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Alright, I have taken both this and this question into account. Both of these questions have been answered by stating that these link-only answers should be custom flagged with a clear description of what is wrong with the answer.

I have taken these things in consideration and I believe that when you take another common issue in the flag queue into account that this is a topic worth revisiting.

Two of the most common answers in the flag queue are

  • Posts that would be of too low quality without the link
  • Posts that are a question veiled as a proposal

I believe both of these answers can be resolved by providing a flag as such:

It is not an answer
This was posted as an answer but does not meet the standards we impose on answers. It is valid comment however and should be converted to one.

Reasoning

One of the main benefits here is clarity: by explicitly mentioning that this will be converted to a comment, you will lose the uncertainty of what will happen with it.

I have seen plenty of answers that are just a link get deleted after the flood of NAA flags has passed. I don't have any exact numbers obviously but I don't expect the number of conversions to a comment to be very high. Just because I don't want to see something as an answer doesn't mean it is not a good comment.

I expect answers to be self contained: the answer should directly explain what is wrong, what the solution is and possibly links to another resource for more information. These links are very valuable as background information but that's what they are: background information.

No value will be lost but the content is more structured according to its importance.

Likewise this will directly impact the other kind of common flag: the question veiled as a proposal ("Have you tried X?").
These are questions asking for clarification and are more suited as a comment. They can be a good part of the diagnostic process but the diagnosing should be done in the comment section so the answer section isn't cluttered for future browsers.

With this flag option you will again not lose any content and it's a matter of structuring the content according to its importance.

Criticism

"Why? We can already do a custom reason, why should this have its own reason?"

Yes, but why not? These two types of flags encompass a large part of the flag queue so a targetted flag makes sense because it saves reviewers from having to type a custom reason and it brings a lot more clarity to how these should be handled (and it also demonstrates the probable outcome of such a flag).

Aside from that: is a link-only answer really that different from any other reason to flag a post (aside from spam/offensive language) that it warrants specific moderation attention? In the end all types of flags are often handled by a moderator but I don't see why this is so much more important that it actually needs a moderator to look at.

"What about the remaining reasons we use the NAA flag?

I agree that there are some other - minor - usecases for the NAA flag that are hereby overlooked (should be an edit, another question or deleted altogether).

Let me first say that there is no difference between 'deleted altogether' and the VLQ flag: both result in a deletion and if something should be deleted then it is Very Low Quality per definition.

What remains is 'edit' and 'another question'. These are also fairly common and in my opinion it would be a good idea to split up the NAA flags in three reasons: 'Should be a comment', 'Should be an edit' and 'Should be another question'.

Having these three subcategories allow for easier (and unambiguous) handling of flags by both reviewers and moderators. Moderators can get a 'convert to comment', 'add to question as edit' or 'leave a comment' (standard comment that explains how Q&A works and points at ).

Ultimately this will result in a lot more targetted flag handling, less deletion and less ambiguity.

I'm not saying that all of this isn't possible with the current tools moderators have at their disposal but I do think that it will be easier to work with and that these tools aren't always used in their current format.

I didn't go into this in detail because it would be a result of changing the interpretation of the NAA flag so in order to implement these sub-reasons, you'd have to do this first.

It sounds like you want to remove all answers that are barely more than a link.

Yes, that is exactly what I want except that they shouldn't be removed but converted to a comment. An answer with a link is not a bad thing at all but it becomes a bad thing when it is just that link.

If you're linking to documentation: add the method signature. Add the method description.
If you're linking to a sample: include the relevant portion.
If you're linking to a guide: include the necessary steps.

Yes, we as reviewers can take the time to edit the post ourselves to include these things and I do try to do so but there are a great many of them and it is not fair either to present us with the option: "change it yourself or it will be removed".

The flag options have been changed not too long ago, is this already a time we should look at changing it again?

I believe it goes without saying that this is a topic that requires quite some discussion both in the community and in the moderation team to decide how these things should be handled, it is never too early to voice your opinion.

I'm not expecting to see new flag reasons when I wake up tomorrow, there could be many months before/if anything changes.

Where do you draw the line between what is an answer and what is veiled at an answer?

This will be a subjective call that has to be made but this won't differ from how we currently have to flag it either as 'Not an answer' or 'Invalid flag'.

If anything, this will now be an easier tradeoff to make because previously we'd practically choose between 'leave it as an answer' or 'delete it'. Now we can choose between 'leave it as an answer', 'turn it into a comment' and 'delete it'.

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    You never addressed Shog's main point, which is, "When in doubt, communicate." Canned close reasons make it too easy not to. – Robert Harvey Feb 27 '14 at 21:20
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    That's mainly because I believe the doubt that can arise is there only because it is unclear how the situation should be resolved, not because the situation itself is unclear. The custom flag option is still there if someone is unclear but now you'll be going from a usage of 'custom flag it if it doesn't belong there' to 'custom flag it if you're not sure', which seems more in line with why the custom flag exists in the first place. – Jeroen Vannevel Feb 27 '14 at 21:25
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Yes, that is exactly what I want except that they shouldn't be removed but converted to a comment.

No. Comments are not meant as a punishment or reputation-denial mechanism for answers that don't meet our standards. In particular, comments are not some ghetto for crappy answers and borderline-spam. If an answer is useful, it needs to be in a format where we can maintain it: fix broken links, elaborate on terse explanations, etc; if an answer isn't useful, it needs to just be deleted. We lack the tooling to moderate and maintain comments long-term, as that was never an intended use-case for them - so any solution that boils down to, "create more comments" is doomed to failure.

