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As Stack Overflow has grown, it has become increasingly clear that we're going to have a significant amount of unsold ad inventory for the forseeable future.

Thus, we'd like to put that space to good use, by featuring useful open-source programming projects in the sidebar ad slot.

(remember, the leaderboards are hidden for any user with >= 200 rep, but not the sidebar)

Current plan: we think we can do this by leveraging meta.

  • There will be a monthly question on meta with a specific tag.
  • Post your favorite / most worthy open source projects as answers to that question.
  • Vote up or down on the answers.
  • The most highly voted answers will be scraped and formatted nicely in the sidebar ad (likely text only, though we might be able to pull logos..)

This way you guys can control what appears in that ad slot, and it can be driven by popularity and interest. The ad engine will periodically poll the RSS for the question and format the top (n) answers by votes into a public service ad for that open source project.

We would likely have a narrow whitelist of known code hosting sites like SourceForge, GitHub, CodePlex, and so on. Only links to projects on those sites would be considered valid and eligible for appearance in the sidebar ad slot.

We figure we can pull RSS for the project page, or worst case, write some Q&D regex template code for each of the ~8 whitelisted code hosting sites to get relevant information for the open source project.

Thoughts? Feelings? Ideas? Palilogy?

this is now implemented at
http://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/open-source-advertising

made public on the blog at
http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/12/free-vote-based-advertising-for-open-source-projects/

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44  
This sort of thing is exactly why SO rocks. –  Jon Skeet Sep 29 '09 at 20:15
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No, Mr Skeet, you and your ilk is why SO rocks...This is why SO rocks like "Early Van Halen with John Bonham on the drums". –  Keng Sep 30 '09 at 18:38
    
This is simply outstanding. I think this marks a significant historical development in Open Source ... and you are watching it unfold. –  dreftymac Feb 18 '10 at 2:13
    
That's one more incredibly good idea! –  Lukas Eder Jan 13 '11 at 19:56
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12 Answers

This is good, but wouldn't it open up more possibilities if we didn't restrict the projects to a short list of pre-approved project sites? Yes, I know this allows the data to be easily pulled from those sites, and that brings me to the meat of my plan: instead of a simple "X is the highest regarded Y and here are some details about it" type thing, we instead task Welbog with writing up a discursive, needlessly opaque review of the product.

I think this solves a few problems in one fell swoop. Specifically, it:

  1. is much more interesting than automated text will ever be,
  2. grants the whole world the opportunity to enjoy Welbog's splendor, and
  3. provides Welbog with an outlet for his superfluous verbiage.

It's pretty much a win-win, as you can easily see.

Now that we've all agreed that this plan must be enacted, let us move on to the logistics. Of course the first issue is compensation. Thanks to the international exchange rate of baked goods, compensating him with donuts is much cheaper than paying him would be. Still, the point is not to spend any money at all, and donuts do not grow on trees (they must be hunted). However, while I know he will work for donuts, I suspect he will also work for fear of the whip. Thus we need volunteers to go to Welbog's house and whip him whenever he slacks off. I have a feeling we will have an overabundance of people willing to perform this task.

Second is the issue of Welbog's ability to review each piece of software. Welbog refuses to use any operating system other than the One True OS (MINIX). In addition, he also refuses to touch a Mac, due to a drunken brawl with Steve Jobs that escalated wildly, ultimately resulting in the formation of the Grand Canyon. But so what? Nobody enjoys Welbog for his well-reasoned, intelligent discourse on topics he knows well. Just give him some screen shots, a rough description of what the program is supposed to do, and tell him whether it parses XML with regex, and let him go to work. Let's not complicate the process, right?

Finally, there is the question of how we maintain a high output of reviews to keep the site fresh and current. This has the simplest solution of the three problems, although it is dependent on slavery being legal in Canada. What's that? It isn't? I suppose there are two alternate solutions then:

  1. capture Welbog in a non-lethal trap and ship him to a country where slavery is legal, or
  2. enlist an SO user willing to take Welbog into his or her home to feed and care for him, much like one would a pet, so that he has more time to devote to these reviews.

In conclusion, I think my proposal is both the most complete and practical of any put forth. For the good of the site -- nay, for the good of the world! -- I implore you all to vote for my plan. If we don't, then the sex change experts have already won.

