I just stumbled across this answer from this user (which I’ve down voted). The answer is ‘Try this link may be useful to you.’ (and that was after somebody had edited it to improve the spelling). On the face of it, this answer looked a bit like spam, so I did what I usually do and had a look at some of their other answers. Of the answers I’ve looked at, including this one and this one all of them seem to be go and look at this link type answers, mostly with no explanation of what the link leads to. Some of the answers, like this one, have upvotes, others like this have been accepted. What should I do when I come across this situation?

Options would seem to be:

  • Post a question here (which is what I’ve done) and hope a moderator picks it up.
  • Flag one of the answers for moderator attention, with a brief explanation.
  • Go through flagging all of the link answers with no votes/accepts as ‘not an answer’ / or spam.
  • As some of the posts seem acceptable to other members of the community, ignore it and move on.
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    Hmmm, those sort of answers feels like prime candidates for using the very low quality flag. Though I'd flag it as other to explain just to be on the safe side. Though it's pretty obvious to me that there's a lot of problems with it. – Jeff Mercado Jul 26 '11 at 7:46
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    I usually flag these as "not an answer" or "very low quality", as Jeff suggests. But since you've found a clear pattern, it's probably best to either bring it up here for flag one post with an explanation of the problem. I don't think anyone's going to tell you that this is OK. – Cody Gray Jul 26 '11 at 7:57
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    I think it's really the accepted/upvoted answers that made me question whether or not these needed to be flagged. I get the impression that in some areas of the community (in this case Android) are more tolerant of this approach because there are accepted resources outside of stackoverflow and people are looking for anything that helps them move forward with their problem. – forsvarir Jul 26 '11 at 8:15
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    What is the main purpose of Stack Overflow? – Bastardo Jul 26 '11 at 8:24
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    See also: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/99726/… Yes, Android people are more tolerant of this because by and large, they have no standards. The questions with Android tags are a complete mess on SO. Don't make the mistake of basing your conclusions solely on experience there. – Cody Gray Jul 26 '11 at 8:42
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    My 10c -- the main criteria should be, "did it answer the question?" and "was it helpful?". If it fills those two, it doesn't matter how short it was... although of course an answer that can be understood without reference to a link is preferred. – Andy Jul 26 '11 at 9:23
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    @andy - it may have answered the question at a point in time. But when these links rot what use are they for future users of the site. Stack Overflow is not just for users to get answers today, it's goal is to provide a repository of good answers for folks who have the same problem in a year or three years time. – Kev Jul 26 '11 at 9:40
  • @Kev - re link rot, I quite agree. But the primary purpose of the site surely, is to answer the questions people are asking right now. We have to balance that with posterity, sure, but just because the answer suffers from link rot doesn't make it a bad answer. A not-very-good answer, maybe... – Andy Jul 26 '11 at 9:59
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    @andy - why do you think we have a "closed as too localised" option with the qualification "This question is unlikely to ever help any future visitors; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet.". See also: stackoverflow.com/questions/how-to-answer : "please add context around the link so your fellow users will have some idea what it is and why it’s there" – Kev Jul 26 '11 at 10:05
  • @Kev, yes but if someone gave an answer that helped future users but not the person that actually asked the question (assuming that that was possible) then that would be wrong, too, wouldn't it? It's a question of balance, but presumably we have to give a slightly greater priority to helping the person that actually asked the question in the first place? – Andy Jul 26 '11 at 10:23
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    Your assumption that the primary purpose of the site is for askers to get answers today is incorrect. This is not the "primary" purpose of the site. It's just an added bonus. The primary purpose is to be a repository of specific and high-quality programming answers. Moreover, it's also incorrect to assume that a single link could help someone. As discussed here, I like to assume that the asker has already read the documentation, but didn't understand it. A summary of what the link says is quite mandatory. – Cody Gray Jul 26 '11 at 10:26
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    @andy - Ultimately the link will still be in the answer which doesn't change the right or wrong of the answer. All we're asking users to do is provide context for the link which also helps future users of the site as well, to repeat: "please add context around the link so your fellow users will have some idea what it is and why it’s there". I've even seen links that have died within hours of an answer being posted or the link has a typo. This is why context is so important. – Kev Jul 26 '11 at 10:30
  • @Cody Gray -- I certainly don't mean to dictate the purpose of the site; I don't have the right to do that. But I can assure you that it is certainly the primary purpose of the majority of people asking questions here! And if you don't satisfy it, or even if you seem to be working against it, then they will simply go somewhere else. (Or at the very least, stop asking questions.) – Andy Jul 26 '11 at 11:23
  • Reducto ad absurdum: if the primary purpose is not to answer immediate questions but to store good questions and answers for posterity, then everyone will use it as a reference for historical questions, and no-one will actually ask any new ones. Why should they? – Andy Jul 26 '11 at 11:25
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    @andy - There are multiple purposes to the sites. Users getting answers and some questions and their answers being "canonical" (which is also why we close "exact duplicates" - why have a community filled with endless same question). Without being cheeky, you look like a relatively new user to the SE network, stick around, dig around meta, dig out some of the old blog posts and podcasts by J&J then I think you'll "get it". – Kev Jul 26 '11 at 12:33

I think the comments are largely correct but as a summary I think links by themselves are not very helpful because:

  • It requires navigating away from the page
  • It doesn't really demonstrate anything by the answerer than perhaps that they can google better than the OP
  • Links break/disappear/vanish etc over time requiring clean up and potentially annoying visitors

That being said, some sites hold the best information and SO (SE) is not trying to replace these e.g Documentation sites (MSDN) etc and it is absolutely appropriate to link to these.

I doubt there is many answers which are worse off by adding a brief summary of the link contents or a partial example such that if the link wasn't available or the user simply wanted more information they could follow, but don't have to follow for the answer to be helpful.

My bet is that the best answers mix a good write up and links because it demonstrates you have tried thoughtfully to answer the question AND you are backing up your arguments with facts or confirmation etc -- they'd certainly get my upvote.

Edit- what to do with them

  • Edit the answer to be more useful. Improving answers shouldn't be frowned upon...I don't know whether it is fair that a poor effort gains more rep...is that just pride?
  • In response to my first point, provide a much better answer with explanations which both helps future readers and may well grant you some rep...and if you don't know much about the topic, you might learn something
  • many accepted answers aren't that great...get over it. up votes from the community is what matter...
  • perhaps the link is rubbish/404 - delete/flag it

Link the user to some data on meta.stackoverflow and at stackoverflow's faq that tells him how to answer questions. Then, wash your hands with it. Flag them if you think they're irrelevant or low quality, but be sure you check the links. Sometimes, they're very useful. Yesterday, I asked about hyperlinking, and there are lots of posts on meta about how hyperlinks are frowned upon, like this. It basically says, some questions have been autobanned because they use pastebins.

Lecturing people on answering style can yield toxic results, it seems, though. That's why I'm saying: get in, say your piece, and then get out.



  • This is not even a sentence. – Cody Gray Jul 26 '11 at 12:25
  • He he, that's part of the beauty of it. ;) – Awesome Poodles Jul 26 '11 at 12:26
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    First thought the joke was to flag this as not an answer, before realizing that of course it is the answer. +1 – Bo Persson Jul 26 '11 at 23:11

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