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There are numerous Meta posts on software recommendation answers, and the advice on posting them seems to be universal. How to handle low quality ones that have been posted gets murkier by the day.

  • From How to handle low-quality software recommendation answers posted one month ago: Two moderators: "flag for deletion"

  • In the question When are software recommendation answers not an answer, posted two weeks ago, I brought up apparently conflicting advice on a flag and raised the issue of solutionless answers. It received no moderator input and no "official" advice on what to do with these answers.

  • Per the advice mentioned above, I flagged this link-only software recommendation for deletion today: https://superuser.com/a/737124/364367. The flag was declined with this comment: that's typically the case for software rec questions but nothing actionable by moderators. the post can be easily fixed by any community member.

    This was not a software rec question, but they are off-topic. Does that mean that link-only answers are OK if they are in response to off-topic questions?

    That aside, community members can leave a comment requesting the author to improve the post (if the author is still around). If that doesn't happen, I'm not aware of any mechanism by which <20K rep community members can get a link-only answer into a community review queue or vote to delete it.

So we seem to have come full circle. There used to be a dedicated flag reason for link-only answer (not spam), applicable to any answer, software rec or otherwise. (Edit: This was in the low quality post queue) That disappeared. Forget solutionless software rec answers; even link-only software recommendations are now back in the category of not preferable but acceptable, and it is up to the community to downvote them as the only remedy.

It is difficult for community members to effectively curate the site when the standards are so nebulous and mercurial.

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    Just a historical note: we've never had any consensus on when to use VLQ flags and what to use them for. The topic comes up every now and then. My proposal is (and has always been) to remove the flag altogether because it is confusing and interpreted differently by moderators. "There used to be a dedicated flag reason for link-only answer (not spam), applicable to any answer, software rec or otherwise" -- AFAIK that was never there? Where did you see this? – slhck Apr 1 '15 at 10:58
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    With regard to that specific answer, I don't see what's particularly wrong with it. It could be useful for people looking for an alternative, and the only thing you could to improve it is copypaste a feature list or something. But outright delete it without asking the OP to improve? I don't know. – slhck Apr 1 '15 at 10:59
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    I'd also add that SU, and SE as a whole generally has tended to have a light touch on moderation. Not allowing software recs came as a community decision, and a interpretation of the rules against product recs I'd treat a lq software rec answer just like any other. Downvotes and comments are probably effective community actions here. – Journeyman Geek Apr 1 '15 at 11:13
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    @slhck: Guess I'm totally lost. All of the prior discussion I've seen is that we don't want software lists; that the answer should describe how to solve the problem, not just mention a piece of software. Also, if just mentioning a product is actually an answer to the question, it means the question is off-topic (product request). So if the opposite is true, there is a whole bunch of irrelevant discussion on Meta. Also, I wasn't referring to the VLQ flags, rather link-only answers and software recommendations that are link-only or not much more. – fixer1234 Apr 1 '15 at 11:19
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    @slhck: regarding the link-only flag, until maybe a few months ago, this appeared about half the time near the bottom of the flag reasons list. The wording was something like "link-only answer (not spam)". – fixer1234 Apr 1 '15 at 11:23
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    @JourneymanGeek: You were one of the mods who said the appropriate action was to flag for deletion. Trying to understand the standards sure is a frustrating process. What we would like to see in questions and answers is clear enough, but what to do with ones that aren't seems to change from day to day, if it's defined at all. It's enough to make a person tear their hair out or drive a person to drink. So now we know what is responsible for me being a bald, drunk. :-) – fixer1234 Apr 1 '15 at 11:41
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    @fixer1234 if you're getting bald and drunk from SU.... you need a different outlet. – James Mertz Apr 1 '15 at 13:13
  • @fixer1234 I've heard a few people say that the rules are kept intentionally nebulous and open to interpretation, so that individual situations can be dealt with on a case by case basis if there is a nuance to them that would tip the scales one way or the other. It's extremely frustrating to have to work with a "fudge factor" as a person who prefers hard and fast rules (I'm in that same camp), but unfortunately, that's the reality of SE. Nebulous rules are nebulous. You'll find it's the same way with every other point of rules: topicality, Q/A quality, etc. – allquixotic Apr 1 '15 at 13:33
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    @allquixotic: I agree, but the basic question isn't about disposition of the answers, it's about how to respond to them prior to that; the use of mod flags. Until today, there was no ambiguity about link-only answers: flag for deletion. Software request questions: close as off-topic (but mod flag not required with 3K rep). Solutionless software rec answers: ambiguous guidance, but mod flag implied. As of today, there's nothing wrong with any of it; no mod flags. To flag or not to flag; that is the question. – fixer1234 Apr 1 '15 at 15:36
  • "Until today, there was no ambiguity about link-only answers:" — not in my book. I'd still decline "link-only" flags if it's easy enough to fix the answer yourself. Especially with software recommendation answers, how many other things they have to contain other than just a link also heavily depends on the question. That's where it's not easy to create a rule that fits every situation. – slhck Apr 2 '15 at 13:40
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    @slhck: If the question is not off-topic, the only thing the answer needs to contain is a solution to the question, the question being a problem, not "name a program". Pasting a lot of information about features, etc. doesn't fix the answer, it just turns it into an advertisement. Fixing a link-only answer requires writing an actual answer. Why write an entire answer for someone else when you can just post your own? The fix for a link-only answer is either for the author to write an answer, or move it to a comment as a helpful hint if it is actually useful. – fixer1234 Apr 2 '15 at 17:09
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    But really, with that answer, how would you improve it other than mentioning the feature that allows what the OP wants to do? I totally agree that this answer looks a little effortless, but imagine you're searching for the same problem as the OP has, and you'd learn that there are two alternatives that offer you exactly what you need—how is that not a viable answer to the question? Granted, it's not a stellar answer, but I cannot imagine how it could be made better. And I don't see a reason to delete it, since it may actually be helpful. – slhck Apr 2 '15 at 17:14
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    @slhck: the way to make it better is to explain how to accomplish the result using either tool. Just saying a product can do it is not a solution. If someone writes in with an Excel problem, would an answer be, "Excel is a tool that can do that"? The answer doesn't need to be a tutorial. It can be as simple as listing the menu locations and basic steps, or showing a simple example, or a screenshot that shows the gist of what to do. – fixer1234 Apr 2 '15 at 17:27
  • I understand all that. All I'm saying is that in my opinion it's not strictly required in this case to make it qualify as an answer. My standards definitely have become a little lower though, I must confess. Anyway this is not an authoritative answer. – slhck Apr 2 '15 at 17:36
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You might find these useful:

