Is it inappropriate behaviour to post links?

preamble:- This is not related to my 1-year suspension which just expired, I understand the reasons for that, because my comments were really spam (because I posted links to PO threads before they were answered there. Note that I'm also not asking for the reasons for any suspension, but rather asking for some clarification regarding a policy that doesn't seem clear to me.

I am completely sure that this is the precise reason for his/her suspension, because I know from communication with him/her, the precise warnings that Dilaton received and the correspondence that went through. A moderator also tried to get some community support (although he failed to do so) for this decision beforehand by asking people in the hbar for their opinions. Furthermore, another moderator even created a script to delete all mentions of PhysicsOverflow.

Is it not acceptable to post links in comments? Or is it not acceptable to post links to the same site in comments? Would it be OK if I, say posted links to answers on PO, but also to some on Quora, Wikipedia, etc. which SE considers uncontroversial? Would this also result in a suspension?

Also, is there a list/blacklist of such "controversial" sites?

edit after Kyle Kanos's clarifications:- It seems that the policy is that no links to other Q&A sites is allowed. This is a bizarre policy to say the least, but I will take it to be policy, since no moderator has corrected him. So I ask:

• Where is this policy documented? Where can I read the details of the policy? Specifically, I'm interested why comments (often posted by moderators here) like "Cross-posted to PhysicsForums" are allowed, even without the guarantee of any useful additional information being present on the linked site (showing a sharp contrast with the links to PhysicsOverflow threads, which already contain direct answers to the question).
• Has this policy been implemented in the past? For example, if Anton Geraschenko had linked to a post on MathOverflow that answers the OP's question, would he also have faced a suspension?
• What if I leave some other comments, too? Would the links to PO then still be considered spam?

Also, I'd like to clarify, that the issue is absolutely not "advertisements of other Q&A sites" - rather, it's about posting links to direct answers to a particular question asked here. It's not too different from posting links to a wikipedia article that answers the question.

It simply isn't advertising - I know the statistics of how useful the comments are for PO, and it's hardly noticeable. It would be pretty silly of me to post such comments to advertise PO, when it achieves little or nothing for PO (but it helps the OP), don't you think?

• The script you refer to finds comments with physicsoverflow.org in them, but it doesn't delete comments. Such comments have clearly not all been deleted because the script returns 94 rows. Indeed, I see some of them are from the arch-fiend himself :-) – John Rennie Apr 22 '15 at 17:44
• @JohnRennie I know that - what I meant was that the objective of the script was almost certainly to delete the comments (all of mine were deleted, even the clearly useful one). – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Apr 22 '15 at 18:03
• If your aim is a rapprochement I'd be inclined to leave out the tendentious stuff – John Rennie Apr 22 '15 at 18:08
• While I don't want to stir up the hornet's nest by nosediving in here, the PO-PSE divide aside, this is actually not a bad question IMO. While we use Wikipedia all the time here, the moot point is - are we promoting Wikipedia by linking to it? And will that answer change if I happen to be the founder of Wikipedia and I go around posting links to Wikipedia? That's actually a pretty good question in fact, but I'm afraid I may have already answered it. – 299792458 Apr 22 '15 at 19:02
• @JohnRennie I mentioned the script, because it makes the situation a bit clear to me. If the reason is really the policy Kyle Kanos mentions, the script would have been to find all comments that contain links to PO, PF, Quora, MO, and so on. Because it doesn't, I feel that the real reason is the cold attitude towards PO, despite the insistence from a lot of users here that it's "overly generous to call PO a competitor". I'd like these issues to be sorted out, so that PSE and PO have a neutral, if not cordial relationship. – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Apr 23 '15 at 3:54
• @downvoters Could you explain what you find objectionable about the question? – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Apr 23 '15 at 7:59
• [not a downvoter, so not responding to that] I find it strange that you'd respond to Kyle's answer by editing your question, while ignoring the other answers. In particular, there is no reason why his answer would represent the "official stance" of the community any more than the others. – Danu Apr 23 '15 at 11:39
• @Danu I don't consider it to be the "official stance" of the community, I consider it to be the official stance of the moderators, because no moderator has corrected him, although a number of them have been active on meta.physics and have probably seen this thread. The other answers are less conclusive, and less bizarre/extreme, so I find it more necessary to reply to Kyle Kanos. – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Apr 23 '15 at 11:43

The Physics SE is a community, and like all communities it needs everyone to pull together to keep it vibrant. The two most important things we expect of site members are:

1. ask interesting and informed questions

2. provide interesting and informed answers

There are of course other supporting activities like processing the review queues, up and downvoting, flagging and probably others I haven't thought of, but these are background activities not immediately visible to site users. What the users see are the questions and answers.

