My "very low quality" flag of this answer has been declined, with a note that

The correct procedure here is to comment, down-vote or even edit.

I don't think there is much to comment on an answer consisting of a single word, hyperlinked to the correct page. What could my comment possibly say? "Please embed your link into a better answer"?

Downvoting this answer would be inappropriate, too, because the link leads you to the correct page.

Finally, editing a single-word answer is very much like making a stone soup - it is the same as writing a brand-new answer.

Should there be a rule that all answers consisting of a single link without meaningful explanation be considered very low quality?

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    "...it is the same as writing a brand-new answer." So write a new answer, get upvotes, and if the person ever comes back to look at the question again they will realize that they are missing out on reputation because they don't elaborate. – Pollyanna Mar 6 '14 at 14:49
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    @AdamDavis But SO is also about having a good signal to noise ratio; that means getting rid of noise in addition to adding signal. – Servy Mar 6 '14 at 14:54
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    @Servy If it answers the question, it isn't noise. A poor answer, particularly one which was provided within 2 minutes of the question being posted as this one was, is still very useful and valuable to the person who asked it, and those who follow. As better answers are added and upvoted, as happened with this question, later users are treated to better answers. The system worked in this case exactly as expected and designed. There's no need to throw this answer away and treat it as noise - it isn't noise. It just doesn't meet your standards. There's no flag for missing your standard. – Pollyanna Mar 6 '14 at 15:04
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    Keep in mind that the question was closed - so the example isn't very good anyway. The question really needed a full book to answer, and so a link to a comprehensive website is not a bad answer to an obviously bad question. You might be able to help us better understand the problem of link-only answers if you provide examples of great questions which were ruined by link only answers, showing how link only answers hurt Stack Overflow, it's community, or the people asking questions. – Pollyanna Mar 6 '14 at 15:09
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    @AdamDavis The fact that it wasn't noise several years in the past doesn't mean it isn't noise if a much better answer is posted. If an answer is posted that actually goes and answers the question in addition to providing a useful link then this answer is adding nothing useful. It is doing nothing more than taking up space and wasting the time of anyone who reads it. – Servy Mar 6 '14 at 15:11
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    @Servy By that argument we should remove all but the single highest voted answer in every question. Just because people upvoted other answers does not meant that this link-only answer becomes useless - it's quite likely that someone else comes along later with a similar question, finds this on google, and the link is the best answer for them. Perhaps it's due to the way they learn best, or something specific about their problem. Regardless, newer answers may be better than link only answers, but they do not invalidate link only answers. – Pollyanna Mar 6 '14 at 15:16
  • @AdamDavis So you think that there are people who are going to be more likely to learn better by following several extra links to read the exact same information? Do you personally prefer clicking through extra links before reading the exact same text? In what way do you feel that this adds value? – Servy Mar 6 '14 at 15:20
  • @Servy I didn't know clicking the mouse button reduced the value of content - is there an equation that shows how content depreciates the more one has to click? – Pollyanna Mar 6 '14 at 15:34
  • Also very relevant to this question: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/183603/… – Pollyanna Mar 6 '14 at 15:40
  • @AdamDavis The value doesn't decrease, but the amount of work that you have to do to get to that exact same value goes up. That makes the net value lower proportional to the amount of time/effort you needed to spend clicking through all of those links. This includes the time to read through the page, find the relevant post with the link, ensure it's the link that really is your answer, click the link, wait for the page to load, and then rinse/repeat until you get to your answer. Since you asked for an equation, that'll be approximately linear. You still haven't answered how it adds value. – Servy Mar 6 '14 at 15:40

Here's a comment that would have been helpful:

Could you elaborate on your answer to show how it would meet the OP's needs? Perhaps include a brief code example showing how to write a Hello World! app using Azure and VB.NET? As it stands you have provided an answer, but you risk being downvoted because it's not a particularly good answer.

The reason why we want you to comment is that flagging is getting us nowhere.

Flagging does not provide feedback to the user that there's a problem with their answer. At best, their answer gets deleted and they raise a meta question. At worst, they don't notice and so they keep doing it.

Communicating with the user let's them know this behavior is not encouraged, and more importantly, tells them how to improve. That's what's going to improve the site.

Incidentally, the bad answer is just a symptom of the real problem: The question is poorly written and (as written) is off-topic for Stack Overflow. I've put it on hold to give the OP a chance to address the issues with the question.

Should there be a rule that all answers consisting of a single link without meaningful explanation be considered [very] low quality?

