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Related discussions:


The listed related discussions show that answers should contain more than a link to the software and a general description. I understand that's an important requirement to assure that answers are high quality.

However, I think it should also be possible for people to respond* to a question without writing an answer that meets these quality standards. For example, this would be the case when someone knows of software that might fit the requirements of the question, but doesn't have real experience with the software (and thus can't write a high quality answer).

One view would be that these responses provide very few information. Another view would be that these responses can still be helpful, as the mentioned software might be of help.

Ideally these responses could be turned in to high quality answers, either by someone already using the software, or the user that asked the question, if he/she decided to try the software.

Something to consider might be that some users might mainly be posting minimal responses, without posting actual high quality answers to the website.

The questions to discuss here would be:

  • Do we want to allow responses* that only link to software?
  • How should these responses be given (as comments to the question, or answers)?
  • How should we encourage people to turn these responses into high quality answers?
  • Do we want to discourage people from mainly posting minimal responses? If so, how?

*Responses do not have to be actual answers per se. However, I'm not sure what they actually should be.


Here's a situation I consider to be an example for this:

Question: Web application that creates RSS feeds for any website

I'm looking for a web application that tracks changes on websites and provide them as RSS feeds. The detection of site / site-part structure can be semi-automatic, but should not be too time-consuming.

My removed answer:

Take a look at kimono. Their 1-minute video shows how you can create a feed from any website in a few clicks. They offer a free package; paid packages start at $15/month. Unfortunately I haven't tried their service yet, but from what I've seen (the video mainly) it seems really amazing.

My answer was removed because it doesn't contain enough information. I understand that and I agree with that. However, I believe the link to software could be of help, so in some way removing it was a loss.

  • 1
    The value we offer above google is Personal Experience. – Lyndon White Feb 25 '14 at 3:21
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I'm the one that deleted your answer. Here's a screenshot of it for those that can't see it anymore:

enter image description here

There are two things wrong with it, which I'll explain here:

First, it's link-only.

We can't allow link-only answers here. We simply can't. Think about it: If we do, how are we going to identify spam? Spam here (the promotional kind, not the nonsense kind) is going to look like an answer with a link and maybe a paragraph of text.

My fellow mods and I will delete answers like this to avoid the site degenerating into a spam haven.

Second, we really want recommendations from people that have used the software - that's another measure to keep out spam and keep answer quality high. In general, it's best not to answer if you don't have first hand experience with a product.

I don't want to be the person who always links to meta and says, "go read that", but I do think that What is required for an answer to be high quality? is a pretty good read and explains much of what I've been saying better than I can say it.

If you have any questions, leave a comment. I'm glad to help!

  • 1
    Don't you think that (as long as the site doesn't have tons of users) much software (both good and bad) will be missed by not allowing people to somehow respond with a link only? I absolutely see your point, but I also think that links may add value. If an OP (do we call them that on SE?) decides to try a program someone linked to, he/she could then leave a high quality answer if the program suited their needs. And of course someone else who has experience with the program could replace the answer by a higher quality one. – Jonathan Feb 22 '14 at 15:18
  • By the way, I do want to emphasize that this discussion is not about my removed answer, but about the underlying issue I see. My answer was a good example of this (but no more than that). I'm fine with it being removed, as it's simply the current policy. – Jonathan Feb 22 '14 at 15:22
  • 4
    @Jonathan Accepting a link as "meh, a little help is better than nothing at all" isn't really how Stack Exchange works. Stack Exchange works by setting an example under the premise that people learn from what they see, and if a link-only answer becomes the excepted norm, we can expect more of the same. We do try to set a higher standard here in hopes others will follow up in kind. Our content IS how we define how the site works. See my answer – Robert Cartaino Feb 22 '14 at 16:05
  • Don't forget to mention Link Rot – user2813274 Aug 23 '14 at 19:47
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Only in the broadest sense does a link actually "answer" the question. A link is really just a way to tell folks where to go find the information elsewhere. That's not really what we do here.

