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On any main site, if you post a link-only question or answer you're likely to get downvoted (possibly heavily) and your question or answer closed or deleted. This is good: links can break or change, rendering the linked content, and by proxy the question or answer, useless.

Where the consistency breaks down is when people post on site metas about a specific question and ask for guidance. At present this is largely accepted by the community. Once the problems with the post have been resolved any answers on the meta post lose their relevance, or the linked question may end up being deleted because of the meta effect. This sort of thing is exactly what we try and avoid on the main sites, so why not on meta as well?

Recently on Meta Stack Overflow we've had a discussion about trying to reduce the impact of the "meta-effect" when people come to meta seeking assitance with trying to improve the quality of their posts.

As part of that, I suggested the idea of allowing us to embed a snapshot of the main site question/answer being discussed. However, I would now like to approach this from a different point of view: being consistent with our own standards.

So what does a snapshot consist of?

The snapshot would be a full and non-interactive copy of the target post being discussed. It would contain the edit history up to that point, show the post's score (and score breakdown for users with enough reputation) and show any close or reopen votes that had been cast at that point in time (again, visible only to those with enough reputation). The primary difference would be that the normal deletion visibility rule would be suspended - a snapshot would be visible to everyone no matter what their reputation.

The ability to embed a snapshot would, at least at first, be exclusive to per-site metas (and maybe here). There may also need to be some exceptions in place to prevent abuse, for instance; should a post with at least one Spam or Offensive flag be able to be snapshotted? Should users be limited to one snapshot per post?

Snapshots would mean the following:

  • All of the information relevant to the question would be contained in the question itself.
  • Because the snapshot doesn't update as the target post changes the answers and comments remain relevant and useful for future readers seeking to improve their own questions.
  • The relaxed visibility rules would allow deleted posts to remain useful to low reputation users who can't normally see deleted posts.

As a side-effect, this would also likely reduce the magnitude of the meta-effect. Without the need to visit the main site to get the full context of the question, fewer votes will be cast as a direct result of the meta post.

I appreciate that there are a number of things that need to be determined first, such as how many snapshots should be embeddable into a single post and whether it should be automatic based on the presence of the tag to name a few. I also appreciate that this is likely not a trivial thing to implement, but would it be possible to do this?

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    Why is a screenshot not sufficient to a snapshot of a state? You can still link to its revision history. – random Aug 22 '14 at 18:05
  • Screenshots don't necessarily contain all of the information: think large code dumps on SO. And you can link to a revision history yes, but you still have to follow the link to see it. This way it would be contained in the question so you wouldn't have to visit the main site to view it. – JonK Aug 22 '14 at 18:07
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    Screenshots also don't work particularly well if the post contains any links, especially when the raw link isn't visible, so you'd need to go to the main post anyway to see it. A snapshot would avoid that. The snapshot could potentially avoid scaling problems that a screeshot might suffer from as well, so the text should appear normally instead of squashed down. – JonK Aug 22 '14 at 18:25

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