For what it's worth, we've had this discussion before. The answer is 'no'.

| improve this answer | |
  • That last link is saying that we shouldn't flag all link only answers. It is widely accepted that link only answers are of low quality, just not necessarily of sufficiently low quality to delete. – Servy Mar 6 '14 at 14:56
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    @Servy That answer is from also 2009. Also, when you're flagging, you're essentially asking us to delete the answer. Engagement goes much further than flagging for bad answers. – George Stocker Mar 6 '14 at 14:59
  • Yes, it's old, but it's also an FAQ entry, and as such gets quite a lot of attention over time. It's not like it hasn't been touched in the past 4 years. Being marked as an FAQ (which, mind you, happened quite a bit more recently) indicates that it is still the current policy. Again, I'm not saying that it should be flagged. Shog's post makes it clear that it should not. But it is still a low quality answer. Being of low quality doesn't, in and of itself, mean it should be flagged/deleted. – Servy Mar 6 '14 at 15:01
  • Also We don't delete "Low quality" answers. We downvote them. We delete "Very Low Quality" answers. Defined as answers that are so heinous, there's no way to edit them into shape. meta.stackexchange.com/a/93606/16587 – George Stocker Mar 6 '14 at 15:02
  • That's exactly right. I'm not disputing that at all. That's what I would have expected you to say in an answer. It's of low quality, just not of sufficiently low quality to delete. You said it's not low quality. Big difference. – Servy Mar 6 '14 at 15:03
  • The OP is conflating "Very low quality" and "Low Quality". his question is in the context of why a flag was declined. There is no such thing as a "Low Quality" flag; there is a "Very Low Quality" flag. <snark> I'm sure you already know that, so the correction should probably be on the OP's side and not on mine. But thank you for making it so abundantly clear. :-)</snark> – George Stocker Mar 6 '14 at 15:05
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    You're assuming that the OP is mistakenly using the wrong term. Which is fine, it's a reasonable assumption, however, if you want to answer what you think he means, instead of what he asked, then say that in your answer. You're assuming that asking if a link only answer is of low quality is not a valid question to ask, but it is. It is an equally valid question to ask if a question is of very low quality, which is not what is asked. If you want to answer a different question, at the very least, clarify that in your answer. It would be as simple as incorporating your previous comment in. – Servy Mar 6 '14 at 15:09
  • @Servy You're absolutely right. – George Stocker Mar 6 '14 at 15:10

Should there be a rule that all answers consisting of a single link without meaningful explanation be considered low quality?

They are low-quality, they just don't always meet the criteria for the Very Low Quality flag.

This answer has severe formatting or content problems. This answer is unlikely to be salvageable through editing, and might need to be removed.

Link-only answers can lead you to information that answers the question, as you pointed out. If you're not willing to downvote an answer, you shouldn't flag it as NAA or VLQ. Those flags are cues to moderators to remove an answer. If the link isn't broken already, just downvote and leave a comment.

Finally, editing a single-word answer is very much like making a stone soup - it is the same as writing a brand-new answer.

If you can write a new answer that includes the relevant information from the link (and include it as a reference in your own answer) then I'd be a lot more willing to consider deleting the link-only answer as redundant.

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    In your first paragraph you're advocating downvoting the answer, meaning you think it's of low quality, despite the fact that you open by saying it's not of low quality. – Servy Mar 6 '14 at 14:57
  • @Servy Where do I say it's not of low quality? – Bill the Lizard Mar 6 '14 at 15:00
  • With your first word. He asks if they should be considered low quality. You say, "No, because link-only answers can lead you to information that answers the question" – Servy Mar 6 '14 at 15:02
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    @Servy He's talking about his "low quality flag" so he really means VLQ. – Bill the Lizard Mar 6 '14 at 15:03
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    So then make that distinction, because when I read the question I don't see that. I see him saying that even downvoting/commenting is inappropriate, which is the appropriate response to a post of low quality, but not of such low quality as to warrant deletion. – Servy Mar 6 '14 at 15:06
  • @Servy For what it's worth, it's in the OP's first sentence: "My "low quality" flag of this answer has been declined" – George Stocker Mar 6 '14 at 15:06
  • @Servy It is a little confusing as stated (and the difference between "low quality" and VLQ is much bigger than implied by simply adding the word "very"). I made an edit to try and draw attention to the distinction. – Bill the Lizard Mar 6 '14 at 15:11
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    @BilltheLizard: This is the first time I've been made aware that there's a distinction between "low quality" and "very low quality". (Possibly I've been paying insufficient attention). Perhaps one of those two phrases should be changed to make the difference clearer. – Keith Thompson Mar 6 '14 at 18:48

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