Most of us agree that link only answers are bad because they run the risk of link rot and they detract from the site's aim of being a repository of searchable information. If I repeatedly posted link only answers I'd expect to be censured for it.

We also agree that providing answers in comments is deprecated, because if you're going to post an answer it should be a properly thought out and written answer that is both interesting and informative. Comments are just for clarification, suggesting corrections and possibly providing background information about questions.

So why is it controversial that providing link only answers in comments is a bad thing? At best it shows you're too idle to write a proper answer and at worst it sucks the lifeblood out of the site, as users wander off to other sites instead of devoting their energies to make the Physics SE a better place.

At the risk of making this personal, ask yourself why you are a member of this site. If you want to ask good questions or provide good answers then you're most welcome, as indeed is anyone else who shows that commitment. If the only activity you plan is to lurk in the background and post links to other Q/A sites as comments to questions, then you are contributing nothing to the site and you are actively hurting it by diverting resource away to other sites. At the risk of using emotive language, that behaviour is parasitic and offensive to everyone who does work hard to make this site a good place.

• It isn't link-only answers, it's comments with links. What you suggest is OK, but I still think that a suspension is a very knee-jerk and harsh measure. It's also somewhat anti-competitive to say that it "sucks the lifeblood out of the site". Let me clarify this - PO is not, nor is meant to be a competitor to PSE. We don't follow SE's "Q&A" model, PO is a platform to support an academic community, that includes an open peer review platform and a discussion forum. There's no reason for PSE to treat PO as a competitor, it's got different goals, it's a wholly different site. Both goals are eq – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Apr 23 '15 at 11:13
• @Dimensio1n0 "Comments are just for clarification, suggesting corrections and possibly providing background information about questions.": what don't you understand about this? – Larry Harson May 2 '15 at 22:40
• @LarryHarson Could you explain how this comment suggests clarification or provides background information about questions? Or how this adds anything to the existing discussion? My point is that it's not practical to implement the rule you cite. Also, the issue is that users shouldn't be – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir May 3 '15 at 8:35
• banned for this reason, given that none of the pre-texts apply to the issue. – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir May 3 '15 at 8:39
• @Dimensio1n0 Rather than flagging Arnold's comment as promotional spam, I thought it would be more helpful getting him to give an answer and then removing the comments afterwards; with my second comment, I've now removed it because it was just arrogant laziness on my part. Also, I don't see any evidence that people are automatically banned for posting links; it's only when it gets to the point that the motive ends up a blatant parasitic drain on the development of physics stack exchange itself, despite the poster being repeatedly warned over this by the very fair moderators here. – Larry Harson May 3 '15 at 20:50
• @LarryHarson 1. Dilaton received no warnings whatsoever as far as I recall. 2. There's no way you can gauge a user's motive (I've already explained mine), and there are no parasitic drains, I've explained a couple of times that this is good for PSE as well. But I guess I could abide by the current policy, even though it isn't really documented anywhere... – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir May 4 '15 at 13:26

Is it not acceptable to post links in comments? Or is it not acceptable to post links to the same site in comments?

Posting links in comments is not banned, nor should it ever be banned. What should be banned is the repeated posting of a link to an alternative physics Q&A site (such as PO, PF, Quora, etc)1. It is the repetitive nature of the act that is considered as spam,

Electronic spamming is the use of electronic messaging systems to send unsolicited messages (spam), especially advertising, as well as sending messages repeatedly on the same site.

The leaving of the comments acts as a source of free advertising2 for the alternative site while (possibly) detracting users from our site. This is a lose-lose situation for SE and should not be allowed.

Would it be OK if I, say posted links to answers on PO, but also to some on Quora, Wikipedia, etc. which SE considers uncontroversial?

Since Wikipedia is an encyclopedia and not a Q&A site, I have no idea why it is being categorized alongside Quora & PO as some sort of viable alternative to a Q&A site. Links to Wiki are uncontroversial simply because it is not a competitor in any sense of the word3.

Other Q&A sites, such as Quora, Physics Overflow & Physics Forums, are, by their very nature, competitors to the SE network. So if your only actions were posting comments that led users to competitor sites, then yes it should be banned.

Would this also result in a suspension?

That is up to the moderators.

1 I feel it necessary to point out that it was I who noticed the fact that Dilaton's sole action for many days was leaving promotional comments for PO (i.e., spamming) and asked a mod in chat about it; the situation died rather quickly in chat with an inconclusive resolution. The suspension that arose from that comment was not my goal at any point in time, despite that claim to the contrary; it even took me about an hour to catch on what he was getting at.
2 AFAIK, our advertising is free anyways, we simply prefer to have a vote on it.
3 A similar argument can be made for arXiv that you & Dilaton somehow view as equivalent to Quora, PO & PF, even though it is simply a hosting platform for scientific publications and not in any way a Q&A site.

