6

I know that, on most sites throughout Stack Exchange (except Software Recs), tool / resource requests are off topic.

I know what to do with these questions, flag / vote to close them on that particular site.

However, if I come across a new link only answer (from the front page or the new-answers-to-old-questions page), and then notice that most or all of the other answers are also link only, what should I do? After voting to close the question should I:

  1. Comment on the new answer to expand? How could they possibly expand meaningfully, it's a tool request question.
  2. Flag just the new answer
  3. Flag all the link only answers
  4. Do nothing (beyond my close vote)
  5. Protect the question (if I have enough rep)?
  6. Multiple of the above, or something else?

Here are some examples on Stack Overflow, but this could apply elsewhere through the network. For those without 10k on SO, some of these have deleted link only answers:

  • We have a flag for tool recommendation questions. Close the questions. Downvote the answers, as well, probably. – Won't Aug 28 '15 at 19:05
  • @Won't and how is downvote supposed to work, exactly? Trigger a sympathy upvote from a next lame passer by with 15 rep, 'cuz its unfair to downrate folks who try to halp? – gnat Aug 28 '15 at 19:23
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    @gnat Not my fault idiots gonna idiot. Besides, if one sympathy upvote gets cast for every 100 punishing downvotes or so, I'm okay with that. – Won't Aug 28 '15 at 19:25
  • @Won't my experience is rather opposite, it's more like only one downvote of ten isn't countered by pitiful idiots. And I guess I have enough experience to judge - check votes count in my Programmers profile, at least 10,000 downvotes went to answers, enough to break network rep graph. Or take a look at my rep graph at Workplace - why do you think this green line goes down so gently and steadily, why do you think the garbage I voted down year ago still hangs in there – gnat Aug 28 '15 at 19:37
  • Obviously, @gnat, your downvotes must be made more downvoterful. – Won't Aug 28 '15 at 19:55
  • that @Won't help. Pitiful idiots always outnumber (takes only 15 rep, remember?) and they always react to negative score. Like lemmings. It goes to 0 from -1, -2, -5, whatever. As YCS would probably say, garbage answers have to be cleared out of the way, but NOT via downvotes. Though frankly it's not my headache. When garbage overfloods Stack Exchange and starts repelling googlers, it's SE team who will have to worry how to clean the mess – gnat Aug 28 '15 at 20:04
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The first question you should probably ask is simply, "Is there anything useful here?"

Remember, the blanket prohibition on tool-rec questions is relatively new by Stack Overflow standards. At one point, it was the obvious way to ask a lot of questions that could have been asked other ways ("how do I solve [problem]?" instead of "what tool solves [problem]?") - and some of them got good answers in spite of the phrasing.

Of course, you're probably noticing them because they also got a ton of bad answers (hence the current prohibition). So you gotta decide whether to clean up the question for the sake of an answer or two that is still useful, or burn the whole mess:

  • If there are answers worth saving (answers that are more than just link + "use product"),

    Then edit the question to reflect a problem instead of a tool, and flag all answers that don't answer the revised question.

  • If there are no answers worth saving (all of them are little more than the names of tools without any guidance on how they can be used to solve a specific problem),

    Then close the question and vote to delete it. No need to flag every answer; technically, they still answer the question and when that is removed they will go with it. Oh, and Won't notes that downvoting the answers is a good idea as well - he's right of course, as it not only sends a strong signal to other readers but also tells the system to make the question easier to delete. Downvoting bad answers: always a good choice.

The guidelines that Software Recommendations created for writing answers may be helpful in determining whether there are any answers which are worth keeping around. Of course, answers that explain how to solve a problem without the use of 3rd-party tools are even better...

One final caution: do not close the question assuming that any good, existing answers will stick around. Closing these questions is essentially nominating them for deletion; even if you don't intend to delete them, you've made it possible for someone else to do so - if that's not your intent, then fix the problem in a different way. Even if the question never gets deleted, it still lives on as a bad example for others, and while no one can add further bad answers neither can they add good ones. Closing is not a permanent archive for stuff you don't want to fix.

For example, I've done my best to clean up How can I analyze Python code to identify problematic areas?, and I think it could be useful... But I wouldn't exactly hold it up as a shining example of answers worth putting in effort to save; they're not all awful, but... If you hadn't wanted an example I probably wouldn't have bothered. In cases like this, sometimes you need to reword the question significantly: the only way to salvage it is to focus on specific needs, and in this case I had to read between the lines a bit. Regardless, once you earn your editing privileges, you do not need to cater to the whims of reviewers and should therefore focus on the needs of the authors and readers.

Related:

  • 2
    You irritatingly picked a rather difficult example, @durron. I've done my best to clean it up, and I think it could be useful... But I wouldn't exactly hold it up as a shining example. – Shog9 Aug 28 '15 at 18:16
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    That's why I picked it, difficult questions like that are the reason I made this question – durron597 Aug 28 '15 at 18:18
  • I notice you left this answer, even that's enough substance to keep around? Cool, I learned something. – durron597 Aug 28 '15 at 18:19
  • Well, then you have an example of how to alter even a very borderline tool-rec question if you so desire. And yes, that answer describes the purpose of the tool and how it relates to the problem. – Shog9 Aug 28 '15 at 18:20
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    Your revision of this example is reminiscent of an answer revision I made yesterday, attempting to save an answer that might have had some value. My CV-Room colleagues psuedo-rejected the edit as "an attempt to reply" and "putting words in the guys mouth". In the example here, the OP didn't mention repetition, lint or static analysis. Words -> Mouth. I suggest that if the revision showed up in a review queue, it should get rejected. I'd like to hear your thoughts. – Mogsdad Aug 28 '15 at 19:09
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    It did mention static analysis, @Mogsdad. But yes, I reworded the question significantly: the only way to salvage it is to focus on specific needs, and in this case I had to read between the lines a bit. Regardless, both you and I have earned our editing privileges - we do not need to cater to the whims of reviewers and should therefore focus on the needs of the authors and readers. – Shog9 Aug 28 '15 at 19:51

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