I have used a custom reason while flagging this answer.

I did not ask for the answer to be removed by saying:

link-only but may answer the question, should be converted to a comment

In response to my declined flag, I have received a message saying:

enter image description here

I am just totally confused now, so please tell me about the missing piece of the puzzle here.

To add on top of this, another flag on this answer:

it's one line of code. while it may answer the question i think it could as well be converted to a comment :/// dont know how to handle this properly... – mehow yesterday

and again a declined flag on a deleted answer:

enter image description here

closed as off-topic by Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog, Pika the Wizard of the Whales, Robert Longson, PeterJ, Pierre.Vriens May 5 at 5:43

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question's topic is only applicable to one specific site in the Stack Exchange Network. Questions on Meta Stack Exchange should relate to features or policies that commonly apply to the network or the software that drives it, within the guidelines defined in the help center. You should ask this question on the meta site where your concern originated." – Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog, Pika the Wizard of the Whales, Robert Longson, PeterJ, Pierre.Vriens
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Converting it to a comment is deleting the answer, technically. – Servy Mar 4 '14 at 19:24
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    Yes Servy you're right, technically. Most of the time link-only answers were converted to comments in my experience. What makes this one special? – user221081 Mar 4 '14 at 19:25
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    George didn't want to delete it. Shrug. Personally I'm not of the opinion that we should make great pains to salvage these types of answers. If the author wants to take the time to salvage them, they can, and they can be undeleted/reposted. Others (apparently including George) disagree. This is an issue that has never really been settled; there's been disagreement over it, with pretty strong support on both sides, for a while. – Servy Mar 4 '14 at 19:26
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    Shog posted something about this recently: Are link only flags moderated correctly? – Josh Caswell Mar 4 '14 at 19:27
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    I have seen all those links guys. The problem is it is not clear what to do with Link-Only answers. While some diamonds say use custom flag the others say do not flag them at all... so are link-only allowed then? I am so lost... – user221081 Mar 4 '14 at 19:41
  • I'm confused too. I've flagged a link only answer as not an answer before, and it was even accepted as helpful, but it was never deleted and still exists to this day. – gitsitgo Mar 4 '14 at 19:53
  • I would delete it, but I’m not going to go against anyone, so… – Ry- Mar 4 '14 at 20:09
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    Tangentially related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/196377/… – Shog9 Mar 4 '14 at 20:51
  • Link only answers are discouraged, but they aren't disallowed. If the linked information does provide an actual answer to the problem, then it's a valid answer. Not a great answer, but valid nonetheless. There is no need to flag it or convert it to a comment, unless it doesn't actually answer the question. – Adam Davis Mar 4 '14 at 21:14

OK, given that I asked this same question of moderator candidates, I'll explain my reasoning when confronted with flags on short, primarily link-based answers. Shog9 covers some of this in his answer here (note: I was the one who declined all the flags there), but I'll expand on that.

I tend to be someone who is biased towards not deleting or removing content if I see any redeeming value in it at all. When we had all the arguments about deleting old, upvoted questions, I was generally on the side of not deleting them. Therefore, when flagged and asked to delete an answer contributed by someone else, I need to see a good reason to do so.

These are the conditions where I'll delete a primarily link-based answer:

  • Spam
  • Someone using a slew of link-based answers only to promote their blog (bonus points if it's an ad-plastered Blogspot site)
  • The link is dead
  • If the information in the link doesn't specifically address the question asked (Q: "I'm having this specific problem with this code" A:"Here's a link to a tutorial on how to make a website")
  • If the link is already present in another, better answer
  • If there are older, more detailed answers that better answer the question and this is just a link

Here's when I'll convert a link-based answer to a comment:

  • The answer is a link to another question (in which case this might be a potential duplicate) or answer
  • The link in the answer provides some helpful information that still doesn't specifically address the question asked

While short and relying primarily on a link, I do not feel comfortable deleting the remaining non-promotional answers that specifically address the question asked by pointing to an outside resource. I'll often comment and ask people to expand upon their link-based answer, but I do not think the site is improved by removing them.

A big part of the argument against link-based answers is that they become useless when the site they link to goes down. You know what makes them useless even faster? Arbitrarily deleting them without warning. That seems counterproductive.

When you flag a link-based answer, this is why I prefer for you to use an "other" flag and explain why you believe it should be deleted. If you can explain to me why it fits in the list of troublesome categories I've enumerated, and you're right about that, you can generally feel confident that we'll take the action requested. For example, I approve all flags I see that point out link-based answers with dead links.

If you don't give us a good reason why we should delete a particular link-based answer, yes, we will process these in very different ways depending on who handles them and what we see.