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I regret that I can only upvote this once –  Jeff Atwood Sep 29 '09 at 21:43
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@Jeff: ... but the UPDATE statement can. –  LeakyCode Sep 29 '09 at 22:32
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Welbog doesn't afraid of anything, including whips! –  XMLbog Sep 30 '09 at 1:02
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Oh [expletive removed - it was most likely a word matching the regular expression f[^a-tv-z]ck ]! I spelled my name wrong in that last comment. You know, this whole limitation on what words I'm not allowed to say is pretty awful. How can I review software if I can't use phrases like "stupid [expletive removed] [expletive removed] [expletive removed]horse crab[expletive removed] eating a [expletive removed]load of [expletive removed] donkey-[expletive removed] [expletive removed] king's royal court!"? It's just not right. I simply won't agree to writing a review without that phrase. –  XMLbog Sep 30 '09 at 1:10
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That said, I hate advertisements. Even if I am allowed to write using the words I want to use without being censored by an authoritarian squad of expired walrus tusks like The Atwood Agglomeration, who, in aggregate, are an assortment of sillywhistles I can't even begin to understand, because seriously, censorship is the worst thing ever; and it can't really be stopped: a simple wordfilter can't stop me from aptly comparing Jeff Atwood's brand of discussion-stifling nonsense to the shaking of a rotten branch at a zebra carcass on the road, as if the mixing of black and white is offensive. –  XMLbog Sep 30 '09 at 1:17
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But this isn't about how horrible it is to have moderators whose nihilistic idea of moderation is to remove all evidence that an argument ever occurred. This is about advertisements and how little I like them. Ever since I first ventured onto the Internet I have had installed an ad filter in my cybernetically-augmented visual cortex that allows me to ignore advertisements, no matter how many naked women there are on them. I would have never noticed that Telerik ad if no one had made a thread about it here. People like my are common. (p.s. no more eradicating arguments. Seriously, it is dumb.) –  XMLbog Sep 30 '09 at 1:23
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"But Welboug," you might say, "that's Calvinism!" I can offer no argument against such a riposte because it has nothing to do with my circuitous soliloquy. What are you even doing talking back at me during my isolated time on stage? Sit back down your chair where you belong and eat your apple sauce while I continue to conquer your mind with my tedious tale. I think I was talking about advertisements before you interrupted me. Sometimes I wonder why people pay so much for something that they probably ignore themselves while they foray online. –  XMLbog Sep 30 '09 at 1:31
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I bet nihilistic marketers brush their tusks at their dead-zebra conference tables, looking at each other and talking about how much they love the latest version of ad blocking software's regular expression functionality because it keeps their annoying competitors' obtrusive products out of their visual cortices (take that, pluralization police!). To them I say, stupid [expletive removed] [expletive removed] [expletive removed]horse crab[expletive removed] eating a [expletive removed]load of [expletive removed] donkey-[expletive removed] [expletive removed] king's royal court! –  XMLbog Sep 30 '09 at 1:34
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Great welbogging pomegranates on a stick! If any more evidence of the inherent superiority of this suggestion was needed, that sad situation has been remedied! –  Shog9 Sep 30 '09 at 2:37
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Before I poo-poo this idea, let me start by saying that Jeff and I have been discussing donating advertising space to Open Source projects for a little while now. I'm a big fan of this and would like to this sort of thing happen. But not through automation.

Automated ads are low quality and simply do not work. The Great and Exalted Google miserably failed on Stack Overflow with AdSense (Podcast #64). The custom-built automated amazon ads (built specifically with our audience in mind) has run into a host of issues. Do we really think automagically scraping and formatting text (maybe logos) will be the exception?

The advertising space on Stack Overflow is very valuable, and quite a many companies recognize this by continuing to advertise on the site. We maintain the high value by disallowing animated, obnoxious, and low quality advertisments. When we lower our quality standards, we devalue the space.

And then there's the fact that you can't just throw advertisments on a site and hope it works. There's a whole process involved to ensure success - from developing a message to designing the banners - and that process requires all sorts of hard work. Blasting low-quality ads will deliver minimal results, and that benefits no one. Worse, it puts in a chink in our Responsible Advertising program.

All that said, here's my counter-proposal.

