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I've flagged the followings as not an answer:

  1. https://stackoverflow.com/a/6049319/493122
  2. https://stackoverflow.com/a/1560748/493122
  3. https://stackoverflow.com/a/3659728/493122
  4. https://stackoverflow.com/a/16661576/493122

And they got declines because:

  1. declined - Not everything that contains a link needs to be flagged.
  2. declined - a moderator reviewed your flag, but found no evidence to support it
  3. declined - a moderator reviewed your flag, but found no evidence to support it
  4. declined - a moderator reviewed your flag, but found no evidence to support it

Now, while I totally agree that not every answer that contains a link needs to be flagged, these are the classical examples of lazy answers where the post author takes credit from an external resource that might disappear in the future. And the only text in all these answers is a rephrasing of "See this link". There's not even an hint of an answer in there. It's just a link to an external resource.

When I flag an "answer" as not an answer I ask myself: is this even partially (which includes phrases like "Use X. See [link] how") an answer if every link it contains is dead? In all the above links it is not. We are left with (replacing the dead link text with "nothing"):

  1. See the example in this link to see a use-case: nothing.
  2. I did see a couple of PHP SDK's for SMS: 1. nothing, 2. nothing, 3 nothing.
  3. See nothing. Here you will find your answer.
  4. See nothing it tells you the whole story

What should I do with these answers then? Let them be?

Should I comment something like "It's better to include part of the resource you are linking to" that nobody will see and the author won't care about anyway (because it's answer cannot be deleted for that so his precious reputation is safe)?

Should I expect for those links to actually be dead in order to flag them (this means that I have always to check whatever the link is available and even then the link could disappear one minute later)?

Should I edit the answer myself to include the part of the resource in the post (but why would I spend time for someone that didn't have the will to take 1 minute of his life to do that himself?)?

Please tell me what I should do in this case. Should the above answers be deleted?

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    @Jeffrey, while these answers are indeed poor, they're all accepted answers. Deleting them has many implications that have to be taken into account (IMHO an accepted answer should never be deleted). You can downvote them and/or leave a comment like you're suggesting. – Frédéric Hamidi Jul 25 '13 at 18:36
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    Downvote (this may be enough to toss it in the low quality review queue), edit, improve. – user213963 Jul 25 '13 at 18:41
20

You could always down-vote instead of insisting that moderators delete them, since - as @KatieK pointed out - they are still answers (they become useless when the link dies, but are still answers while the link is alive). There's nothing wrong with flagging them, just be aware that moderators are people and some feel differently about which link-only answers actually are not an answer.

Also because of the way the flag handling system works, it might be possible in some cases that another user flagged as spam or something else, and the moderator has to choose whether to accept or decline all of the flags, rather than individually. They can also make mistakes: moderators are people.

Finally, if you've been flagging dozens of link-only answers today, moderators might have started declining them to encourage you to stop inundating them with this stuff and switch gears. I mean, in all honesty, some of these are 2+ year old answers. Why the rush to suddenly delete them all?

Oh, and I just realized from a comment that these are accepted answers, which further complicates things. If you are truly interested in making SO better and keeping it clean, and not just increasing your helpful flag count*, you could edit the answer to provide some useful context around the link. Nothing major but a sentence or two summarizing what can be found in the blog post can make the answer much more valuable. Or, as you suggested, add a comment prompting the author of the answer to add some context, and explain why.