Stack Exchange is not a search engine or a list of links. The purpose of this site is to build a reference work of great solutions to software requests. The only reason to have this site in the first place is if we are answering questions in a way that adds value to the Internet, and to this community specifically.

A link does not do that.

So what's the harm if it helps the author?

To the average person finding this site through search, even a minimal answer makes the problem seem "solved." There seems to be little purpose in answering it again. So while you've sent users off to find that information elsewhere, this site is left with a stub that doesn't actually add value to the Internet at all.

Ideally, the voting should take care of this. Down-voting pushes these answers out of the way to highlight proper answers; and it sends a message that we still need something better. Certainly do not award and recognize these answers with your up-vote. I would leave a thoughtful comment letting the new user know how they can improve their post. Even better, post better (up-voted) answers of your own!

4

No.

An answer here is not just a piece of software. An answer here is a solution to the problem described in the question.

As it says in our FAQ about answers:

An answer needs to be tailored to the question. Answers that consist solely of a product name or link and generic information copied from the product description or other promotional material may be summarily deleted.

Good questions describe a task and list requirements. Good answers:

  • explain how to accomplish the task using the recommended product;
  • show that the recommended product meets the requirement.

In another thread, I've proposed a policy on low-quality answers — we need a little more time to define the limit of what we'll delete outright, but a link-only answer is clearly below the threshold.

An answer that only consists of a link, or a link plus some generic description of the product, adds nothing over a web search. If you aren't providing any added value, please don't answer.

In addition to enforcing minimum quality, this policy helps us contain spam by upping the bar of effort for spammers.


Addressing your specific points:

Do we want to allow responses that only link to software?

No, see above.

How should these responses be given (as comments to the question, or answers)?

These responses are not useful since they add no value over a web search. So they don't need to be given at all.

How should we encourage people to turn these responses into high quality answers?

When I delete an answer, I leave a comment pointing to our quality guidelines.

Do we want to discourage people from mainly posting minimal responses? If so, how?

Yes. I try to shove our quality guidelines at people's faces. If you find other places where they should be mentioned, please let us know.


Regarding your removed answer:

Take a look at <product>. Their 1-minute video shows how you can <generic task>. They offer a free package; paid packages start at $15/month. Unfortunately I haven't tried their service yet, but from what I've seen (the video mainly) it seems really amazing.

If you take out the “I haven't tried their service yet” bit, this is basic spammer copy. With that bit, you're only saying that your recommendation is less to be trusted. How does it help?

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  • Personally I think responses linking to software can still be useful. Especially since the website doesn't have tons of active users, this might be the only say to point people to certain software (as it's possible that there's no one else who knows the software).

    For example, I recently found that "kimono" service via Twitter and instantly thought about it when reading the question. I haven't tried it yet and I'm not going to spend much time trying software I don't use myself to help people here. However, the software might still be useful for the problem in the question, so I believe there should be some way to inform people of that.

    Ideally, as the site grows bigger, these kind of recommendations would no longer be necessary, as more people (having experience with more software) will be posting answers. At that time I think these responses should be discouraged (or forbidden).

  • I don't know much about the inner working of the Stack Exchange network, but it seems like the only way to add something would be via a comment on the question or by posting an actual answer. Both seem acceptable to me and I do not have a preference for one.

    I have been thinking about how answers could be used to facilitate for this kind of recommendations. One thing that came up would be to add some kind of banner like this:

    This post only contains a link to some software. If you know this software or if you have tried it after reading this post, please help by adding a high quality answer and flagging this answer for removal. Link only answers may removed [after a week?].

    This could then be added to minimal answers (preferably directly by the user answering the question). Answers with this banner should then stay visible for a while (a week?), giving other users (including the OP) time to replace the answer by a high quality answer.

  • Included in previous point.

  • In my opinion, people should be posting high quality answers most of the time. Only every now and then they should post a minimal link-only response (if they really don't have experience with a program, but do think that it might be helpful). This could be added to the policy, so this can be pointed out to people only posting links.

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