• Perhaps, @Dimensio1n0, you would care to explain why you disagree with my answer? It might actually do some good to hash things out, rather than hiding behind the anonymity you relish. – Kyle Kanos Apr 23 '15 at 1:33
• To be honest, I don't understand what you're trying to hint at. Are you saying that links to PO, Quora, or PhysicsForums are not allowed, and could result in a suspension? You keep referring to it as spam, advertising, or promotional material. I don't think useful comments, especially links to direct answers, are spam. I find this position very bizarre, really - at least PO does not ban links to PSE. – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Apr 23 '15 at 2:02
• How is What should be banned is the repeated posting of a link to an alternative physics Q&A site in any way unclear? Repeatedly posting links to the other Q&A sites are spam by definition, as it is unsolicited messages advertising other Q&A sites, how is that unclear or not true? – Kyle Kanos Apr 23 '15 at 2:06
• Thanks for the response - where can I read more about this policy? I was unable to find any post that says that links to other Q&A sites are disallowed. – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Apr 23 '15 at 3:30
• The definition of "unsolicited" is "given or done voluntarily". Isn't all content on Physics.SE "unsolicited", by definition? The messages are simply not advertisements. I can't see why you consider links to useful answers to be advertisements - this is an example of a comment that was deemed as spam: As explained here, the A5 term would correspond to some kind of a "trace anomaly" of the energy-momentum tensor. How is this spam? – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Apr 23 '15 at 3:35
• I feel it is necessary to point out that I am the user New_new_newbie in the linked chat transcript. (That was my earlier display username, which I changed around 1 month back from now.) So, (perhaps from the horse's mouth,) I completely back the claim in footnote 1 of this answer. – 299792458 Apr 23 '15 at 4:33
• Although I understand your point of view, this stance is somewhat draconian to me. Do we need such a hostile attitude or even a specific policy to other Q&A sites? Are they really a threat? – innisfree Apr 23 '15 at 5:47
• @Dimensio1n0 if you ask a question, then an answer is definitely solicited! i.e. answers on a Q&A site are solicited (but adverts etc are not) – innisfree Apr 23 '15 at 5:49
• @innisfree You're right, but the point is that they're not adverts, they're comments linking to direct answers for the questions. You are absolutely right that PO is not, nor meant to be a threat to PSE. As I explained elsewhere recently, the goals of PO are very different from those of PSE. – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Apr 23 '15 at 7:57
• @Dimensio1n0 I was unable to find any post that says that links to other Q&A sites are disallowed. Merely linking is okay, repeated linking is not. – Kyle Kanos Apr 23 '15 at 13:40
• @Dimensio1n0 And the issue that you & Dilaton faced is not the "merely linking" issue, but the repeated linking. You guys did nothing but link to PO; that is definitively spam, and that should be a bannable offense. The bigger question is why do you feel it necessary to even link to it in the first place? Like, what is your goal by doing so? If you can answer that, you can see why it's wrong in the first place. – Kyle Kanos Apr 23 '15 at 13:43
• @Dimensio1n0 As explained here, the A5 term would correspond to some kind of a "trace anomaly" of the energy-momentum tensor. How is this spam? In context of commenting that on multiple posts and not just once, it's spam because you are promoting a site that you have a vested interest in. – Kyle Kanos Apr 23 '15 at 13:47
• @KyleKanos Alright, thanks for the clarifications. I still feel the policy is absolutely bizarre, but I think this is more compliable. However, I'll be quick to say that I have no vested interests in PO - yes, I want PO to succeed, but I also want Quora, the nLab, and so on to succeed. Does this mean I have vested interests in Quora or the nLab (the latter of which I've never participated in)? – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Apr 23 '15 at 15:11
• @Dimensio1n0 as a founding member and moderator (or former moderator?), I cannot believe you'd claim yourself as having no vested interest in PO. That is beyond laughable, to be perfectly honest. – Kyle Kanos Apr 23 '15 at 21:03
• @Dimensio1n0: Little political power? You mean like unilaterally deleting users comments because they dislike the person (a la Dilaton doing to VK)?? Sure. Anyways, as a founder you certainly have an undeniable vested interested (including all definitions of the phrase, not just "mine") in the well being of PO. – Kyle Kanos Apr 24 '15 at 14:23

I certainly don't see anything wrong with links per se or repeatedly posting links to helpful webpages (e.g. wiki). I doubt that there's a blacklist of forbidden links, but you should not post links to offensive/inappropriate material or even irrelevant material.