**I'm not accusing you of this, btw.*

  • Why the rush to suddenly delete them all? Because I like to think that this website is clean and I help to keep it that way. – Shoe Jul 25 '13 at 18:38
  • "You could edit the answer to provide some context around the link". I've explained why I don't feel like spending my time for someone that haven't spent his/her to make a good answer and earn reputation from it. – Shoe Jul 25 '13 at 18:41
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    @Jeffrey then down-vote the answer. – Aaron Bertrand Jul 25 '13 at 18:42
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    For what? Apparently accepted answers cannot be deleted anyway so what's the point? – Shoe Jul 25 '13 at 18:43
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    See @MichaelT's comment - it could end up getting into a review queue where someone else might be more willing to add context. Also a down-vote may spur the author to improve the post (if they understand, which they may not without a comment). People really don't like down-votes and will often try to prevent them. – Aaron Bertrand Jul 25 '13 at 18:44
  • Also, down-votes are one way for you to show the author and the community what you think about the quality of a post. Which type of bad answers do you down-vote? – Aaron Bertrand Jul 25 '13 at 18:45
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    Additionally, you stated above that your motivation is about the site. So maybe if you stop thinking about it in terms of "spending my time for someone" and think about it instead as "spending my time improving an answer" it won't seem like such a burden to do exactly what you're professing you want to do. – Aaron Bertrand Jul 25 '13 at 18:47
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    I'm suggesting that if you're finding that you're spending time flagging a bunch of them, and then moderators are consistently spending time actively declining them, that a different approach may seem reasonable, yes. Down-voting poor quality answers is another approach I also suggested. You don't seem very open to either, so shrug. – Aaron Bertrand Jul 25 '13 at 18:54
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    @Jeffrey I'm talking about cases like the one you cited in the question. Most likely they are not going to get deleted because they have been accepted. So if you let go of the idea that they should be deleted for a split second, you'll see that you only have a few options: (1) improve the answer (this works for the site) (2) down-vote (this punishes the user, even though they helped the OP, and does not improve the site other than, maybe, but probably not, prevent the answerer from doing the same thing again) (3) do nothing (this helps nobody). – Aaron Bertrand Jul 25 '13 at 19:16
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    There are a lot of "awards" on this site that don't involve reputation. There are badges, there is the interaction, there is the fact that even the teachers learn things (including things they thought they knew that later turned out to be wrong), and there is also the fact that people come here because it's a much better-run site than any other forum I've been on. What exactly are you going to do in the real world, with the reputation you earn here? Why is that reward more valuable than any of the others? – Aaron Bertrand Jul 25 '13 at 19:33
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    Someone offering a job solely based on reputation here is probably going to do a lot more vetting than just looking at your profile page. And in any case, if you post good answers and use your down-votes wisely, what changes about that? If your rep is 79K and you have a better interview at Google than I do, do you think they're going to pick me over you because I have 1K more than you? – Aaron Bertrand Jul 25 '13 at 19:39
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    Also please don't try to presume how much reading I've done or how much I understand this site. – Aaron Bertrand Jul 25 '13 at 19:40
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    And I'm not saying people aren't motivated by reputation - they absolutely are. But if they're using the site correctly, it quickly becomes a secondary motivator. At least in my experience. – Aaron Bertrand Jul 25 '13 at 19:54
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    @gnat But I feel that killing or improving new link-only answers has a lot more net effect than going around finding 4-year old link-only answers and killing or improving them. Nothing is ever going to fix all 24,000 of those links, but if we can really slow down how we add to that number, I think the site is better off. Your current objection to my piecemeal approach seems to be, well we can't fix all of them, so let's fix none of them. – Aaron Bertrand Jul 25 '13 at 22:56
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    @gnat: we're never going to support indiscriminate, context-insensitive deletion of answers featuring prominent links, and even if we were we could easily do so automatically rather than wasting folks' time flagging. I'm honestly perplexed as to why you would wish for anything else. Beyond that, your broken window argument is inaccurate - as I've noted before. Please either back it up with data, or stop making it. – Shog9 Jul 25 '13 at 23:45
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I declined two of those, so I should probably explain why. When you are flagging an answer as "not an answer" or "very low quality", you are asking for us to unilaterally delete content that someone has posted. We take this very seriously, particularly since those flagged and deleted answers now feed into the review audit mechanism. Generally, if there is some value at all to a primarily link-based answer, I won't delete it.

