On-Topic Questions, Low-Quality Answers

There are numerous on-topic questions for which a software recommendation can be an answer. There are probably tens of thousands of existing such answers, with more streaming in daily, that would qualify as low-quality:

  • Try XYZ.
  • Try XYZ (link).
  • Try XYZ (link). I've used it for years and really like it.
  • Try XYZ (link). It does what you want.
  • Try XYZ (link). It has these cool features....

These are low quality for one or more of many reasons, particularly:

  • They are not a self-contained solution to a problem; they point in the direction of a solution but don't explain how to actually solve the problem using the tool. If it is a helpful suggestion, it would be appropriate as a comment rather than an answer.

  • It is opinion without context or elaboration.

  • There may not be sufficient information for the reader to know if it is even a relevant suggestion, potentially wasting people's time.

Potential Low-Quality Question

If such an answer is a complete response to what was asked, it probably means that the question was not a good one. Many questions are worded, "What is a good tool to solve this problem?", and the answers are just a large collection of such software recommendations. At least if the question was worded, "How do I solve this problem?", such answers would more clearly be inadequate. And when the existing answers are just a list of "Try this program", new users add more such recommendations to the list.

Potential Value in Low-Quality Answers

In the absence of high quality answers, such recommendations can be better than nothing, and may be sufficient to help the OP. So I'm hesitant to simply flag these for deletion. However, it leaves the SU knowledgebase full of low-quality examples and information that gets outdated.

What To Do?

Which brings me to the question of what to do about it. When I see new answers like the examples above, I leave a comment pointing the poster to this Meta link: How to recommend software in my answers. Sometimes, I don't bother because there are numerous existing answers just like the poster's, so it looks like I'm asking them to meet a higher standard than everyone else.

If I'm familiar with the subject and software, or the answer can easily be expanded based on information in the link, I'll go ahead and do it as an example. However, it's usually difficult to judge whether the recommendation is worth keeping and improving.

I want to get some guidance before I flag a bunch of answers inappropriately or create a lot of work for our moderators. Should we:

  • Close old questions that are attracting more such answers?

  • Edit the question to discourage low-quality answers (which doesn't address existing answers)?

  • Flag such answers for a moderator to move them to a comment (along with any useful comments on the answer)?

  • Flag such answers for deletion?

  • 1
    Flag for deletion – Sathyajith Bhat Feb 28 '15 at 18:34
  • @Ramhound > questions where a software recomendation would answer the question - how would you define that? As it is, potentially every non-hardware question falls under that category. If I write a program that answers some question, does that become a software-rec question? After all, now there's "a software recommendation [that] would answer the question". – Bob Jun 8 '15 at 18:19
  • @Bob - I refuse to go down that rabbit hole with you. Comment deleted. – Ramhound Jun 8 '15 at 18:28

Well, its worth taking into consideration that a good, acceptable software recommendation answer talks about a process.

There's a few possible courses of action one could take. The easiest would be to flag for deletion. This is probably the default, and commenting to let the user know why that answer is not too good would be great.

The second, which is useful if you're familiar with the software would be to edit the answer to include information on what the software does, and how it can be useful.

As a SR mod, I'd note most of the class of answers we'd delete here probably wouldn't pass muster in SR either. Low quality answers are low quality anywhere

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