The aspect of your question regarding links to sites in which you hold a vested interest is partially covered by Jeff Atwood's answer to the mother-meta question, Limits for self-promotion in answers. He answered that:

May I promote products I am affiliated with here?

Because there appeared to be consensus behind this sentiment, it is stated that it became a site policy (though I can't find any more details). This, admittedly, is slightly ambiguous; it leaves open the question of whether a user who predominantly promotes a site in which they hold a vested interest and is here "for the wrong reasons" ought to be stopped. Although this policy is limited to answers, I think a similar policy ought to apply to comments.

I don't know anything about dilaton or much about Physics Overflow - my answer has no subtextual meaning or references.

My feeling is that if a particular comment is an example of self-promotion and of limited help, flag it and it should be deleted. If it's helpful - and even if that user posts other links that aren't helpful - then it's a small but welcome contribution. Of course, full answers on this site are much preferred over links to external websites.

I suppose in rare cases in which a user repeatedly flouts the community guidelines and sentiments re self-promotion, their comments would have to be judged en masse and we would have to apply the ordinary warnings and penalties for dealing with users who persist in breaking rules - I don't think self-promotion needs to be a special case.

• Dear innisfree, with all due respect, you've got the story completely wrong. First of all, PO is not a personal webpage to call anything "self-promotion", but rather a platform to support a high-level academic physics community. The comments contained links to direct answers to the question, which were found on PO. It's not so easy to find such direct answers on other sites, PO has them because it imports questions from PSE, and then the questions get answers from the community there. Is is so bad to post links to useful material, especially when it's exactly what the OP is looking for? – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Apr 23 '15 at 5:16
• I think this answer is actually spot on and the "don't be a spammer" extension to comments is a logical step from answers. Basically, if you post links to a site with which you are affiliated (and you, as a founding member, are quite affiliated), you must disclose that affiliation. And if your only (or a significant portion of) contributions are to link to a site/product with which you are affiliated, you are here for the wrong reasons. – tpg2114 Apr 23 '15 at 5:21
• FWIW, I would be pretty annoyed by a user who just posted comments that were links to other places regardless of their affiliation or the target of the link. I would rather see users put time in creating good answers here than just dropping links to other places in comments. – tpg2114 Apr 23 '15 at 5:25
• @Dimensio1n0 I'm using self-promotion quite liberally - by self-promotion, I mean linking/promoting/advertising anything in which one holds a vested interest – innisfree Apr 23 '15 at 5:29
• @tpg2114 it isn't yet clear to me whether repeatedly leaving links to a helpful webpage on the same website should be i) welcomed as helpful, ii) frowned upon but ignored or iii) sanctioned. – innisfree Apr 23 '15 at 5:31
• > Dear innisfree, with all due respect, you've got the story completely wrong. First of all, PO is not a personal webpage to call anything "self-promotion", but rather a platform to support a high-level academic physics community. You are a founder and active member. Either of these things make excessive promotion of the site count as self-promotion. The same would be true if anyone here started spamming some other site with Physics.SE links. – Manishearth Apr 26 '15 at 5:27

As a general rule, if a comment

• contains a link to information that is directly pertinent to the OP's question, and to any future visitors interested in the post,

I do not think it should be deleted. I do not think that repeated postings of such comments should be cause for concern, with the strong proviso that each and every comment must link to content specifically tailored to the post above it. I do not think that this practice is grounds for a suspension, really. I am troubled by the existence of programmatic ways to hunt for this type of links.

I do not think this is a problem in terms of PO 'stealing' audience from this site as yet. If it does become a 'problem' - if PO does become much better than PSE at providing answers to PSE questions - then it is a sign of success on their part, so more power to them! If it becomes a problem in terms of this site losing audience and experts to a competitor, then it is this site's problem: the problem of becoming a better venue for its content and its community. The links themselves are not it.

On the other hand, you're being disingenuous by pretending that this is the only thing that is happening. A cursory look at Dilaton's comment history shows a bigger picture. For the majority of those posts, the timeline appears to be as follows:

• PSE user Alice posts a question on this site.
• PO user Bob posts a link to the question on the PO import queue meta thread.
• PO moderator Charlie imports the post from PSE to PO.
• PO user Dave posts an answer on PO.
• PO user Ed posts a link to the answer under the question on PSE.

