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As a community we can decide how we should handle link-only or link-mostly answers, possibly in a different way than SO does (and that is a constantly / moving / target / anyway). I'm not even clear what to do on SO right now regarding this type of answer, and while I have no control there, I'd like to have some consensus and consistency here.

I often find that link-only answers are useful to both the OP and future readers, but I don't think they should stand as answers on their own (and that includes answers that have empty context like "this link should help you"). On some of the meta threads you'll see people hammer link-only answers, stating that they should be deleted, presuming that most are answers that would have been comments if the author had enough rep to comment. I've observed that that is actually a very narrow and uncommon use case.

As for examples: Here is one. Now, the SQLCat team is not going to dismantle their blog tomorrow, but MSDN does have a nasty habit of periodically adjusting their site and screwing up many types of links in the process. A year ago nobody could have predicted that Dell would buy Quest and that shortly thereafter they would revamp their site and butcher all their links (a price several sites on the network are currently paying). Sometime down the road we may be editing this answer in the same way, turning a link that became defunct outside the control of this site back into something useful.

So is this the kind of thing that should be converted to a comment? Should we push for more context from the author such that deleting the link (effectively the same as destroying the destination) will leave a salvageable answer? Should we be discouraging links as much as possible to limit our exposure to link-rot?

The thing I don't like about converting to a comment is that it will make things like this SQLServerPedia thing harder to find, since comments aren't searchable. But at the same time I realize that it's not always going to be possible to incite an answerer to enhance their answer to include meaningful context, and I also don't suspect it will be a common scenario for other users to do it for them. And I really don't know that we should be discouraging links in general as opposed to link-only answers - there are great resources out there that we shouldn't be ignoring, we just have to have some faith that they will remain active (or be prepared to deal with them manually if they move, or simply deleting answers if the remote content is completely lost).

So what say ye, dba.SE'ers? How would you like to handle link-only / link-mostly answers? Our options are:

  • leave them be
  • leave a comment asking the author to enhance them with context
  • enhance them with context ourselves
  • down-vote
  • flag them with a custom flag ("please convert this to a comment")
  • flag them as not an answer, for the purpose of deleting
  • any others I'm not thinking about?
5

I agree that links are helpful, I have read and bookmarked many links provided by the community and find them immensely helpful. Having been guilty of providing link only answers, and being chided into making them comments, I would vote that link only, or link mostly belong as a comment so as to not clutter up the answers section.

I vote:

  • Leave a comment asking the author to either enhance with content or convert to a comment
  • Flag them with a custom flag to convert to a comment

The only downside being the inability to edit comments after 5 minutes, should the link change, but that can be mitigated by deleting the comment and re-adding it provided the question is not closed to comments.

  • 2
    Also note that moderators can edit comments permanently, so if deleting the comment and re-adding it would disrupt the flow of the conversation (or you are not the commenter and do not want to take credit), you could always custom flag the comment and include the updated link. This is better, I think, than leaving the bad link in place and later commenting "hey your link is bad, now it's here." – Aaron Bertrand Jul 30 '13 at 18:54
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After having raised this question on SO meta, I'd like to propose the following:

  • leave a comment that link-only answers should be comments (most importantly, that the answer should be useful to some degree on its own, without having to click on the link)
  • give them 24 hours to either (a) improve the answer or (b) delete it and add a comment in its place

Should those fail, then flag it in one of the following two ways:

  • Very Low Quality - if the answer has 0 or negative score, this option is available, and puts the answer in to the Low Quality Posts review queue. This lets the community decide what to do (delete / edit / don't delete).

  • Other with the text "Link Only Answer" - if the answer has a positive score, the VLQ flag reason is unavailable. Please include in your explanation whether you think it should be deleted or converted to a comment (the up-vote(s) don't necessarily mean that the answer is useful).

If the link is spam, of course, it should continue to be flagged as spam; and if it's a link that doesn't answer the question (or it isn't immediately obvious how it answers the question), flag it as Not An Answer (or, again, Other with a meaningful explanation).

Comments are always useful, and also, don't be afraid to down-vote.

This advice is generally applicable to your behavior on Stack Overflow, as well, but I'd continue to monitor this question as more moderators chime in over there.

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