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Over the course of the past several months, there have been one or more users who have been spamming about an XML parsing alternative named "VTD-XML". I have occasionally assisted the moderators by pointing these answers out to them, and they have responded by deleting the answers, and the offending user (which hasn't stopped this person from immediately creating another user account and continuing).

Now, there is a user jzhang, who claims to be the actual author of VTD-XML.

In my mind, several of his answers, like his answer to Fastest possible XML handling in Delphi for very large documents looks a great deal like the original spam.

jzhang has asked me why I consider his answer to be spam. I decided to do so in public, in an attempt to get him to engage with this community, assuming he's not another sock puppet of the original spammer.


My reason is simple: he's been answering with one or two lines of text, followed by the exact same link to the exact same site that the spammer was using:

VTD-XML may well be worth a look as it is 1/3~1/5 the memory usage of DOM

http://vtd-xml.sf.net

Now, maybe I'm wrong. Maybe this does not constitute spam. Maybe Mr. Zhang can explain to us why we should not treat these posts as spam.

Let's see.


Somehow, I missed the fact that in the same question, on July 31 2009:

how about vtd-xml

http://vtd-xml.sf.net

This one was from a user named "Jimmy Zhang", which has since been deleted. Should I not be suspicious?

Additionally, as pointed out by Wouter van Nifterick, he's answering a question about Delphi by posting a link to a site that doesn't even mention Delphi!

Throughout the nonsense with the sock puppets, I kept asking for some real engagement from the sock puppet. It all just made VTD-XML look bad that instead of truly answering questions, we just kept getting incessant spam against old XML questions.

Appeal

Mr. Zhang, if you're not just desperately spamming StackOverflow because your product isn't selling, then please answer appropriate questions in a way that will actually help someone use your product to solve their problems.

share|improve this question
    
I think you are on to something... –  Stu Thompson Sep 14 '09 at 22:20
    
How is linking to a source forge page (i.e. an open source project) selling a product? Sure, it's spammy, but you're putting some extra spin on the situation. –  Eric Sep 15 '09 at 15:28
    
I didn't mention delphi, because delphi can call dll and dll can be generated in C... I have hoped that you are more technical than this –  Jimmy zhang Sep 15 '09 at 18:18
    
It's not a SourceForge page. It's the SourceForge page of the product he offers. –  John Saunders Sep 15 '09 at 18:52
    
no, most of our users are using our product as it, it is an open source product... u want to talk to them? –  Jimmy zhang Sep 15 '09 at 20:17
    
If I post a code snippet that I wrote that I think will solve a user's problem, am I also pushing a product? How about if a Microsoft employee suggests a well-known Microsoft tool as a solution to a problem? As far as I can tell, this vtd-xml library is free to use and has the source code available. It seems like more of an annoyance than an evil corporate entity taking advantage of the system as you seem to want to portray it. –  Eric Sep 15 '09 at 20:25
    
bebind every source forge page, there is an open source product... what is the problem? –  Jimmy zhang Sep 15 '09 at 20:48
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Mr Saunders' answer is getting stranger –  Jimmy zhang Sep 15 '09 at 20:50
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i think the bottomline is whether the answers helps a user (one who asks the question) with his problem or not... it is best to let him decide –  Jimmy zhang Sep 15 '09 at 20:52
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@Mr. Zhang, perhaps I'm mistaken. Do you earn money with your product, either directly or indirectly (consulting)? –  John Saunders Sep 15 '09 at 21:58
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5 Answers 5

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The post was not helpful at all.

The question was clearly about Delphi.

  • The word Delphi was in the title
  • The word Delphi was in the question body
  • The question was tagged Delphi and Delphi-2009

The site that is linked to only mentions c, java and c#. You don't find a single mention of Delphi anywhere on the site.

The poster should know; he's a member of the project on sourceforge.

My conclusion: The poster saw an 'xml' tag and decided (without properly reading the question) that it would be a nice place for some promotion. You can safely call that "spam".

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I didn't mention delphi, because delphi can call dll and dll can be generated in C... I have hoped that you are more technical than this – –  Jimmy zhang Sep 15 '09 at 18:18
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@jzhang/unknown: With enough time and effort we can make anything work.. You don't have to be technical to see that there is no explanation or documentation for Delphi users, there are 0 tutorials, 0 dll wrappers and 0 working code to demonstrate it, and 0 success stories of other Delphi users. Saying that Delphi is "supported" is a far stretch. –  Wouter van Nifterick Sep 15 '09 at 23:28
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I think self-promotion is fine as long as it is:

  • on topic and relevant
  • helpful
  • not misrepresented

It should be perfectly fine for the author of a library to write an answer about a solution that may help the original poster. In fact I'm pretty sure I've done this myself. However, misrepresenting the source of the recommendation (through sock puppet accounts or whatever) is uncool and could be considered spam, or at least abuse.