I'm concerned that in our desire to keep the site clean, we're losing sight of the forest for the trees. Do we absolutely need to remove every single link-based answer on the site? Are we helping to make the Internet a better place by removing links to relevant and potentially valuable resources?

A common argument against link-only answers is that they are strong candidates for rot as links go away. However, as I commented here, a link may or may not go away at some point in the future, but if we delete all such answers we are guaranteeing that they will no longer be available. We might be causing the exact kind of information loss that we're seeking to prevent.

In all of these cases, the answers you flagged were accepted answers to the questions asked. That indicates that at least the asker found value in them, backed up by the comment here of "Good reference, and now that I know the term for the operator, it makes googling much easier." I generally don't delete link-only accepted answers (in fact, I tend to only delete accepted answers when plagiarism or other shenanigans are involved), and Bill agrees with me on this.

As Shog9 points out in this answer, a better way to approach these might be to leave comments asking people to expand on their answers or to bring some of the linked content into the body of the answer. If the linked content does go away, and they haven't fleshed out the answer, I'm perfectly fine with removing the now-worthless answer at that point.

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    Ok, thanks for the explanation. Even though I completely disagree. I will slow down flagging and will avoid flagging accepted answers. – Shoe Jul 25 '13 at 19:24
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    If that same link only answer was posted recently (and wasn't accepted, for sake of argument), would that be flaggable? I was under the impression that link-only answers fall below the standards of SE. I understand (not that I agree) that old link-only answers are given a wider berth, but what about recently posted link-only answers? – Matt Jul 25 '13 at 19:25
  • @Jeffrey - Just to be clear, we really do appreciate you taking the time to flag things for cleanup. I hope you don't think I'm being too critical of you here and in my previous comments, but the above is something I've been thinking about for a little while and wanted to write down. My attitude towards link-only answers has shifted a bit over the last year towards being a little more permissive after hearing a few people complain about answers they found useful going missing. – Brad Larson Jul 25 '13 at 19:29
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    It would be nice if we could put answers "on hold" and spur the OP (or review queue) to improve them. – Aaron Bertrand Jul 25 '13 at 19:30
  • @AaronBertrand, that is actually an awesome suggestion. – Shoe Jul 25 '13 at 19:32
  • @Matt - As Anna points out in her answer here: meta.stackexchange.com/a/183655/135615 , it may not even be possible to post such an answer today with the more stringent length requirements we have now. Even so, if there is utility in a link-only answer left today (and it isn't someone trying to drive traffic to their personal or company blog), I still like to leave a comment and ask them to flesh it out. With newer answers, you're a lot more likely to get people to come back and edit them into something better. I've seen this a few times in the last week alone. – Brad Larson Jul 25 '13 at 19:33
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    @Brad: Looks like it is. So as long as you see a comment from the flagger on the post, giving time for the user to tidy up his link-only answer, you're happy to unequivocally delete it? – Matt Jul 25 '13 at 19:42
  • @AaronBertrand - I do recall a feature request around here somewhere for the ability to place a temporary banner on an answer requesting expansion of the answer or editing for quality, but I can't seem to find it. Seems like that might not be a bad way to address this (and other issues with answer quality). – Brad Larson Jul 25 '13 at 19:43
  • @Brad is it this one? – Aaron Bertrand Jul 25 '13 at 19:50
  • consider a not so "common argument against link-only answers" - these are telling readers loud and clear: link-only answers are welcome. Your reasoning about Not An Answer flag decline makes good sense to me though – gnat Jul 25 '13 at 22:30
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"Thanks!" or "I'm having this problem too" is certainly not an answer. Link only answers are answers, even if they're not very good ones.

You can downvote these answers, and / or leave a comment suggesting beefing up the answer a bit. It doesn't always work, but sometimes it does.

Or you can add a better answer - one that includes and explains the content of the link. Maybe you'll get well-deserved rep and badges for an awesome answer.

Also, look at the question. Maybe it could use a bit of editing for clarity, or maybe it's the question that needs to be deleted / flagged / close-voted.

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