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A previous question focused on whether link-only answers that contribute something helpful, but not an actual solution, should be converted to a comment. My question here is whether certain kinds of link-only answers would generally be considered an acceptable answer as-is.

  1. Situation: The link is to a good tutorial that answers the question (say a video or extensive pictures that explain something that is difficult to explain without them). Trying to extract the essential information would be impractical and would eliminate the value/benefits of the tutorial, which was the purpose for posting the link.

  2. Situation: The question is too broad ("good answers would be too long for this format"). Someone posts a link-only answer before the question is closed (or the question is never closed), and the link is a treatise on the subject, which is what is required to answer the question; way too long to paste or extract the essential information.

  3. Same situation as above, but the link is simply overkill for an on-topic question.

At some point, the link may break and the answer will be useless. In the meantime, we're sending the reader somewhere else for the actual answer.

I assume that deletion would not be desirable in these cases because helpful information would be lost. So if action is appropriate, it would be moving the link to a comment or downvoting the answer. In this case, downvoting isn't useful; it's not practical to improve the answer so it would just cast doubt on the content.

Two questions:

  • Should anything be done with these kinds of answers, or are they considered acceptable as-is?

  • If action is appropriate, might flagging these (or other link-only posts), result in a declined flag?

The issue with most link-only posts is answer quality, which flags are not supposed to be used for. The previous question explored whether there was an element of "not an answer" (should be a comment, instead), which would have been a basis for a flag.

Based on Random's comment, below, I'll assume that if flagging is appropriate, it should be a custom flag with an explanation. However, is flagging "universally recognized" as the recommended action here, or might the flag being declined depend on which moderator handles the flag and/or other factors?

  • Depends. Are the flags giving reasons or just the "not an answer" flag? – random Apr 5 '15 at 19:24
  • @random: I guess the first question is should I do anything or would those types of link-only answers be considered adequate? Second question, should I flag it to move it to a comment? Are you saying the key there would be to use a custom flag and add an explanation? – fixer1234 Apr 5 '15 at 20:47
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    Voting on this question is pretty ambiguous. For clarification on any downvotes or upvotes, are you expressing that these kinds of link-only answers are acceptable or unacceptable, they should or should not be moved to a comment, they should or should not be flagged, or are you expressing an opinion on the question, itself? – fixer1234 Apr 6 '15 at 6:04
  • some of what you have to concider sometimes is "you cant just steal the content from another site" , you can get a "primer" from thier site, and point back to it . You can clone the same information using your own pictures and text, having learned the information from that site. So it is not always so easy to convert a LinkOnly Another comment, If people always Start at SU, then go to links from SU, then su still has "good" links for that question. A good site, is still a good place to start at. If time and time again even the link to info does not exist, then it is not a place to start. – Psycogeek Apr 6 '15 at 10:31
  • @Psycogeek - Why should a user have to go to another website to get the answer if it takes only a minimal amount of effort to quote the source material and place all relevant information on Superuser itself. Its my opinion that link only answers are beyond useless, if all the relevant information isn't in the answer, I don't find it helpful and vote accordingly. I apply this rule to new and old users alike. – Ramhound Apr 6 '15 at 12:05
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    @Ramhound: I tried to focus this question on just those few cases where it isn't practical to reproduce the essential information here. The value of the answer is maybe more in the sense of the time it saves reading through Google searches to find that gem, which might be obscure. The choice is sort of either have the value of the link or not. Can you share your thoughts specifically on that special case? – fixer1234 Apr 6 '15 at 14:11
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    @fixer1234 - if the relevant information cannot exist on this website then I still maintain the answer isn't helpful to the community. Anyone and his keyboard monkey can do a Google search and find information on another website, so an answer that just links search results ( i.e. link only answers ), isn't that helpful. – Ramhound Apr 6 '15 at 16:44
  • I agree with Ramhound. There's nothing worse than finding someone else that has your problem but then finding that the only answer is a dead link. If the answer inside the link is long, or a video, then the answerer needs to take the time to create a good answer from that information or put it as a comment. – Michael Frank Apr 7 '15 at 21:15
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    There are many times where I have found the solution to a question on a website, but simply have not had the time to write out a full answer. In these cases I comment with the link and try to get back to it when I have more time. – Michael Frank Apr 7 '15 at 21:16
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    I think if the answer is reading the manual that it is unreasonable to expect someone to reproduce the content of the manual in a forum post. Linking to official documentation should be allowed with the note that the answer is already available, thus invalidating the question. Maybe the question should be downvoted after providing a link with a suggestion on how to learn more about the subject. – HackSlash Jun 19 '17 at 17:43

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