28

I answered a question today while knowing little about the subject, and all I did was Google. True, some googlers are better than others, and perhaps I deserved the 1 upvote I got for such. However, if the OP needed more in depth detail in regards to his question, perhaps commented to my answer, I wouldn't have that practical experience to elaborate.

So, should someone post an answer without having sufficient practical knowledge on the subject?

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    I do this all the time. Go right ahead. – Michael Hampton Feb 14 '14 at 21:23
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    Yep. It's not a bad thing. – ewwhite Feb 14 '14 at 21:24
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    IMO, if you do this as straight cut/paste, it is proper to give credit/citation to the site/author you got it from. If it is you researching the topic to validate what you were already thinking, maybe not. – TheCleaner Feb 14 '14 at 22:00
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    Some people don't know the right terminology or jargon to perform a valid search that returns results useful to their question/problem. Pointing them in the right direction can be very helpful. Include links ideally, and the search terms you used if you think the person doesn't know what to search for. – Zoredache Feb 14 '14 at 22:01
  • @Zoredache good point. From my limited knowledge came the proper search terms, and I've also needed proper search terms from others when asking questions. – MDMoore313 Feb 14 '14 at 22:02
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    I do it, too. I suspect my google-fu is more powerful than many people posting questions, because I have a library degree (no lie, I was poached), so I don't hold it against the OP if I find something and they don't. – Katherine Villyard Feb 15 '14 at 17:15
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    My rep would be crap if I couldn't just fake practical knowledge of a subject by Googling. I can't find the question right now to cite it, but I shamefully recall finding some search results on an obscure vertical market program that I knew nothing about a few years ago, posting it w/ my usual "lemme explain this" tone, and having the OP come back and say "Finally, somebody who knows about xxx posted." I didn't feel so shameful as to mark it "Community Wiki", though... >smile< – Evan Anderson Feb 18 '14 at 0:35
  • @EvanAnderson I must say I do the exact same thing. – MDMoore313 Feb 18 '14 at 19:01
  • If you do feel really bad about it, just use community wiki... – George May 30 '14 at 16:53
35

The aim of the site is to be a replacement for search engines, so good answers are where you find them: there's nothing wrong with an answer that's based on a bit of googling, as long as it does answer the question and it isn't a straight steal of someone else's work (we've seen answers that appear to be someone just cutting and pasting vague results of a search, which isn't so good obviously).

I think this happens more than it might appear. Sometimes I see something here I feel I "ought" to know or want to find out about because it's close to one of my areas of expertise. If I then dig into it to find the answer for my own curiosity then at that point, putting up an answer is just sharing the results of research. That's a good thing.

If someone needs something more in-depth then that's leaving room for another answer that will hopefully get votes too.

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    +1 for If I then dig into it to find the answer for my own curiosity - Yup, I do that occasionally. I see a question that is interesting, or brings up something I hadn't known before and I research it. If I am able to find something that would be useful/relevant for question, then I post it in an answer, or sometimes just a comment if what I found was just some references. – Zoredache Feb 14 '14 at 21:58
  • Cheers to this! – Jason C Feb 15 '14 at 0:15
  • I've never imagined serverfault would replace search engines but it tends to have a very useful effect of concentrating answers, whether they are original or copied by a more skilled searcher, and these are then indexed and the whole question becomes a little more accessible to somebody who doesn't even know how to accurately describe what their problem is. – quadruplebucky Feb 15 '14 at 13:19
  • Adding to that, sometimes, people don't read much and just want to be spoon fed the answer - and want "quick" answers. Sometimes there isn't a quick answer and one should study up to get a full answer. So a post that gives a summary and then a link to further reading for the OP to learn and solve his problem I feel is better than a rote answer which the OP will simply copy/paste on his server and not learn. – ETL Feb 16 '14 at 0:35
  • Yeah, 90% of why I'm here is that spark you get when you see an interesting question.. – NickW Feb 21 '14 at 17:00
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    Ironically 90% of the questions I find on Stack Exchange sites I find via Google. – AStopher Nov 10 '14 at 9:28
  • When I give an answer that boils down to googling, I mention this and the phrase I was searching on so the OP learns how to get such answers themselves rather than ask people every time ("give a man a fish...") - and to subtly shame them if they already know how to do that. E.g.: "According to (page), the 1st in Google on (phrase),...". In fact, this isn't limited to googling: I describe any research involved in working out the answer if I feel the OP is likely to be unfamiliar with relevant techniques. – ivan_pozdeev Nov 9 '16 at 16:23
13

If it answers the question, why not?

Ideally, sure, you'd only answer questions you had practical experience on. Then again, ideally, we wouldn't get questions from people who hadn't even Googled their problem first.

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    Plus, if a more "experienced" person finds some information to answer the question, they could re-word parts in a way that may be more understandable. – Nathan C Feb 14 '14 at 21:30
  • Yup. Answering the question with your Google-Fu does not prevent a more experienced person from coming by and adding a better answer later. – HopelessN00b Feb 14 '14 at 21:42
11

A Google-fu answer is perfectly acceptable if it is correct (and, coming from SO, if it also contains the relevant information instead of just a link). If the poster was able to find it on Google (or if they would have hit Google first) then they would not have asked the question in the first place. Sometimes people don't even know what to search for and by pointing them to a Google result you give them relevant keywords and a starting point that they didn't have before. In any case, they asked because they did not know the answer and either did not know how to find it or came to an SX site first -- a Google-powered answer helps them (and potentially others) and that is the real goal.

As for answering a question when you have no real knowledge of it; I fully support this as long as you can come up with a correct answer. I do this all the time. When I have free time, I go to SO and start researching and providing answers to questions that I did not know the answer to. For me, this is how I learn best. Over the years I've learned an incredible amount by simply finding the answers to unanswered posts on various forums (on some I titled myself "Google Relay Server") - I feel it keeps me from getting stuck in ruts sticking to what I know. At the same time, it has the added feel-good bonus of contributing a little bit of real knowledge to the internet, and for every other person in a bind who finds it as an answer to their problem, it is worth it. I know I always appreciate finding correct answers to my questions.

In my opinion, the true goal of sites like this isn't to show off or to grab "reputation points"; it is to contribute to the internet as a source of information and collection of human knowledge so that others can continue from where we left off and find information without having to go through the pain of re-deriving it for themselves, and I fully support anything that contributes to that, including Google-powered answers.

3

For me it depends on the question. Sometimes it would be fine to do that. If at all possible, I would take the Google answer that I found and test it on my own machine(s), to be absolutely certain that it worked. I don't want to post an answer unless I know that it is actually an answer, right?

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