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Let's start with an example question on Super User:

I want to insert pictures and words into a video, and the graphic file is in PNG format.

Here's an example answer:

You can easily do that with PNG_superimposer. You may try it for free, fully featured for 15 days and do the job. And it is total easy to use. (superimposer.info)

Now, the user is quite obviously affiliated with the product mentioned. And it's a promotional message, that's for sure. It also doesn't follow the FAQ, which clearly states that any affiliation with a product should be disclosed. However, one could say that the post might be useful – let's not consider the fact that the OP asked for open-source/free software here.

In this particular case @sblair edited the post to:

You can easily do that with PNG_superimposer (which I am affiliated with). You may try it for free, fully-featured for 15 days and do the job.

… which would now be an answer that fits the rules and is probably not worth flagging as spam. Now, I ask myself: Does the benefit of doubt still apply here? Shouldn't such an answer be flagged as spam anyway?


Because, in essence, there are two types of spam:

  • Targeted spam (i.e. semi-"useful" answers that fit the context of the question)
  • Untargeted spam (i.e. not even related to the question or otherwise very fishy stuff)

Note: The meaning of "Spam" is applied very broadly here. The above is not a completely irrelevant post trying to sell Viagra or stuff like that. However, it is still promotional without disclosure.

Here are some arguments that in my opinion apply to this kind of "targeted" spam:

Why flag as spam:

  • The user is advertising a (commercial) product — and I think we have less concerns about open-source freeware advertisement.
  • The user does not mention their affiliation, although it was requested by the FAQ
  • The user is not likely to ever return to the site, thus being able to actually help the OP
  • The user is not likely to ever contribute in any other way than advertising their product
  • The user never had the intention of ever helping somebody for the right reasons (namely, participating here, getting reputation, etc.), but just to promote their software

Why not flag as spam:

  • Somebody might still find the product useful
  • Maybe there is only one of these products out there and it is the solution to the OP's problem

So, what is the community decision here? Flag as spam because there were no good intentions behind the answer, or edit and leave it because it might be helpful?

share|improve this question
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I think the overwhelming consensus here is "flag as spam". Look at this guy who never hid his affiliation and contributed a lot beyond promoting his products and how much flak he drew anyway. –  Pëkka Oct 8 '11 at 9:13
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In this specific case, the tipping point (to spam flag) for me would be the fact that this isn't a valid answer to the question -- the asker specifically requested "open source/free software", and this is neither. –  lunboks Oct 8 '11 at 9:28
    
I didn't even see that, but you're right @lunboks. Still, what if the OP hadn't asked for that … ? –  slhck Oct 8 '11 at 9:37
    
After receiving further spam flags, the answer has been deleted. –  Diago Oct 8 '11 at 15:47
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@slhck - if it didn't specifically request open source/free software I'd still flag it if the user had only ever answered questions with links to the commercial product, (i.e. they only came here to promote) or if I thought it was astroturfing. –  Flexo Oct 9 '11 at 9:07
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I am the guy who posted the PNG_superimposer stuff. Actually I am also the dev. In my humble opinion, I answered the question asked, provided a useful mean for that person to achieve permanently its goal, with no cost. Of course I am new to this forum and maybe lacked fulfilling observations. The question I may ask is: Do I have, as an entrepreneur with no big means, to spend money on ad agencies, or can I spread the word in a free decent manner? Anyway, thanks for registering, hope you enjoy, and feel free to query me with any way I can help. All the best to all. eli. –  eli Oct 18 '11 at 8:05
3  
@eli Think of the principle that we cannot up-vote our own SE posts. Humans are too biased that our own content is good, thus self-votes are worthless, despite whether it's deserved. It's the same for suggesting your own products. The amount of bias is met with an equal amount of skepticism, whether it's the right answer or not. –  tenfour Oct 18 '11 at 8:38

6 Answers 6

From the FAQ on every site:

May I promote products or websites I am affiliated with here?

Be careful, because the community frowns on overt self-promotion and tends to vote it down and flag it as spam. Post good, relevant answers, and if some (but not all) happen to be about your product or website, so be it. However, you must disclose your affiliation in your answers.

The answer in question is relevant (assuming the answerer is telling the truth): the program performs the intended function, and meets the anciliary requirements if “free” means free-as-in-free-beer and the asker wanted a one-time use (which are reasonable assumptions). So the answer is legitimate.

