I'm amazed I only found one relevant suggestion. Jon Skeet suggests a user interface for searching for a link on a selected 'API website'.

I'd go one step further and use a mechanism as e.g. Wordpress has when editing a post.

Wordpress: recommended links

In the screenshot above, because the content of the post contains 'lap dogs', underneath a recommended link to the wiki article on lap dogs shows up, along with 'Shih-tzu' and 'puppies'.

Basically an automatic google search is done for you for the content of your post, and link suggestions are highlighted. Combining this with Jon Skeet's suggestion, the search could be made smart enough to only search relevant resources. (API websites etc ...)

A database of 'relevant links' or entire domain names per SE site could be added and managed by moderators.

Example for Stack Overflow:

Links from the msdn domain name would be considered as valid suggestions, but also wiki pages for software design patterns. When writing MVC pattern in your post, a link suggestion to the wikipedia article could pop up, so all you have to do is click on it to link to it.

The 'related' SE links could also be used.

A couple of possible advantages:

  • When instead of linking to an url, you link to a link stored at Stack Exchange, you can update the link across the entire site to a new source when the original link gets outdated.
  • More links will be added to relevant posts, resulting in higher quality posts where additional data can easily be found without having to google for it yourself.
  • It's not clear what you're suggesting. It sounds like you're describing something like the "Related" sidebar (explained on the blog New Linked Posts), but I can't say for sure. – Bill the Lizard Mar 4 '11 at 14:34
  • @Bill the Lizard: I added an explanation underneath the screenshot. – Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '11 at 14:41

In theory, this would be very useful. However, implementing it in any good way would be very difficult at best, impossible at worst.

It would make sense, for example, for inserting links to the manual in certain, very specific cases. If, say, you have an answer saying

use json_encode() for this.

in a question tagged php, then it's 99% certain that it would make sense to auto-link the function name to the official docs at http://php.net/json_encode.

However, this is the easiest case, and I picked PHP because there is a simple, official documentation with a simple URL. But what about when there is no one, canonical documentation? If I recommend using a p element in HTML, it might make sense to link to some documentation, but it also might not. Also, which documentation would you use - the W3C's definition of the element? The MDC docs? What about HTML versions - the element may have different behaviours between HTML 4 and 5. Oh, and don't forget XHTML. Who would do the job of maintaining all these nuances?

Also, where do we draw the line on what to linkify when? Linking every word to a Wikipedia article is a no-no - simple terms are trivial to look up, and meaningless links in a text are a terrible nuisance. There would have to be a community vetting process for new link patterns that makes managing tags look easy by comparison.

I've actually had an idea on building a community-maintained service for programmers that takes a tag (like Javascript) and a term (like IsInt) and spits out all related documentation links. So to direct a OP to the manual on JavaScript's IsInt, you would no longer have to go search the docs and copy&paste them, but simply leave a link like


but that would be a massive task far outside Stack Overflow's scope.

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