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Is it OK to reply to a question with a comments like "I found answers by googling: www.example.com" or "A google search produces rich results"?

I have seen comments like this on a few questions recently, including most recently:

Could data be recovered from cut magnetic stripe card?

Personally, I don't think this is a trivial question and I think it is relevant to a lot of people. We all have debit/credit/access cards with a magnetic stripe that we will need to dispose of at some time, and in a professional setting we may need to define a policy for disposal of old cards.

I have a few issues with this comment:

  1. If you search for the question on Google, the first result is now the question on security.stackechange.com, and the second result is a site that reuses stack exchange data. In fact, if I now google the question "could data be recovered from cut magnetic stripe card" I don't see any useful answers from what I would consider to be a reliable site.
  2. The link provided has one sentence related to reading data from cards that have been cut, and provides no further information other than advanced card readers are available from a company called Card Reader Factory.
  3. The link is to a wordpress blog, which does not seem to be an authoritative answer in a way that a link to e.g. the official Java docs would be.
  4. The comment did not provide the search terms used to find the link on Google.

The Stack Exchange FAQ and Meta Stack Exchange site include some relevant questions and answers that deal with this issue:

  • Just checking: is this when Asker is using correct language but hasn't done research; or is it when Asker doesn't even know the right words to use? (EG: If someone asks "How do I hide data in an image?" it might be okay to politely let them know to search for steganography. But also to let them know what to look out for (avoid tweaking only the LSBs)). – Leopoldo Sparks Dec 2 '15 at 22:36
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From a pragmatic approach, my answer is occasionally "search google for relevant topic X using search terms Y and Z". But when that's my reply I put it in a comment. It's not an answer to their direct question; it's only a way to effectively ask google about finding their specific data. I will only post an answer if I have a specific or authoritative solution to their question.

The problem comes when googling yields the best answer. Often times the querent is just asking for a push in the right direction. It's not up to me to plagiarize the source and paste the data into stack exchange; it's neither productive nor ethical. I still think comments are the way to go with those types of reply.

  • 6
    Just remember that the original querent is not the only consumer of your comment. The whole purpose of all the stack exchange sites is to help the hordes of people who have similar problems, LATER THAN the original querent. These are the people who diligently google their question, click the stack exchange link, and find your ever-so-helpful comment telling them to google their question. – Dawood ibn Kareem Dec 6 '15 at 2:10
  • @DavidWallace, I understand your point. The problem is when it's obvious the querent doesn't know what to search for: "I'm working with steganography, what tools can check my algorithm?" Setting aside the facts that we don't provide product recommendations, and that their question belongs on crypto.se, telling them to search for 'steganography detection' will give them an answer. What someone asking that question really wants is to know the missing search term is 'detection'. – John Deters Dec 7 '15 at 19:16
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There has been a lot of discussion, both in Meta and in the DMZ, regarding questions that lack research. We require that people do at least a little research before asking here. This helps the community in two ways: by not encouraging answers that are simply links to external sources, and it prevents the Answerers from wasting their time submitting an answer that would be rejected because the OP doesn't like the direction of the research the Answerer took. Research, as always, helps to define the scope of the question.

In StackOverflow, and with programming questions, it is possible to have multiple different perspectives with multiple different approaches, so even if the question might have an answer elsewhere, there is still value in that community devising its own answers. But for a factual question asking a yes/no answer (e.g. "can experts recover data from a damaged magstripe?"), there is nothing this community can provide that would be unique or with value added. Yes, there is a machine that appears to do it.

As for some of the points in your question:

  • it has nothing to do with whether or not the topic is trivial, it has to do with raising the quality of the question so that the answers can be of high quality, too
  • be careful of claims that Google searches places the Sec.SE question at the top of the search results, try the search in a fresh browser that is not connected to your Google account because Google learns what sources you value
  • without understanding the full intent and previous research efforts of the OP, it is difficult to craft a comment in response in such a way that encourages the OP to either disclose the research that was done or to prompt the OP to perform some research in order to refine the question

Yes, in some cases, where it is clear the OP has performed zero research effort in an easily searchable topic, my comments are terse ("A Google search produces rich results"). In the question you linked, though, I provide a sample answer in hopes to get a response from the OP in the light of a proposed answer, which resulted in the OP disclosing the full question the OP wanted to ask. In my experience, my approach has had this effect, and ends up getting the OP to raise the quality of the question.

  • This sounds like a solid approach. A "google this" answer has the horrendously annoying capacity to appear as a google search result itself... causing a worthless recursion. – Dave Dec 7 '15 at 22:32
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I've been thinking about this pretty hard and the approach I've always gone with is a simple IF statement:


IF

Google search leads to simple findings with a simple search term

THEN

Post about the search terms used in a comment

ELSE

The results were hard to find, so link to it, and paraphrase an answer with an explanation in your own words(after giving or before giving credit) so that the data stays relevant if the source should ever disappear


Of course if they've done no research as per the guidelines, flag and comment. We want to keep SE a place of questions and answers, not LMGTFY links and sarcasm.

Sometimes though some people do the research and miss something obvious, so be forgiving.

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