How do I ask a question that may require recommending software?

How do I recommend software in my answers?

In situations like you describe above, the solutions are not bad in that they do attempt to answer the question. However their quality is dismal. Whenever I com across situations like this I do the following:

  1. Add a comment stating that they should conform to the quailty and suggestions found in the appropriate post above.

  2. (If I have the time) edit the post to match the suggested quality in the above posts.

The reason for doing #2 is that some (maybe even most) users don't know how to really give a suggestion for software without simple doing a link only answer. Showing them by example, I've found to be the best way. Hopefully they see the edit and learn.

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    I agree with everything you've written but it isn't useful for this question. I quote those 2 threads often in comments on Q&A that need improvement. What we would like to see is very clear. What isn't clear is what to do with answers that don't follow those guidelines. I do both of your suggestions; those aren't the question either. The primary issue is the use of mod flags, for which there is conflicting explicit and implied guidance. There are multiple places where the guidance is to flag them for deletion, and others where the guidance is that there is nothing wrong with those answers. – fixer1234 Apr 1 '15 at 15:08
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    In this case I don't flag unless it is blatant spam or not an answer. – James Mertz Apr 1 '15 at 15:46
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    Bingo! For many of these, that's the crux of the question. When is a software rec post "not an answer"? That was the basis for meta.superuser.com/questions/9215/…. Although after today, it seems like software rec posts get extreme latitude in what's an answer, like the VLQ standard, which is the opposite of the posting guidelines you cited. – fixer1234 Apr 1 '15 at 16:26
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"Very low quality", as a concept used to work once upon a time.

Too many misguidedly altruistic people have destroyed its value over time. They disagree with the flag and then take it upon themself to prove the flag thrower and the flag wrong by fixing the problems with the question or answer.

Having had a number of such flags (explode in my face) come back with comments indicating that that I'm completely in error to have flagged the question/answer as such, the flag became dead to me, which is too bad really with as many legitimately low quality questions and answers as appear on a regular basis. Some members of the community appear to be crusaders that have taken it upon themself to fix broken questions/answers, and these crusaders seem (from my perspective) to take it as a personal insult to flag some question/answer as low quality because that's their pet cause.

I don't have that kind of time to waste, so low quality stuff just gets a downvote. I used to point out in comments that the question/answer was low quality, but then the crusaders took offense to that, saying that I should have tried to fix the question/answer instead, so I even abandoned trying to leave comments that identify them as low quality.

To address KronoS answer:

Option 1 doesn't work because the crusaders will crawl out of the woodwork and heckle you for the comment, and then fix the question/answer (or maybe they fix first then heckle). Then, the users don't learn anything because they earn reputation anyway.

Option 2 doesn't work due to lack of time.

If flagging things as low quality still worked, and crusaders didn't ruin it, then users would learn rapidly to post quality or don't post. As-is, this isn't really a lesson that has any teeth to it.

To answer the question, there's only one thing that I can do as far as low quality anything. And that's to downvote. Flags draw crusaders. Comments draw crusaders. And I don't feel like being crusaded on.

  • The "low quality" in the title may not have been the best choice of words. The VLQ "disagreements" were before my time, so I tend to forget that "low quality" carries a special meaning. My question was actually referring to software recommendation answers that are just link-only, or not much more; with anything "more" being nothing related to an actual solution (like naming a few random features that just gives it the added flavor of an advertisement). Software rec link-only answers seem to get special dispensation, and whether or not they should be flagged is not consistent policy. – fixer1234 Apr 15 '15 at 3:26
  • @fixer1234 But, you're not wrong. A link, by itself, is " (very?) low quality". These kinds of answers should be smacked, in the form of downvotes, close votes, flags for VLQ, and the like. All of this, of course will be met with resistance by crusaders (except downvotes, which are still fortunately mostly anonymous). If a person can't create a cogent answer about why [thing x] will successfully do [function y] that the person needs, then a link-only answer needs to die. But, again crusaders will have a problem with that. – killermist Apr 15 '15 at 16:45
  • @fixer1234 If there were some mechanism for crusaders to be identified and have their review votes for or against low-quality questions/answers to only count for 1/4 or 1/8 vote, that would probably (exponentially) help. But, if they go fixing things instead of voting (because they realize their votes are now pointless for low-quality), because that's their new out, the newer users still miss the point, and quality still degrades. I've sadly learned the lesson, stare decisis. Let people vote on the quality of crap. Don't improve crap. – killermist Apr 15 '15 at 17:19

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