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What made me ask?

I flagged this (only for 10K users) answer as a Not an Answer, moderator declined it saying

declined - flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies, or an altogether wrong answer

When I flagged, the answer was like this

Check this out..

http://www.androidhive.info/2011/10/android-making-http-requests/

If having any doubt, revert back.. Glad to help//

Later the poster edited the answer and added more information, thus making my flag invalid. Probably that made moderator decline my flag. Poster eventually deleted his answer, so the answer was probably worthless anyway.

That flag is gone, and nothing can be done about it, but I would like to know situations when you shouldn't flag a link only answers.

This is what I come up with(and the actions I normally take)

First thing, I always use Not An Answer flag for link only answers.

I did some research (and from my flagging experiences), and come out with this

  1. If the answer is accepted - I don't flag
  2. If the answer is the only one, and is up voted (so the link is helpful enough) - I don't flag
  3. If the link is dead - forget everything else and flag
  4. A new answer to an old popular questions with plenty of answers and votes - I normally flag

Those are the easy situations. But there are some other scenarios

  1. The answer is up voted ,but other up voted answers are there - I normally flag, even if I don't have technical knowledge of whether the answer is useful or not.
  2. A first answer to new question - tricky one, I always flag in this case, but I got one or two scars to show for it. If the poster is new user, then I sometimes write a comment. But to a user with more than 20 or 30 answers, I just flag(unless I have the comment in my clipboard). Frankly, I am not sure what to do in this case.

    The problem here is, I am running the risk of poster coming back again and editing the post to make my flag invalid. I know it is good for the community, because they now have a better answer. But I still don't know why moderators decline the flag, if it is flagged before the answer was edited. They sure can see the edit/flag timeline, right?

  3. First answer from a new user, I always try to make a comment in this case, but I do flag.

Question

I just want to know whether I am doing it correctly in above situations. As someone started to review recently, link only answers are the one I struggled with most.

I know this whole link only answer business is a tricky beast to solve. I also know there are contrasting opinions around community about whether or not to flag link only answers. But since the general way of doing across the community is to flag link only answers, I would like to get a strong grasp on how to handle the case.

Update

I got one more flag declined because poster comes back and edited the answer. This was a year old, inactive question with plenty of answers and votes, and the user comes up with a link only answer. I promptly flagged it, user comes back and edited the answer, and my flag got declined. Makes me wonder whether I am doing the right thing in flagging link only answers in the first place. Something not right.

  • 3
    I think the moderator just neglected to check if the answer was originally a link-only answer at the time you flagged it prior to the edit. I normally check for cases like this and dismiss as helpful appropriately, but with that said we all slip up every now and then. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Aug 26 '13 at 6:19
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    related (not a duplicate): Can we get some consensus on what flag to use for link only answers? – gnat Aug 26 '13 at 8:39
  • @gnat that thread is very recent, and I am more confused. Flags should describe a problem; "links" are not a problem - Now what? – Krishnabhadra Aug 26 '13 at 8:45
  • well the way I see it, things focus on answers that can't stand on their own, without links to external resources, and situation looks about as follows: 1. About 300 Spartans... er MSO users believe these are a problem. 2. Several thousands, or tens thousands, or hundreds thousands SO users believe these are OK. 3. SE team believes that difference in opinions between two mentioned groups doesn't matter – gnat Aug 26 '13 at 9:05
  • Flags should describe a problem that must be handled by a moderator. That is not necessarily the case for link-only answers. Most of the problems can be solved by editing. You should either persuade the person who posted the answer to do that, or do it yourself. Yes, a moderator can edit, but so can lots of other people. You don't need them to come edit the answer. The only thing you would need a moderator for is to delete an answer outright. That isn't necessarily warranted in all cases. A moderator flag should only be raised when that's true. Otherwise, how do you expect the mod to respond? – Cody Gray Aug 26 '13 at 9:07
  • @CodyGray do you believe that editing / commenting of 24000 problematic answers is a solution? Note I recently did something like that to few hundreds such posts at Programmers, and in my experience this was extremely cumbersome – gnat Aug 26 '13 at 9:10
  • @gnat It is far from ideal, I agree. What do you propose instead? Deleting them all outright? If so, that's a separate Meta post. A moderator doesn't need to do it individually, we could get a script to purge the database. – Cody Gray Aug 26 '13 at 9:14
  • @CodyGray Most of the problems can be solved by editing - For that to happen, reviewer need to have enough technical knowledge about the topic to know whether the link answers the question in full/part. He can't just copy/paste block of data from other sites. – Krishnabhadra Aug 26 '13 at 9:18
  • @Krishnabhadra in my experience, this wasn't so. 99% edits (of few hundreds) I did to link-only answers were just adding brief summary quotes from the referenced links, this did not require technical knowledge – gnat Aug 26 '13 at 9:25
  • @CodyGray instead, I propose flagger to cast a dedicated flag, moderator to act on such helpful flags by converting answer to comment – gnat Aug 26 '13 at 9:47
  • I was thinking of not flagging link only answers until I get an assurance that flagging is the way forward. But answers like this will break one's resolve. – Krishnabhadra Aug 26 '13 at 9:54
  • abstaining of flagging link-only answers is qualified as "Zero effort, no risk" option in flagger's guide to link only answers – gnat Aug 26 '13 at 10:09
  • @gnat Haha, I have read that before, and I flagged the answer I mentioned above. I am not worried about the declined flag, but I am worried about the lack of clear rules. Well, I am ready to take the risk, in any case. Also the question was already a duplicate so there is no problem in deleting the answer. – Krishnabhadra Aug 26 '13 at 10:22
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    I generally agree with your approach. Link-only answers are also one of the harder things I have to review, and I tend to lean towards preserving content as opposed to preemptively removing a link. The one thing I'd add is that for your "If the link is dead" case, instead of using a "not an answer" flag for that, I'd use a custom one stating that this is a link-only answer and that the link is dead. That makes it really easy for us to make a call there, and we almost always accept those when true. – Brad Larson Aug 26 '13 at 14:59
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    @Krishnabhadra editing link only answers to fix them seems like a perverse incentive to the authors of those answers. If someone is going to clean up for me, why should the author bother? – Shafik Yaghmour Aug 30 '13 at 3:59

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