I've come across quite a few answers that request the asker to, for example: "send the user an email", after which the answerer will provide them with the code or other resources they're looking for.

A few examples:

Should we take action against these questions?

I feel like these answers aren't appropriate (see my answer below).


Perhaps there are some cases where this is acceptable. I've seen a few questions regarding a particular piece of commercial software where the author/developer of the software answers, telling the asker to contact either them or their organization's in-house support.

I'm on the fence about this case. If I came across a question here describing a similar problem I was having, it would be useful to me to have the support information and know that I could contact it for assistance.

I'm interested in others' opinions on this situation in particular.

  • If you answer your own question immediately you're not going to learn anything, as you're unlikely to get any other answers. – amelvin Mar 20 '11 at 15:28
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    @amelvin - I disagree. My other option was to put my own opinion in the question, which seems incorrect to me. If people share my opinion, they will upvote my answer. If they don't, or have other opinions, they will leave an answer of their own. I'm also not necessarily trying to "learn" anything, per se. I'm trying to resolve what the community should do about a potential problem. – Rob Hruska Mar 20 '11 at 15:37
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    @amelvin - waiting to post your own answer is correct on the main sites, but for the meta sites it's not really necessary or useful. – ChrisF Mar 20 '11 at 16:15

I believe answers (or comments) which solicit off-site communication should be flagged and removed, for several reasons.

  1. [Primary Reason] Off-site communication doesn't contribute to the community; other programmers seeking help for similar problems will not be helped by these answers.
  2. If an answer requires so much code that it can't be posted in the context of an SO answer, it's likely the question itself isn't specific enough (violating the FAQ).
  3. The answerer may have malicious intent, perhaps to take advantage of an unsuspecting question asker by giving them malicious code that may compromise their system (unlikely, perhaps, but possible?)

As a question asker, I'd be very unlikely to follow-up by actually emailing someone that answered my question soliciting off-site communication.

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    you should also add that the question asker is too freaking lazy to do his/her own work... – davidsleeps Mar 20 '11 at 15:24
  • I agree, which is why I've been flagging many of the answers that result from the following queries as non-answers: stackoverflow.com/… , stackoverflow.com/… . If there is useful content in the answer, I'll edit it to remove personal contact information and leave the rest. – Brad Larson Mar 20 '11 at 16:24
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    The two cases that I'm fine with someone leaving contact information is when they've provided a detailed answer, but they offer to provide a project or other very specific information offline that would be too much for an answer here, and when the person answering is a representative of a project that is being asked about and this is a support question best taken offline. – Brad Larson Mar 20 '11 at 16:26
  • @Brad Larson - Agreed, those cases are legitimate to me, too. – Rob Hruska Mar 20 '11 at 18:01
  • @Brad There was me thinking Stackoverflow transgressions rarely happened until I followed those queries and now I'm nearly out of "inform a moderator" flags. – user142852 Mar 20 '11 at 23:16

I've flagged the lot and feel like adding my short opinion:

The sybase answerer appears disgruntled the community has downvoted his answer. To counter his arguments, whilst I understand the concept of commercial code, how is it he can freely license it to anyone who turns up on an internet q&a site asking for that solution, but not the entire q&a site? Surely at that point there would be a cost involved. I have no objections to answerers saying "our product would solve this problem" but that should be a transparent transaction in the sense of "here's our website, here's some data sheets/facts/screenshots to show you". Then we can make up our own minds as to whether or not it is a solution. As you rightly say, private email communication in an answer is counter the spirit of the site.

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