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Are we ok with "only link answers" or answers that just point the OP towards a software/package/plugins, etc?

I have seen answers on GIS SE which if were expanded a bit would be nicer answers.
By "expanding" I mean: explaining a bit how to use the tool like giving a mini tutorial or providing parts of codes, reproducible examples, illustrating with pictures/graphs, etc.

The motivation for this question is:

I believe we are missing opportunities to improve our GIS repository content

Should we be encouraging (more) users to expand their answers when they are just links or short pointers to a tool without providing much details about it?

  • I feel compelled to point out that the approaches advocated here are already (and I believe have long been) the established norm on StackOverflow. I see no reason why it shouldn't carry over into this site as well. – jpmc26 Mar 22 '14 at 6:27
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The Help seems to strongly support your case when it says:

Answers that do not fundamentally answer the question may be removed. This includes answers that are:

...

  • barely more than a link to an external site

...

Answers can also be deleted by the community. Moderators can delete any answer, and trusted community members can vote to delete answers scoring -1 or lower (3 votes will result in deletion).

At the moment I waver between downvoting and/or flagging such "answers" as "Not an answer". I usually reserve downvotes for those who have already "got a start" on their reputation because I think to do that, they should already have seen enough Answers to understand the norm expected.

I often (but not always) try to leave a Comment.

If such answers fall firmly within my own area of expertise, I sometimes edit to improve them, which fits with the GIS SE two-minute tour advice:

Our goal is to have the best answers to every question, so if you see questions or answers that can be improved, you can edit them.

  • Thanks. I usually flag only-link answers as "not an answer" and they are mostly considered helpful. What about "use this tool" answers that point to the correct direction but are not very (any) detailed? Do you think we (community) already encourage (by commenting) people to provide more info on them or do you share the feeling we could improve our leading on this? – Andre Silva Mar 9 '14 at 0:14
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    @AndreSilva I interpret "use this tool" answers as being the equivalent of "barely more than a link to an external site". As always, we do some encouraging by commenting, and could always do more, but we are all volunteers. – PolyGeo Mar 9 '14 at 0:51
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There are multiple reasons why answers with just a link are bad:

  1. Firstly the links can go bad. The website might change its structure (ESRI resources, I'm looking at you), or even just shut down.
  2. Even if the page exists, and the software/tool is available from that page, the answer should explain how to solve the issue. If I open up a new software, it might have a steep learning curve, and just the link will not be useful.

But does that mean that every answer should be lengthy? No. Writing a lengthy tutorial with screenshots and diagrams is an labor intensive process, and you can't really expect every answer to be like that. (I don't know how Whuber manages to consistently write such detailed answers; Every time I see one of his answers, I take pause and read it with attention, and learn a great deal)

We should strive towards a middle ground.

Answers should not be just a link. At-least a paragraph or so should be written about why and how that particular link will help the OP. Someone shouldn't be penalized just because they didn't write a long tutorial with images and diagrams.

If someone wishes to write a lengthy answer, then that is good behavior and it will automatically be rewarded with upvotes from the community.

And If you as a reader feel that an answer could be improved, go ahead and leave a comment asking the Author of the Answer to expand it; You could also post a new answer based on the existing answer, adding as much details as you like(Providing due attribution).

  • +1 Could not agree more – PolyGeo Mar 9 '14 at 8:33
  • Tks (+1). Some issues. i) some questions demand short and objective answers. And when they don't (should we encourage them to be expanded?)?; I think you said yes. ii) actually I didn't mention "long answers", but expanding a bit the ones of kind "use tool x, and see website y" (expand to a 'middle ground'); iii) nobody should be "penalized" for not writing "long answers" - yes. iv) it seems that technical edits should be avoided, unless they are over community wiki posts. – Andre Silva Mar 9 '14 at 15:24
  • @AndreSilva: After thinking about it, I agree that too many changes should not be made. Instead of that I'm not suggesting to post a new detailed answer. – Devdatta Tengshe Mar 9 '14 at 15:54

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