The above is perfectly legal, as Alice's post was licensed under CC-BY-SA and PO complies with the attribution requirements. However, it is a lot harder not to characterize this pattern as antisocial. One thing that makes this hard to evaluate is because it's hard to distinguish whether the pairs (Bob, Dave), (Bob, Ed) and (Charlie, Ed) are the same person, as there is no public record on PO of who actually imported the content; it is also hard to see how many imports were directly initiated by Charlie.

I personally feel it was perfectly OK for PO to kick-start its content trove with imported content from PSE, particularly since a large chunk of it came from the unsuccessful Theoretical Physics site. However, importing PSE content posted after PO really got rolling is different, and I don't find it a welcome addition to the mix.

Let me turn the tables a bit, and tell me how you'd feel about this perfectly legal coda to the above timeline:

• PSE user Frank sees Ed's link and follows it. He sees Dave's answer and thinks "This is brilliant! It's exactly what Alice was looking for! You know what, I'll go back to PSE and turn Ed's link-only-answer-turned-comment into the full thing." He then returns to PSE and adds a CW answer which contains Dave's PO post verbatim, with an addendum inside <sub> tags at the bottom linking Dave's PO profile and Dave's PO post.

In fact, this is something Ed might have done, but didn't do. One could argue that this is what Ed should have done if s/he simply wanted to help Alice and had no other interests at play.

With all of this going on, I don't see how you can expect this site not to see this behaviour as antisocial. You are in effect actively trying to co-opt audience that came specifically to this site, and I do not see why you should expect this site's support for that.

Moreover, the timeline above pokes big holes in the claims that PO and PSE are not competitors, they are simply different communities and that PO is self-sustaining in terms of users and content. If either of them were the case, PO wouldn't still be importing content from PSE. It also leaves statements like

It's not too different from posting links to a Wikipedia article that answers the question.

out in the cold.

This issue is something that I think should really be addressed by PO in terms of what its mission is before you demand a resolution from this side. Is its purpose to aggressively take over from PSE? In that case, please don't fault the PSE community for finding such behaviour antisocial. Is it part of the PO mission to answer interesting questions from PSE? This can easily be done by answering directly in PSE. Is this sort of thing only to provide a home for content that was not well received in PSE? Then limit it to closed and tumbleweed questions, instead of pulling content that's less than a day old.

Having said all of this, I still don't think it's a good idea to remove those links. If there are gray-area cross-posted versions of PSE content on other sites, it is in PSE's interest to keep links to those versions around, instead of pretending that they simply don't exist.

• Thank you, and upvoted, because I agree with all the parts that are relevant to the question. As for imports, the main reason why we currently import is to ensure our users' satisfaction - so that they have most of their Q&A in one place. – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Apr 23 '15 at 15:48
• As for being a competitor, I stand by my claim, because PO's aim is quite simple - to be a platform for high-level, free (both in the sense of "free food" and in the sense of "free speech") and uncensored academic discussion, including an open peer reviewing system complemented by a discussion forum. Importing doesn't harm SE one bit, search engines still will show up the original source of information. – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Apr 23 '15 at 15:51
• If the aim is to 'ensure our users' satisfaction' without regard to the effects on the quality and topicality of the conversation on this site, then honestly I don't see the imports or the comments as constructive at all. And I would indeed like to hear your take on Frank's actions as described - if you're not OK with them, then you should really rethink whether pulling current content from PSE is OK. – Emilio Pisanty Apr 23 '15 at 16:26
• Of course Frank's actions are fine as described, PO content is also licensed under CC-BY-SA, like that of SE (which is to some extent, legally necessary). As I mentioned elsewhere, there are no negative effects on the quality of your site. – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Apr 23 '15 at 16:48
• Is it just me, or do you actually both approve and disapprove of the actions (sole contribution is posting links to external sources) in this answer? – Kyle Kanos Apr 24 '15 at 13:38
• @Kyle I think the problem is the bigger pattern, not the posting of links (and definitely not on the smallish scale it is actually happening). I wish they didn't do it. Given that they are doing it, I really don't think we should be deleting comments that obey the criterion from the first bullet points, especially systematically, or suspending users because of it. – Emilio Pisanty Apr 24 '15 at 13:45
• As I said, I think this is something that needs to be resolved on the side of PO first - they need to come to a more definite stance of what they're doing and why. As I see it, this either leads to a change in behaviour, or the realization that those comments are not in fact constructive for this site (but perhaps Dimensio1n0 can clarify). – Emilio Pisanty Apr 24 '15 at 13:50
• Of course it's constructive for your site as well, Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky are clever people, they have good reasons to adopt a CC-BY-SA policy for all the content here. By linking to PSE under each import, we generate quite a bit of SEO for you, and more user satisfaction, as well as more content, for us. – Abhimanyu Pallavi Sudhir Apr 24 '15 at 15:27