I spend a fair amount of my time on Stack Overflow in the review queues, typically in the 10k tools for reviewing flags (NAA, New Answers to Old questions), and I think it might be fair to say that we have a slight problem with answers that are being posted with a link-only pointing to GitHub.

Link-only answers have been discussed a lot (1, 2, 3, many more). My question is more specific about how should we handle the influx of answers pointing to GitHub without any code, and/or explanation about the link.

My first run through the New Answers to Old questions for the day provided all of the following GitHub links without any code or explanation:

Plus many, many, more.

I know I can comment on all of them asking for the answerer to expand and explain why these links will work. I can down-vote them, and I can also flag them using a custom flag or NAA and hope these answers would be deleted.

How should we best handle the GitHub problem? Since there are so many answers posted with links to GitHub and without code, do we want to go the route of jsfiddle where, if the link is present, then code must exist in the answer as well?

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    Why do you (or do you at all?) consider them different to "normal" link only answers? – Time Traveling Bobby Oct 7 '13 at 11:36
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    @TimeTravelingBobby The only reason why I consider them different is it is pointing to the same source. We already have a problem with link-only answers but a large part of it are links directly to github. IMO it is approaching the point where if someone posts a link to github we force them to include code similar to jsfiddle, but I wanted a discussion on this before a feature-request. – Taryn Oct 7 '13 at 11:41
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    Why not to treat them just like jsfiddle-only answer? That is - block github links if there is no significant portion of code in post? And yes, I mean both questions and answers. – Mołot Oct 7 '13 at 11:59
  • @Mołot I think that is part of the point of the question - is that the right solution. – Joe Oct 7 '13 at 16:45

My 2 cents is that the more roadblocks we throw up through blacklisting specific links, or have special cases for special sites (i.e. you can link to jsfiddle if you have code in the post), it makes the site more confusing and harder to use.

It is just a snowball effect. First it was JSFiddle, now it might be github, next it could be another site, and soon you have dozens of sites that have special cases around when you can use them a in link in the answer.

This also creates a problem for editors because posts that were created before the prohibition was in place now is forced to remove the link or completely rewrite the answer when all that they wanted to fix was some spelling or grammar issues.

I think a better approach would be to come up with a much better way to deincentivize link-only answers so they don't get posted initially, or incentivizinbg fixing link only answers so people stop flagging them (and complaining when it gets declined) and start turning them into valid answers.

A couple of random thoughts I had (in no particular order)

  • Create a "exclusively a link answer" flag, which will automatically turn an answer into a CW answer if a specific answer gets "x" flags in 30 days, but doesn't delete the post.
  • Provide a reputation sharing mechanism that splits the rep gain on an answer between the original poster and the editor that fixes a link only answer.

Both ideas are very rough and will need some fleshing out to make them practical and to figure out how to implement to prevent gaming, but I think it is ultimately a better solution to the link-only problem that continually adding new sites to the blacklist.

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    I agree that banning the link will cause roadbloacks that would be why this isn't a feature-request. I want to get ideas from the community on how we should handle this. I hate link-only answers but the number of github links is IMO getting out of control. – Taryn Oct 7 '13 at 13:36
  • @bluefeet I think the best way to attack it is to not attack specific URL's because that is a very reactive response. Meaning we'll just be doing the same thing every time a new favorite off-site link comes up. – psubsee2003 Oct 7 '13 at 13:44
  • @bluefeet That why I think taking a proactive approach, and attacking link-only answers as a whole is better over the long term. Why do link-only answers get posted? I see 2 main reasons (1) quick rep and (2) bad questions that invite valid link only responses. You fix (1) by trying to limit the rep reward, hence the idea of the conversion to CW. (2) needs to be dealt with at the question level. – psubsee2003 Oct 7 '13 at 13:46
  • What would you say for not banning, but auto flagging "due to length and content"? Just like there are some posts now? For example for posts with a link but without any kind of code? Usually even links to API appear in context of some code, even if only `inline` one. – Mołot Oct 7 '13 at 13:46
  • as long as there's no link-only answer flag, the best thing system could probably do would be to periodically put these answers to Low Quality queue, repeating this until community cleans things up either via edits or via downvotes or via deletion. Manually doing something like that has been proven to work OK at Programmers (site 100x smaller than SO can afford a luxury of manually queuing and re-queuing troublesome answers) – gnat Oct 7 '13 at 13:48
  • @Mołot auto-flagging based on length already happens for LQP and Late Answers but that really doesn't resolve the problem. – psubsee2003 Oct 7 '13 at 13:48
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    @psubsee2003 I like the idea of the conversion to CW but I still see issues with link rot and no actual content. I have no issue editing content into an answer but if I don't know the subject, I don't know what would be valid details from the link, so my option is leave it and hopefully the answerer or someone else with expertise in the subject to fix it. Maybe a possible solution would be a link only review queue, where editors can filter by tags and fix the content in the answer by editing the details in, might work for subject matter experts. – Taryn Oct 7 '13 at 13:53
  • @psubsee2003 I know it happens. I meant adding "link but no code" case to that mechanism. Sorry for not being clear. – Mołot Oct 7 '13 at 13:56
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    @bluefeet a queue would work. I like that idea because it helps get posts that need help the proper visibility so they can be fixed. I'm just opposed to the "it's a link, it must be burned at the stake" idea because there are plenty of links that have excellent info to answer the question, it just help to be brought out. I think flagging links for mod attention doesn't help because they often won't have the time to fix it, so their choices are delete or not delete. Flagging links to put in a queue of some sort at least gets it in the right hands to fix. – psubsee2003 Oct 7 '13 at 13:57
  • @Mołot ah, makes sense. Yah, that would help. But ultimately see my comment above to bluefeet... I don't think deletion is always the right response to a link and that is the goal of the LQP queue. We need another mechanism to get the posts into the hands of someone who can salvage it (if possible) – psubsee2003 Oct 7 '13 at 13:58
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    @psubsee2003 I agree that burning the answer isn't necessarily the best solution. We are just being inundated with link-only answers and I think it is time to get an actual solution to the problem. – Taryn Oct 7 '13 at 14:01

Links to GitHub have always been tricky to handle. They commonly get flagged as link-only answers, but I think they're a slightly different case than most other answers like this. The projects they link to are often great solutions to the problem at hand. Removing these links also removes valuable information that might help future visitors.

However, these links are prone to link rot and do require you to visit another site. The difficulty is that you can't really put the code for an entire open source framework or project into an answer here. We can add a little bit of a description for a project and how it would help solve the given problem, but the link to the project is still the core of the answer.

I have a couple of open source projects myself up on GitHub, and I struggle with how to talk about them when they might be the best solution to a particular problem. I generally try to address the specific question asked (with code if possible), make my association with the project very clear, and describe a little more about the project itself. However, the key element to the answer is still the link to the GitHub project, without which the answer is effectively useless. These answers are still prone to link rot, but I don't know a good way around that, short of Stack Exchange hosting the project information themselves.

I've been handling flags on these answers on a case-by-case basis, based on how relevant I feel the linked project is to the question asked. This is a fairly slow way to handle these, though, and is prone to errors in judgment. I'm not sure how else to approach them.

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