DISCLAIMER: This is not yet another post trying to discuss what NAA posts are and / or answers to different questions are NAA. What this post is trying to do is to find a way to stop people for having to discuss that in the first place.
This post is meant to be a follow up on Shog9 original "Your answer is in another castle: when is an answer not an answer?" post.
With that question, Shog attempted to shed some light on the very widespread confusion about what actually a Not An Answer (NAA) post is. He makes some pretty valid arguments and also explains the subtle difference between Not An Answer and Link Only Answer.
His original post ends with an apparently very clear image:
... Seems clear, right? If someone asked for an apple:
- giving them an apple is the right answer.
- giving them an orange is not an answer.
- giving them an apple core is a partial answer
- pointing them to a place where they can buy an apple is probably a Link Only Answer (borderline NAA)
- and finally a moldy apple is a Low Quality Answer.
Seems pretty basic, right?
Let's then concentrate on the Orange picture. This seems to hint that giving an orange to someone asking for an apple is not to be considered an answer.
With that in mind, have a look at some questions about declined NAA flags / NAA post handling:
An answer to a wrong question: flag was declined (BAD: one mod declined the flag, another deleted the post for the same reason afterward?!!)
Even without reading all the referenced posts, it should be clear that there is a lot of confusion regarding the NAA flag: some users argue that an unrelated answer (answering another question) is NAA, while others state that an answer to the wrong question is wrong but still an answer. This is somehow aggravated by the fact that many time opposing arguments are also made to justify flags handling in both directions, sometimes by referencing the orange picture, sometimes by stating that mods can't evaluate if an answer is really answering the question and so on.
The wording used to describe "NAA" flags doesn't help either:
Again, "does not attempt to answer the question" has been interpreted in both ways, either to prove that giving an orange to someone who specifically asked for an apple is NAA or to say that only post that aren't semantically answers are NAA (for example a comment or a "me too" message).
This is not even a problem just Stack Overflow has. Out of curiosity, I visited some random network sites chatrooms and asked the users there what their view of the issue was. Once again, I got mixed answers going in both directions.
Therefore, I am asking for suggestion about how we can put an end to all this confusion once and for all.
My original idea was to change the original FAQS post and /or the flag description to use some wording that is less open to interpretation. That, obviously, would need the staff to first clarify what the official interpretation is in the first place (I think that they just consider NAA post that aren't answers at all, even to a different questions but since we had to come this far, I fear an extra confirmation is needed). That said, I am also open to other suggestions that would help to reduce the amount of "why my flag was declined" posts we are getting.
EDIT: Since some of the replies/comments have referenced the X/Y problem, I want to clarify that my argument wasn't specifically aimed at those kind of posts. Instead, I was thinking about answers that answer a different and unrelated question than the one that was asked, sometime offering an unasked for alternative in the process. Here are some samples to help clarify what I mean (all sample have been made up):
- Question ask how Superman can fly, Answer explains why Batman can't instead
- Question asks why Pluto is sometime not considered a planet, Answer explains why the moon isn't.
- Question ask how to translate a sentence into French, Answer explains how to translate it into Italian
- Question asks why a snippet of code copied from an online sample doesn't produce the same results as in the demo, Answer suggest moving to a different tool / framework instead.
- Question asks who was the first Roman king, Answer explains how to build a steam engine.