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We are having a discussion over on Stack Overflow about whether or not people representing a commercial product can answer their own questions about their own product.

To make it more concrete, just take a look at the discussion I'm referring to: Why Does FDT 5.5 Not Find My Flex SDKs?

The OP refers to this article which seems to ackowledge that he can do so: http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/05/encyclopedia-stack-exchange/

This article states that you can just answer a question of your own (even if you already know the answer to it up front). However, it does not mention anything about commercial products or the people representing it.

Should they be allowed to do this?

As I already mentioned in the discussion on Stack Overflow, I think the OP's Q&A is valid because it probably answers a question the product's users come up with quite often and it makes the information more findable. But it's a thin line: where does a helpful Q&A end and where does shameless self-promotion start? This is of course just my opinion; I'd like to hear yours.

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Did the poster disclose their affiliation? If so (and the product isn't so obscure that nobody else will have a use for the answer), I really don't see a problem with this. –  Jon Ericson May 24 '12 at 15:44
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@Jon Ericson: Only in their profile. And yes, your edit is incredibly minor. You could have separated the words "Stack Overflow" as well ;) –  BoltClock's a Unicorn May 24 '12 at 15:47
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FYI: the discussion that led to the FAQ entry, official policy on disclosure in answers - worth reading so you know the background reasons. Compulsively mentioning your product in answers to questions that aren't about your product is kinda disgusting; mentioning your product in answers to questions about your product is... common sense. All self-answering requires is that it be a good question. –  Shog9 May 24 '12 at 16:12
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Um, discussion on SO? No. Discussion in chat, right? Am I right? –  casperOne May 24 '12 at 16:13
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3 Answers 3

up vote 47 down vote accepted

This is absolutely welcome on Stack Overflow.

I would say that the answer should disclose the affiliation of the poster if only because that affiliation is evidence of the authority of the answer and therefore makes the answer better.

At the point at which these questions start being spam and or advertisements ("How can I find people I went to high school with?" "Try classmates!") then you can shut it down.

This question and answer are so obviously non-promotional that it's practically a case study of how vendors, tool creators, API writers, etc. should be using Stack Overflow.

Please remember the big picture.

This question and answer belongs on Stack Overflow, where the public at large can find it, edit it, improve it, and vote on it. Having this kind of technical information here is so much better than having it buried on a vendor's website in a knowledge base article that rapidly gets out of date and has no possibility of public involvement.

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Are the comments re: disclosure (including mine) warranted, then? –  BoltClock's a Unicorn May 24 '12 at 15:53
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Think of the big picture. Does that post really need to be cluttered up with legalistic discussion of whether or not the post is properly disclosed? Does that make the Internet better? I would argue that the internet is better if the comments are limited to things that are actually relevant to the topic (in fact, after a couple of hours I think it would be appropriate to delete ALL comments on that post) –  Joel Spolsky May 24 '12 at 16:00
    
I'll see to that in due time. Thanks! –  BoltClock's a Unicorn May 24 '12 at 16:21
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please note: "outsourcing your forums or support to Stack Overflow alone is abusive and definitely frowned upon" meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3966/… essentially, vendors have their own "ideas" of what is important, which rarely reflects what their users know is important. (They also tend to believe that their own products are really really really important, not that they're biased or anything.. ) That's why it's better to drive questions from the community as they occur naturally. –  Jeff Atwood May 24 '12 at 21:48
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That said, provided the vendor has some tangible evidence to support the idea that this question gets asked by real users, and they are not using Stack Overflow as their primary method of support, then it is OK. @bolt –  Jeff Atwood May 24 '12 at 21:50
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@JeffAtwood, I still don't see why they shouldn't outsource their support. I can think of quite a few products where I'd prefer the developers hang out on Stack Overflow rather than in some obscure phpBB... –  Benjol May 25 '12 at 5:48
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@benjol because you will attract every "product" that you don't want. "Joe's House of ActiveX Controls" will decide that each of their products deserve 10 self-answered questions each on Stack Overflow. You know, to help the community. It's quite dangerous to have the most biased agent (the vendor) drive these things, instead of the community. –  Jeff Atwood May 25 '12 at 17:11
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I want to do all my future programming with products from Joe's House of ActiveX Controls. –  Pëkka May 25 '12 at 18:47
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It's clearly a support query. I think the rough guideline should be:

  • Take a step back. Would reading this question/answer make you/anyone want to purchase the product?

Promotion is finding a general problem in your question and making an answer that says "Hey, Product B is the way!" Support is "I have product B, how do I do X?" with an answer that tells you how to do X.

Support questions aren't going to influence purchasing decisions; they're for people who already have this product. If the question is already inherently about Product B and there's no promotional mumbo Jumbo in the question.

Promotion:

  • I have a problem, how can I solve it? Why, with Product B of course!
  • I have a problem with Product A, what do? Why, you should totally drop that and use Product B Query!
  • How can I do X in this marvelous Product B, which you can buy at URL.com!

Support:

  • I have Product B. Here's how you make Product B not explode.

Support questions are fine and should be judged like any other question on the site (well written, actually helpful, not too localized). Promotion is against the ToS and should be flagged.

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this assumes the world gives a crap about Product B. Vendors aren't biased or anything. (Not an issue in this case, but your unstated assumption is worth reviewing.) –  Jeff Atwood May 24 '12 at 21:56
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@JeffAtwood if no one cares about Product B to an extreme, it becomes Too Localized, no? –  Ben Brocka May 28 '12 at 18:22
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Per

Is it okay to use Stack Overflow as the support forum for a product or project?

Provided that …

  1. vendor has some tangible evidence to support the idea that this question gets asked by real users, and isn't just them imagineering "important" questions about their "important" product into the world

  2. vendor is not using Stack Overflow as their primary method of support

Then it is OK.

This particular case seems reasonable, but it is somewhat of a slippery slope, so worth thinking about.

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yeah, except when Trello does it... –  Lorem Ipsum May 24 '12 at 22:50
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I think that was already addressed: meta.webapps.stackexchange.com/search?q=trello –  Jeff Atwood May 25 '12 at 17:08
    
I agree with this - if a question really is frequently asked, it'll get asked organically eventually. Having the vendor then answer that organic question totally rocks. –  Pëkka May 25 '12 at 18:54
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