Looking at the VTD-XML site, it appears that "jzhang" is likely to be the actual author of the library. It looks like it's had a lot of work put into it, and may well be useful for certain classes of programming problems. Answers to relevant questions should be encouraged; answers to unrelated questions should be discouraged.

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@Greg: how do you feel about him scanning SO for XML questions and answering old questions with accepted answers with his little one sentence plus URL? –  John Saunders Sep 15 '09 at 0:23
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I would consider that type of answer "not helpful". –  Greg Hewgill Sep 15 '09 at 0:45
    
why isn't helpful? –  Jimmy zhang Sep 15 '09 at 18:16
    
Mr. Zhang, how are you helping people by answering questions that were answered months ago? –  John Saunders Sep 15 '09 at 19:05
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because it is relevant and no one made the suggestion, even the question is asked month ago... I got my anwser voted up... so he thinks it is helpful, you have a problem with that? –  Jimmy zhang Sep 15 '09 at 20:15
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all my questions are relevant... –  Jimmy zhang Sep 15 '09 at 20:16
    
Is it truly relevant six months late? I would not have this complaint if you were answering recent questions which had no accepted answers. –  John Saunders Sep 15 '09 at 21:59
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As long as the topic of the question is in keeping with the link I don't have a problem with someone linking to their own site. Done once in a while and on a topic-appropriate question would not be considered spam or flagged as such by me. Only ever posting the same answer to every question on the topic does seem to be spammy behavior, though, even if the actual post may not be. I'd probably comment first and explain that this type of behavior isn't going to be received very well by the community before marking as spam. Posting a link to your own product/web site as an answer to a question on an unrelated topic is certainly spam and should be immediately flagged.

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Again, as stated in the original question, there was a sequence of sock puppet accounts that were posting almost identical answers. I had no problem with the "real" jzhang appearing, only that he posted answers as empty of content as the obvious sock puppets. –  John Saunders Sep 14 '09 at 22:42
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If a user is engaging in sock-puppetry, he loses the benefit of the doubt, IMO. –  Robert Harvey Sep 14 '09 at 22:45
    
Right. Part of the question here is whether "jzhang" is the same as the sock puppets. So far he hasn't spoken up on his own behalf. –  John Saunders Sep 14 '09 at 22:46
    
I guess I was hoping to move the discussion beyond just this particular user and his behavior and address the issue of when does self-referencing become spam. –  tvanfosson Sep 15 '09 at 0:40
    
it is not empty content, it is a concise answer that gets to the point... jzhang –  Jimmy zhang Sep 15 '09 at 18:58
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Is it disrupting? Then it's spam :D

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It is not disrupting at all, there was no negative votes...there was plenty of up votes... –  Jimmy zhang Sep 15 '09 at 20:30
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Well, the answer, though concise, is to the point because the question is about large documents, which consumes a lot of memory using DOM, VTD-XML is an open source alternative that is far better in this regards, therefore a recommendation is made...

the one who asks the questions voted it up...

this is not "lonelygirl13" ask your banking # or anything, am I right?

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Agreed. The answer was relevant to the question. –  Izzy Sep 14 '09 at 22:34
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@unknown: So, here we go again. Is this Mr. Zhang? I notice it's a new account. Did you mean to name the account "jzhang" to avoid confusion, or did you mean to use "unknown" in order to avoid responsibility? –  John Saunders Sep 14 '09 at 22:44
    
I am jzhang, just not familiar with all the login and user profile change yet... –  Jimmy zhang Sep 14 '09 at 22:46
    
Ok, please email team@stackoverflow.com and ask them for help. If you have an OpenID for your SO account, you should use the same OpenID here. You can then link the two accounts (and get 100 bonus points). –  John Saunders Sep 14 '09 at 22:47
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-1. The answer was NOT helpful. Analogy: somebody asks for a fast mac application with extra emphasis on 'mac', and then somebody posts a link to a windows application that he's affiliated to, without further comments or explanations. –  Wouter van Nifterick Sep 14 '09 at 23:06
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@unknown / jzhang / whatever: this isn't a forum, or someone's "wall" on Facebook. People come here asking questions and looking for solutions to their problems. It doesn't matter how great you think your library is, unless you are willing and able to relate that to the problem described by the person asking the question, you have no business posting links to it in your answer. IMHO, Wouter nailed it: you saw "XML" - or perhaps, "very large XML" - and stopped reading. That's disgraceful. –  Shog9 Sep 15 '09 at 0:18
    
there was one question related to process large XML files, and vtd-xml is a solution that give him a good combination of high perfomrance of low memory usage than his current solution. Can I make a recommendation? –  Jimmy zhang Sep 15 '09 at 18:07
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@unknown: you can make a recommendation if it answers the question. Indeed, the question's author expressed some interest in the library, but didn't see how it could be used with Delphi and so asked (in a comment) if that was possible. You weren't able to effectively answer him, and that should have been a clue right there that you were responding to a question you didn't really have an answer for. –  Shog9 Sep 16 '09 at 22:04
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