Again, not every short answer that's primarily link-based needs to be flagged for deletion. The reasons above are why I decline many of these.

  • 5
    Yuck. SO doesn't need that crap. – Gilles Mar 4 '14 at 21:07
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    I wish I could +1 this answer more, especially for pointing out that although link-only answers aren't as useful as a well written answer, they're still better than having no answer at all. SO is my place to get answers, and I'd like to keep it in that way. – Rachel Mar 4 '14 at 21:15
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    This is a good answer but I think the fuzziness about link-only answers can be legitimately confusing (and frustrating to users who can't see a pattern because different moderators handle the situation differently). Personally, I wouldn't mind a more concrete (as much as possible) set of site-wide policies; or at minimum a common consensus among moderators. The way they are treated now sort of reminds me of the way a building inspector passes/fails a building; there's a fuzzy set of guidelines, but hopefully he's either your buddy or woke up on the right side of the bed that day. – Jason C Mar 4 '14 at 22:44
  • Great points on how to judge and become more confident about flagging. This is pretty much exactly what I wanted to hear. Thank you – user221081 Mar 4 '14 at 23:00
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    @JasonC - I know as programmers we like to have firm yes / no rules for everything, but we're humans making judgment calls on this stuff. There are community conventions (which can shift over time), but only those suggest general actions based on our past experience. Each post should be examined on its own merits. I'm not a big fan of having a long list of very specific rules for every single case we could act on, and then holding rigidly to that. – Brad Larson Mar 4 '14 at 23:59
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    @Rachel I wish I could -1 this answer more. SO is my place to get answers, and I'd like to keep it that way. A link-only placeholder is worse than having no answer at all: I go there all excited to see an answer, and no, all I get is the same link Google had found. – Gilles Mar 5 '14 at 0:04
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    +1 at @Gilles. I'd be happy with a general guideline that if the link appears in the first page of a web search for the topic, it doesn't really belong here as an answer. There's nothing particularly helpful about being a Google database mirror... it's kind of silly when the first result of a web search is an SO question whose answer is the second result of that same search (even if it is a perfectly good link, it adds nothing to the internet by being duplicated here -- it just decreases the internet's general signal-to-noise ratio). – Jason C Mar 5 '14 at 0:19
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    "biased towards not deleting or removing content" -- yeah, let it stay, collect upvotes and teach other users that answering this way is welcome – gnat Mar 5 '14 at 9:12

Item 1: a link-only answer

Remove Page from being indexed in Google, Yahoo, Bing reads in its entirety:

I suggest you start here: http://www.robotstxt.org/

This is not an answer. The URL http://www.robotstxt.org/ does not answer the question in any way, and the first part is wrapper text with no content.

There may be something on the site that the URL points to that answers the question. Given that the answer was accepted, there probably is. But the relevant content should have been included in the answer. As it is, this post is not an answer; it is at most a link to an answer. This is not appropriate on a questions and answers site. Stack Exchange is not Yahoo! Directory. (In fact this isn't even a link to an answer, it's a link to a site where there is a page or collection of pages that answers the question. The asker didn't even bother to point to the appropriate part of the site.)

Given that the site is relevant, and that the link is a hint towards the answer, it would have been appropriate to convert it to a comment.

Unfortunately, in practice, whether link-only answers are handled properly is hit and miss, it depends which moderator ends up handling your flag. I recommend downvoting and (optionally) commenting in addition to flagging; occasionally it results in the poster replacing their stub by an actual answer (but sometimes instead it results in revenge downvoting — people who post low-effort “answers” like this are often doing it for the rep and hate being criticized).

If you can (if you have the time and competence) and if it's useful (if the linked site is useful and there isn't already an answer that covers the information), please do post an answer based on the linked site.

Item 2: a code-only answer

Merge my 2 arrays in php reads in its entirety


This isn't a good answer, because it lacks an explanation. However, it does show comprehensible sample code, which is good. Since the question only asks how to make the code work and does not particularly call for a deep explanation, a code-only answer is ok.

(Some questions explicitly or implicitly ask why. On such questions, a post which only provides code without explaining why that code is correct doesn't answer the question and should be deleted.)

That code doesn't correctly answer the question. This is a reason to downvote, not to delete.

This is on the border between a deletion-worthy very-low-quality answer and a non-deletion-worthy rather-low-quality answer.

Converting to a comment would not be appropriate. Conversion to a comment is appropriate for a useful remark that doesn't answer the question but provides an insight or hint. This one doesn't.