Let's look at your arguments for considering it to be spam:

  • The user is advertising a commercial product: yes, but that in itself doesn't make it spam. Spam carries some measure of irrelevance.
  • The user does not mention their affiliation: few users master the FAQ from day 1. What we usually do is to edit their early posts if they can be made to fit and provide advice in comments.
  • More arguments that boil down to “I've read the answerer's mind and I don't like what I saw”: can I have your mind-reading equipment? And besides I don't judge posts on the poster, I judge them on their intrinsic worth.

Would you want to delete the answer if it was posted by someone obviously not affiliated with the product? I can see where this is not a great answer, being so short, but it does provide a solution to the asker's problem, which makes it non-deletion-worthy. If not, you shouldn't delete the answer just because of facts that are about the poster and not about the answer.

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> edit their early posts … in most of these cases, there are no subsequent posts. I happily edit new user's posts if I see the are genuinely trying to helpful but don't yet understand the site, the formatting, the FAQ, etc. Of course we should act on individual posts, but it's not like you can't see what's going on here (i.e. the whole picture). –  slhck Oct 8 '11 at 10:57
    
Also, the only part where this answer covers the FAQ is that it's somewhat relevant. The FAQ also specifically mentions looking at the user's history. And it talks about good answers. And the fact that not all answers should promote a product. –  slhck Oct 8 '11 at 11:22
    
Also, I think your assumption for "asker wanted a one-time use" can not be justified. In this case for example: Why would the OP ask for a free/open-source software? –  slhck Oct 8 '11 at 13:08
    
Here is my affiliation: I wrote PNG_superimposer. Still what I offered was a full free solution. I also took the opportunity to promote the software. –  eli Oct 18 '11 at 8:32

I suggest that we make a distinction between self-promotion and spam. Spam, as Kate eloquently put it, is "someone shouting "dinette set for sale!" in a crowded movie theatre". Self-promotion, where the author has a product (or, as often gets expressed, one sentence and a link) which solves the problem posed in the question is an entirely different matter. Disclosed self-promotion, where the author has a product that solves the problem, where the author goes to some length to describe how the solution works or other details of implementation (such as sample code to interface with the product), is yet another matter.

  1. We don't want the classic spammers. Flag as spam, downvote into oblivion, just get rid of it.

  2. We don't really want the single-link non-disclosure self-promoters, either. However, they have potential. Flag for mod attention with the text "This is self-promotion", leave a comment, suggest an edit, and/or otherwise work to turn these people into what.

  3. We really want the occasionally self-promoting people who have implemented products and have professional experience. People like Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood, for example - they're well-known in the software world (Coding Horror and Joel On Software existed before Stack Overflow) and can provide great answers. If a Trello answer comes up every once in a while, that's OK by me! On Electrical Engineering, we have guys like Olin Lanthrop and pingswept, who provide great answers to a huge number of question and are often able to provide recommendations based on years of experience. Occasionally this involves a link to their products (such as here and here), but any queasiness that those answers cause (it's approximately nonexistent) is hugely outweighed by their other valuable contributions to the community.

Aim to guide Group 2 people into becoming Group 3 people. Be firm, though - you don't want them to devolve into Group 1 people.

share|improve this answer
    
> Flag for mod attention with the text "This is self-promotion". – this essentially means passing the hot potato. If I know it's blatant self-promotion, I'd probably spam-flag it. > leave a comment, suggest an edit, and/or otherwise work to turn these people into what – my issue here is that I've done it plenty of times, and the users posting it have never returned to the site. Comments like "Please disclose your affiliation" are mostly useless in such a case. You are absolutely right in point 3., but having these people even come back to check your comment is more than I could ask for. –  slhck Oct 8 '11 at 23:23
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@slhck - Right, that's passing the potato to someone who volunteers to do the edits, leave the comments, and make the calls with the authority of the diamond behind their name. I wasn't suggesting this for engaged, interested users, just for the casual readers who notice self-promotion happening and don't know what to do. –  Kevin Vermeer Oct 8 '11 at 23:31
    
With respect to the futility of the comments and edits, I'd say that their motives are off. Either they're plugging their product because their boss asked them to, in which case, yes, it's hopeless, or they're browsing the site from home, and saw an opportunity to help, in which case they're more likely to turn into Group 3 people. It only needs to work occasionally for this to be worthwhile. –  Kevin Vermeer Oct 8 '11 at 23:35
    
To be fair, the movie theatre comment isn't my coining - I can only take credit for remembering it. Back when the term was coined (Green Card Lawyers era, 20+ years ago on usenet) someone wise, probably Spaf, said it. (I did a quick search to find it but alas got only real dinette sets really for sale.) It's a reference to the thing about shouting Fire in a crowded movie theatre not being protected speech. –  Kate Gregory Oct 9 '11 at 1:03
    
As said I provided a free permanent solution while introducing my software. Sorry I am not "plugging their product because their boss asked them to". All the best. –  eli Oct 18 '11 at 8:45

I think it's a judgement call.

