11

On the question proposed by @juergen d where he asks about XML inspection tool, the only answer (so far) is one answer that doesn't fit 100% of the requirements, but provides good information and may be helpful for another person that is looking for something similar.

The answer itself has good information about the software, that proposes as an answer to the question.

There were a brief discussion in the chat about this subject, but I think we should talk through on this matter, since this may occur with a certain frequency on the SoftRec SE.

13

Robert and Flyk have it right, together. Robert is quite correct in his concerns surrounding spam, guerrilla marketing and the like. However, our worst possibility is also our best when it comes to that, there will be times when people paid to market software outright nail a question with a good, comprehensive and quality answer. Moderating this site is going to be interesting.

The stuff we want to get rid of is typically spotted by noticing a lack of engagement with the question itself, a lack of adherence to our quality guidelines, or both. Acceptable answers on this site will address a bullet list of requirements and constraints defined in the question. Great answers will meet or exceed every single one of them. But what do with the possibility of nothing meeting the question author's expectations? Should we simply leave those questions unanswered?

I tend to think no. If you know of something that meets almost every requirement and clearly state that what you're recommending does everything but something, and sufficiently engage the question, it might just be worth the mention. Now, this isn't to say "Hey my thing kind of does that so I'll put it here" - any time you don't meet the constraints of the question, you need to start your answer with "I don't think such a thing exists yet, but this does most of the job."

The example answer, while obviously written with good intentions has some problems. It doesn't address at least two of the must-have points, and it's clear that the author of the answer wasn't clear on some terminology being used. It appears that some clarification should have taken place prior to the answer being posted. I'm not sure that it comes close enough.

We have to come to terms with the fact that sometimes there will be no feature-complete solution. This is particularly important when it comes to free and open source software, where someone conceivably could write in a missing feature. Note, I said a missing feature, not 'roll your own Excel'.

I found this answer to my question about monitoring my Internet connection to be extremely helpful, in fact, I'm using the solution as prescribed right now. The thought of seeing such a valuable contribution deleted just because it won't run native on Windows 7 makes me very nervous.

  • Or better yet, if it doesn't exist create it. – Braiam Mar 21 '14 at 19:14
12

An answer that meets our quality requirements while not completely satisfying the requirements stated in the question are still answers. I say this for a number of reasons:

  • Sometimes an asker may have been too specific, there may be simply be no software that fully meets their requirements, as stated in the question
  • After some period of time, the asker may decide that they're not fully in need of all of the requirements stated in their question
  • The recommendation that doesn't meet all of the requirements may in fact turn out to be a higher quality piece of software
  • An answer that meets most of the requirements may still be useful for future visitors, even if the person who asked the question is missing some functionality that is key to their decision

The answer should be kept simply because the person who answered the question both made a valid recommendation and met our quality guidelines.

This, of course, is where down votes come in. An acceptable answer is still an acceptable answer even if it is down-voted. A down vote merely means that the answer wasn't useful for the person that chose to down vote it.

  • 2
    Downvotes alone are not going to suffice on this site to mitigate against generic answers that do not fully answer the exact question asked. If these answers are allowed to stand this will devolve into a popularity contest and marketing trolls will win. Answers that don't meet requirements should be treated as Not An Answer. – Caleb Feb 18 '14 at 9:56
  • 2
    If a poster tailors their answer to the specific question being asked and meets our minimum quality requirements then I'm not sure we should be just nuking answers for missing out on a single requirement. Time may tell if I end up being wrong, but in the short term at least we should at least test this particular case. In the instance of blatant advertising/repeatedly posting the same thing/completely missing the requirements - I'm completely with you, delete without a second thought, though. – Flyk Feb 18 '14 at 10:04
6

I don't mean to speak in absolutes, but unless the author is clearly offering a persuasive argument that their software is "close enough" to actually answer the question, we should flag it as

Not an answer

We have to be really, really careful here. Folks become very energized when you start talking about their favorite software. That will likely lead to a lot of "hey, that reminds me to about {this} software, too."

But my bigger concern is when the bad actors start to arrive. If we allow a broad range of "somewhat related answers", this opens door to software vendors and enthusiasts trawling this site, looking for every opportunity to post/advertise their products on every question that has even a modicum of plausible deniability of feigned interest.

Overall, I think we should err towards requiring that answers actually answer to the question… as stated. After all, we ask question authors to be very specific about their problem statement; answers should be just as rigorous.

It has to be so, or this site is going to be a guerrilla marketers' haven.

Hey, you asked about kid's learning tools.
I think you will be interested in our nanny software. It's really great!


  • @user Thank you for the answer, but unfortunately your solution doesn't quite fulfill the specific requirements outlined by the author. While your answer is well-meaning and somewhat related, we have to remain extra vigilant that we don't allow these recommendations to expand outward where folks will be posting "other" software under the premise: "you might also be interested in..."Robert Cartaino♦ Feb 17 at 23:02

<post deleted on Feb 17 at 23:03>

Yes, that's a really obvious example, but it's a realllllly long continuum between blatant astroturfing and "I think people will be interested in <my thing>, too."

  • 3
    If a poster tailors their answer to the specific question being asked and meets our minimum quality requirements then I'm not sure we should be just nuking answers for missing out on a single requirement. Time may tell if I end up being wrong, but in the short term at least we should at least test this particular case. In the instance of blatant advertising/repeatedly posting the same thing/completely missing the requirements - I'm completely with you, delete without a second thought, though. – Flyk Feb 18 '14 at 9:25
  • I think +Robert Cartaino is right, but @Flyk isn't wrong... We could try a "test-drive" like we are doing with "game-rec" questions. – Michel Feb 18 '14 at 11:21
  • So we take a 'kill them with fire' approach to answers that don't fully, precisely answer the question? – Undo Feb 18 '14 at 18:29
  • That can't be a general rule, but must be decided case-based. A questioner might be very specific – even too specific, so a "perfect answer" would be impossible. Though, an answer missing one (or two) less important "requirements" might satisfy the request – especially in cases where a 100% match is impossible. – Izzy Feb 19 '14 at 9:30
  • If the OP ask for must have requirements, and you "skip" them, I think it's not a good answer. but, requirements can be Must have and "really nice to have" also "Not very important" and "optional" – Michel Feb 19 '14 at 12:29
  • @Flyk I wasn't really suggesting we nuke answers for some somewhat minor technicality, but I did want to raise the bar on just how much a the answer should actually answer the question to avoid a lot of "you should also look at..." answers. I hope I clarified my post. – Robert Cartaino Feb 19 '14 at 15:05
  • Robert's points definitely need to be part of how we deal with answers that don't make much of an attempt, but might contain this tiny bit if useful information, such as a link. The mostly link answers you still see around and up-voted on Stack Overflow fall into this category, where people feel that if removed, some travesty is done because that tiny breadcrumb isn't there any more. We can't be even that tolerant with posts that completely miss our quality guidelines, they need to go - or they just become a self-replicating problem. – Tim Post Feb 19 '14 at 15:10
  • @RobertCartaino yeah that's fine, I was worried that we were going to potentially start deleting content that nearly met all of the requirements, on a site where the requirements specified could lead to zero results. We should never delete good content but the discussion for quality needs to be handled separately (see my two posts regarding question and answer quality for where we should be setting the bar at). I am actively flagging, closing, and deleting content that doesn't reach this bar. – Flyk Feb 19 '14 at 15:25

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