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SO has a lot of questions asked/answered more than once...and it's managed to some degree, but it happens. Also, there are situations when an external reference (URL) will answer more than one question - for example, a link to javadoc or a jsr.

The problem I've experienced is when the link becomes stale/invalid and is referenced multiple times (identical) in either multiple answers in the same question, or between different questions.

If SO managed this links centrally, providing references back to the questions where it were asked (perhaps even offsets to avoid using a costly regex to fix), then one one URL is updated (oracle buys sun and neglects to provide redirects), they will all be updated. These URL changes would go through the same edit/vetting process as part of the routine for edit approvals, so nothing new there.

SO could even provide a simple dead-link validation service these URLs on a scheduled basis (simple 404 means it's broken...otherwise, can't tell) to find them easier, and possibly gamify it a bit (provide a "bounty" or new badges to those who fix them (fixed link that repaired 10 answers, fixed link that repaired 100 answers, etc). Of course, a human would be needed to stumble upon a non-HTTP error (content) change to correct it, so it doesn't fix everything.

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  • There was a project where they were going to see if any links that were visible were still valid, but I haven't heard anything about it in a long time (they were going to crawl them all every six months or so).
    – casperOne
    Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 20:03

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This type of solution would require a significant investment of software and human interaction. Links just aren't important enough to warrant the amount of new work that would be required.

Link-only answers are already frowned upon. Questions and answers should be self-contained; any included links should enhance the content, not embody it. If greater detail is available elsewhere, answers should include enough information to allow visitors to search for and find the information with or without a direct link.

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  • I'm certainly not suggesting link-only answers. What I do advocate is the use of links to official, authoritative, documents that would otherwise by difficult or impossible to put onto SO. There are a tremendous number of examples of this in programming-related exchanges, where a good gist is explained and the references to the official technical guidance is provided (such as javadoc or similar). Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 22:03
  • Sure, but Google et. al. already does that for us. Anything we would implement would likely be a less efficient version of the functionality provided by a standard search engine. When a user encounters a broken link in an otherwise well-rounded question, he or she has enough information to find the desired information. Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 22:08
  • I agree, this would require a fair amount of investment in infrastructure - probably something like cassandra and hadoop to manage and maintain it all. I'm not exactly sure what I (as a user) should care about that when making a feature/suggestion, though. It would be interested to do a study to see how many edits either exclusively update links, or at least contain link updates to determine if this would indeed be something that would aid users, rather than just stating they aren't important without empirical proof to back that up. (I find them very important WRT efficiency) Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 22:09
  • agreed, 3rd party search engines do find other links, probably non-dead links...but they also are probably what drive people to the questions in the first place (often, they are very high ranking). Additionally, the links in SO provide an inherent quality rating you don't get in a google search - they are links provided by humans based on context and experience. In terms of advertisement revenue and time on site, it would be in the best interest of SO to keep the user on this site, rather than forcing the to search outside of SO. Commented Jul 3, 2013 at 22:12

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