  • 5
    "Properly" being defined as how you believe we should handle them -- especially given your comment to Brad Larson: "Yuck, SO doesn't need that crap." Flagging is not an ends of itself, it should be a means to an end -- flagging is quite useless if we don't engage with the users to let them know why we're flagging. That's what I advocate, and that's what will teach expectations to people. If all we should do is flag link only answers, then we can easily make an algorithm to warn users that they can't do that. No need for humans. – George Stocker Mar 4 '14 at 22:29
  • I agree with the first part of your post and only partially agree with the second part. If this was the only answer, the next person who would ask somehow a duplicate of this question would be already exposed to a risk of having his new question closed as a duplicate. The community should both improve questions and answers to make this a great stack of acumulated programming knowledge. If the new question was deeper then the OP would not get a proper answer if his question got closed as a duplicate and the answer given was only a one-liner which does not explain a single thing IMO. – user221081 Mar 4 '14 at 22:50
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    @GeorgeStocker Users are not notified of comments on a deleted post, which makes commenting useless when you expect the post to be deleted soon. The only exception is comments left by the deleting moderator soon before deletion. As long as this issue isn't fixed, commenting when you flag for deletion is usually a waste of time. – Gilles Mar 5 '14 at 0:01
  • thats something I explicitly talk about in my post. Engage the user. Someone will come along and flag it, even if you don't come along later. This Pavlovian need to flag everything without engaging users hurts the feedback loop * at best – George Stocker Mar 5 '14 at 0:47
  • @GeorgeStocker Got it. Next time I see some litter in the street, I'll leave a note for the janitor to pick up in addition to the litter. But picking the litter is right out. – Gilles Mar 5 '14 at 9:41
  • Calling a link-only answer litter is a bit dramatic. Normally you could leave a comment or even... Edit it with the appropriate information from the link yourself. – George Stocker Mar 5 '14 at 12:21
  • @Gilles As a recent example. Someone left a comment, and the OP fixed their answer! stackoverflow.com/questions/21370263/… – George Stocker Mar 5 '14 at 17:18
  • @GeorgeStocker 1. This answer was a more than a link: it said “use this library”. That's different to linking to a web page that says “use this library” or “use this code”. 2. If the answer had been deleted (with a notifying comment, of course), the answerer could have posted a new answer, which would have been less work for everyone (no now-obsolete comments to delete). – Gilles Mar 5 '14 at 17:27


Since the community found a duplicate, I was able to merge the questions together and that answer became superfluous (because another user used the same link, and they expanded on it in their answer). Doing this is positive and leads to a positive outcome, whereas blindly deleting the answer and having no recourse is not postive for every user who comes into this question from google.

I am the moderator who declined the flags on that answer (there were 11 of them).

While your flag was the best out of all of the flags left (it was a custom flag that explained your reasoning), I still declined it (partially because I simply cannot decline flags individually).

I declined it for the following reasons:

  • As you pointed out, it addresses the question, so it is an answer.
  • The question was asked in a vague manner (realistically, the question should probably be closed because we're not given any actual idea of what the user is trying to accomplish), and the answer was just as specific as the question (which is to say, not really specific)
  • The answer attempts to address the question. Yes, you need a robots.txt, and robotstxt.org helps you figure out how to build one. It's not a particularly great answer (downvoting is certainly warranted here), but it is useful in of itself.
  • No one attempted to communicate with the person who posted this answer that their answer was lacking. 11 people flagged this answer, and not one of them thought it important to try to make the site better by communicating with the person who wrote the answer.

Flagging is and should be a second step in moderation. It shouldn't be the first step for some types of moderation -- and because all the effects of flagging are negative for the person you're flagging, it's important that we communicate why we're flagging.

People complain that Stack Overflow isn't very welcoming to new users. They also complain that we just expect them to know how to act. Communication helps to keep that from happening, and in cases like this, so much can be gained by just leaving a comment. If the user doesn't respond to the comment or fix their issue, someone will flag it in the future, that's virtually guaranteed.

  • Thanks for the explanation I definitely see your point. Most of the time I actually try to leave a comment explaining/giving an idea to owner of why I have flagged, or what is wrong with Q/A in general. I am not sure why I haven't this time.. – user221081 Mar 4 '14 at 22:58

I will refrain from commenting on the first question since I also had my flag declined there and I believe the mod in question made reasonable arguments that support the decision. It can't always be black and white.

The second option I disagree with you though: it is definitely an answer to the question. Maybe it is of low quality and maybe it is wrong, but it's still an answer.

I personally believe it should be converted to a comment but the guidelines on this have to be interpreted very strictly as far as I can tell from every post on the subject I've read.

Keep in mind that it is the community that deleted it, not the moderator.