That said, we do need another flag type here - but it needs to be more specific than these ad-hoc "link-only answer" flags, not less; remember, the flag description exists primarily to guide flaggers. A description to the effect of, "does not meet the standards we impose" says nothing at all - which standards are we even talking about? If we leave that open, folks will impose their own; flagging reasonable but wrong answers is already a problem and this would almost certainly increase it.

I'm much more open to something along the lines of,

It is impossible to identify the solution presented in this answer without following a link to an external site. It should be edited to identify the purpose of the link or removed entirely.

I'm reluctant to add something like this until we've seen the effects of the recently released flag feedback mechanism though. Also, it might make more sense to just roll these into a new or existing /review queue, as there's little about them that requires moderator involvement.

There are some other suggestions for dealing with poor-quality answers that might make a lot more sense here; given the destructive nature of what's being discussed, I think it's worth thinking this through a bit.

  • A post that is not suitable as an answer is not per definition a crappy comment, I never intended to 'remove' bad posts by putting them as a comment, I merely wanted to allocate these posts to their appropriate place. It only seems to make sense that a post that does not answer to the requirements of an answer but would be suitable as a comment, to be converted to a comment. I realize the 'does not meet the imposed standards' is too general, it is more of a starting point to think of a descriptive alternative. – Jeroen Vannevel Feb 27 '14 at 22:24
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    I do like the thoughts behind some of those propositions in the workplace discussion and I feel like that aligns pretty well with my suggestion of dividing the NAA flags: by dividing these flags and assigning an action as proposed there to it, you will get fast, automated and targetted responses to inappropriate posts that doesn't require moderator intervention unless it is absolutely necessary and doesn't require reviewers to manually change/leave comments for each inadequate post. – Jeroen Vannevel Feb 27 '14 at 22:24
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    Fully agreed. The goal shouldn't be to eliminate potentially useful content, but to identify potentially problematic content, give the community/poster a chance to revise it, and only have it dealt with by the community if it isn't improved. Link-only answers can always be edited in to a useful post if the external content has useful info. No need to eliminate potentially useful information just because the person who posted it doesn't bother to refine it in to a self-contained post. – jmac Feb 27 '14 at 23:42
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Link-only answers and veiled answers don't need their own flag.

Moderators have only one action that they can perform on flagged answers: delete them. Deletion by a moderator only occurs when content is actively harmful to the site and should be removed. In most cases that means that the answer really isn't an answer, but something else.

While link-only answers are not the most desirable outcome, they do sometimes impart useful information. Your remedy should be to downvote and (optionally) explain to the poster why they should provide an actual answer in the answer itself.

If the answer is clearly not useful at all, cast a custom flag and explain the problem. Don't use a "Not an Answer" flag or a Very Low Quality flag; those have a different purpose.

Deletion without explanation carries no weight with a user. It's the equivalent of removing a sticky note. They'll just post more sticky notes to see which ones will stick, unless someone takes the time to explain to them that this isn't the way we do things here.

  • I agree with your sticky note analogy -- users need feedback to improve their posts. However, without a suitable prepared flag reason, the site will also fill with unhelpful "link-only" answers because people will be too reluctant to downvote and too lazy to type a reason. Is there no in-between? – chappjc Mar 5 '14 at 18:50
  • @chappjc: But the presumption is that all such answers need to be summarily deleted. I'm not so sure about that. Historically, moderators only delete answers when they are being used for some purpose other than answering the question. The community is fully capable of dealing with bad answers, in whatever way you define "bad." – Robert Harvey Mar 5 '14 at 18:54
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    There are clearly differing opinions among the moderators now. Shog9 tentatively suggested a new reason: "It is impossible to identify the solution presented in this answer without following a link to an external site. It should be edited to identify the purpose of the link or removed entirely". Do you agree that such answers should be deleted if they aren't edited? If so, how about: a flag advises the author to improve the post, after a grace period for editing, the post gets moderator attention if no edits are made, or it goes to 20k review queue. – chappjc Mar 5 '14 at 19:33
  • The phrase that Shog9 suggested works equally well in a custom flag description. – Robert Harvey Mar 5 '14 at 20:46
  • Anything can work as a custom flag, the point here is that we can streamline this by creating a separate option that does just that. Every link-only post is currently handled with a bunch of NAA flags, adding this option will be a lot easier for all reviewers to adjust because it is clear for everyone now that this is a separate reason (including people who flag the post themselves). It is very curious that the official stance seems to be 'link-only answers aren't necessarily bad' when every single link-only flag results in a deletion (at least: as far as I can tell). – Jeroen Vannevel Mar 6 '14 at 12:26
  • Every current canned flag option deals with something that is not an actual answer, and that merits moderator deletion. Link-only answers are still answers, and can still be improved. – Robert Harvey Mar 6 '14 at 15:37
  • @Robert, I strongly disagree that the community is fully capable of dealing with bad answers. We are struggling with it on TWP because post-graduation few users have the rep to delete downvoted posts efficiently, and we are under-modded for the amount of flags we've been raising every day. Shog even linked our meta post suggesting a better way to deal with bad answers. – jmac Mar 7 '14 at 5:39

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