In this case when it's one relevant answer to one question I say let it be.

Other cases are obvious, like posting essentially the same answer to multiple questions => flag it as spam.

In other cases, take it up here on meta or use your judgement.

share|improve this answer
    
" when it's one relevant answer to one question I say let it be." This is what I did with PNG_superimposer. The program would have done the job perfectly for a permanent fully fledged result, with no obligation to spend a dime. –  eli Oct 18 '11 at 8:28

I am the guy who posted the PNG_superimposer stuff. Actually I am also the dev. In my humble opinion, I answered the question asked, provided a useful mean for that person to achieve permanently its goal, with no cost. Of course I am new to this forum and maybe lacked fulfilling observations. The question I may ask is: Do I have, as an entrepreneur with no big means, to spend money on ad agencies, or can I spread the word in a free decent manner? Anyway, thanks for registering, hope you enjoy, and feel free to query me with any way I can help. All the best to all. No hard-feelings. eli.

share|improve this answer
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Yes, you can. As long as it's useful. and you are honest and state that you are the developer or otherwise affiliated. This is also what the FAQ says. As long as you keep it to one post, this also doesn't raise too much suspicion. Thanks for your answer here, though! –  slhck Oct 18 '11 at 8:46
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Also, I feel I have to add that your post only served as an example. I could have taken plenty of others too, where I left a comment asking for a follow-up. Please don't take it personally. –  slhck Oct 18 '11 at 8:52
    
Sounds fair. I should have taken better care of the environment rules. In fact you just help me. I learn something. –  eli Oct 18 '11 at 8:58

Spam is intrusive and unrequested. Spam is someone shouting "dinette set for sale!" in a crowded movie theatre. Spam happens over and over again even though you've said you don't want it. (It helps if you've seen the skit that inspired the name.) A person answering a question, even in a self-promoting way, isn't spam. (Especially not once.) Edit it (or ask them to edit it) to reveal the affiliation, downvote it if the answer isn't good (eg asker wants something free, this product costs, or asker wants a one-step process and this is a two step) but save your spam flags for the people who respond to questions about image formats with answers about gucci purses and shoes. If the person is posting the same answer over and over again in response to marginal questions, then consider stronger action. But (having a "get off my lawn" moment here) I think you haven't been exposed to enough real spam if you think a self promoting answer qualifies. Why back in my day ...

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Trust me, I've seen far worse. In the above cases, I won't necessarily flag as spam, but flag as "Other", writing a more detailed message. I've also made the distinction between "targeted" and "untargeted" in my question. –  slhck Oct 8 '11 at 12:54

NO EXCEPTIONS! BURN IT! BURN IT WITH FIRE!

On a more serious note, this spam is not helpful nor nice. It's pretty close to a One-Link-Only answer and is even promoting a commercial product. Additionally as you said, the user is unlikely to even contribute anything again. If a Spammer is useful (yes, I'm looking at my old friend at Super User) you'll know it.

We should not make exceptions to these rules, because where do we draw the line? Of course an answer with a link to a product is useful, and it's still useful if it is posted to every single question about that topic, but the intentions need to be questioned. We are a Q&A community, not the personal and cheap bill/advertisement-board of some company. This user failed to comply with the rules, now we should not fail on drawing the line.

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1 Well thank you for such attention. Maybe your problem is with understanding what you read? I offered a fully fledged free solution for this person to achieve a full permanent solution to his issue. Now if he requires an additional 15 days, that can be as a gentlemen agreement and no money involved. As of the unlikely to contribute again sorry. I am also a 20 years experienced dev, coded for US gov agencies including boeing, navy, USCG, USCE etc.. and also blue chips like IBM etc.. in various domains. So I let you play with your burning fire. –  eli Oct 18 '11 at 8:36
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Who cares how much experience you have or for who you've worked for? I certainly don't. All I see is a new user which didn't read the FAQ and advertised a commercial product and didn't contribute anything else. It's hard to nearly impossible to distinguish between a user who "just starts out like that" and will contribute something useful in time, and one who doesn't. If you want to contribute something beyond advertising your own product, you're very welcome. –  Time Traveling Bobby Oct 18 '11 at 9:05
    
Well I think I see pretty much the "Padded" aspect of your personality. –  eli Oct 18 '11 at 12:01

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