '12 at 13:54
  • @gnat - True, but participation in a level-playing-field, mostly-democratic site like StackOverflow carries that risk. The theory is that if you are a sincere participant with positive intentions willing to play by the rules, that the majority of colleagues will recognize your effort and reward it with rep points. One must learn to shrug off the occasional ding from the minority who are either ignorant or disagree. (I've had some good answers downvoted for no apparent reason, no explanation given.)
    – JDB
    Dec 19 '12 at 14:06
  • agree, shrug off the occasional ding is my own preference
    – gnat
    Dec 19 '12 at 14:18
  • 2
    By the way, I was tempted to just post a link to the answers above. Thought twice given the question, though. :)
    – JDB
    Dec 19 '12 at 14:45

In the first case I would flag as 'not an answer' or possibly flag with the custom comment describing the issue as you have here. If it was a new question I would also add a comment requesting information, but an old stale one might not be worth the effort.

The second case doesn't make much sense to me - if this is referring to a link in a question, I would comment requesting the OP add content.

In either case a downvote could also be appropriate if you feel it is poor quality.

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