  • We will commit to donating a certain amount of advertising
  • Project leaders of open source projects will fill out an application that describes
    • How their project benefits the community
    • Why the community is important to their project
    • Their advertising goal: donations, users, developers, etc
    • What will happen if the advertising goal delivers
  • Put up a voting page to let you, the commuunity, decide the winner(s)
  • Work closely with the project leaders to develop a strong, successful campaign
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Regarding high-quality, hand-crafted advertisements: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/23899/… –  Shog9 Sep 29 '09 at 23:19
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Automated ads do not work? Automated online ad units generated $13.8 BILLION in revenue in the US in 2008, and at least double that globally. There is a an automated ad solution that will work for StackOverflow, it just hasn't been discovered yet. That said, there is certainly room for BOTH approaches. A handful of manually crafted OSS ads, and a long tail of community-sourced and automated... right? –  Portman Sep 30 '09 at 0:33
    
It would be nice to have some kind of targeted ad. For example, if someone is looking at a question tagged oracle+python, they would almost certainly be interested in seeing something about code.google.com/p/orapig, which generates Python interfaces for Oracle packages. And it's equally certain that orapig wouldn't be interesting to anybody else, except in an academic way. –  Mark Harrison Sep 30 '09 at 2:02
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@Portman Automated Ad Targeting (i.e. $13.8B market) != Automated Ad Generation (what we're talking about here). Creating ads is an art, and while software can certainly create art... good art (like good ads) need that human touch. For creative development, I'd take a first year art student over 10,000 Blue Gene supercomputers any day. –  Alex Papadimoulis Sep 30 '09 at 3:52
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@Alex, see counter-counter-proposal, below. I think it's a winner. –  Portman Sep 30 '09 at 16:22
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In response to Alex's counter-proposal...

  • We're demanding too much if we expect project leads to fill out an application. The project leaders should focus on the software, which is presumably why they are project leaders.
  • Open-source projects thrive because of the advocacy of their users, not their authors. If I'm particularly passionate about some OSS project, but I'm not an author, I should be allowed to submit it for consideration.
  • The OSS ads should strive to be as free as possible from moderator attention. Alex should focus on paid ads, so that StackOverflow can continue to thrive, grow, and be free.

That said, here is a counter-counter-proposal:

  • Someone from the StackOverflow team creates an official [oss-ads] question called "Please design a 220x250 pixel ad for your favorite open source software."
  • Anyone with Photoshop, Gimp, Paint.NET or Ye Olde Paint Shoppe Pro can try their hand at designing an ad for their favorite project. (Freehand circles are encouraged but not required.)
  • Submit your advertisement as a new answer to the question.
  • Everyone votes and comments on each ad.
  • Once an ad receives a certain number of upvotes, it automatically goes into rotation on the site.

This solution would scale (no attention required from Alex or the StackOverflow team) while allowing for full artistic expression in the ads themselves.

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+1 Excellent, I love it. Picking up an image from the post also is easier than writing parsers for github, sourceforge etc. To the very least, though, the post should also include the link to wherever an ad-clicker is redirected. –  balpha Sep 30 '09 at 17:39
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I appreciate the counter-counter, but if project leaders can't fill out a form or delegate that responsibility, then either they don't take the offer seriously (free ads? who cares) or they're not committed to their project. Even so, as much as I love the meta community, I have a feeling that ads like this (meta.stackexchange.com/questions/23955/adobe-sponsored-tags/…) will get the votes. That can't happen, so we'd have to approve them. And if we're doing that, we may as well upload them too, as that adds a minute to the process and gives us more control. –  Alex Papadimoulis Sep 30 '09 at 17:51
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I think both Portman's and Alex's ideas could coexist. –  Dennis Williamson Sep 30 '09 at 19:32
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An analogy: Microsoft employs both Anders Hejlsberg and Mich Matthews. Anders designed C# and LINQ. Mich makes sure everyone has heard about them. Anders is an engineer; Mich is a marketer. Very different. In the OSS world, project leaders are like Anders... and I'm betting that among the StackOverflow users, there are some Miches who would be better suited to make sure the world knows about the Anders' work. Analogy over. –  Portman Oct 1 '09 at 2:17
    
With this idea, we would definitely need to make sure evil doesn't happen, such as a user putting up a derogatory logo or some other advertising that is not good for an OSS project. - I'm assuming that the voting and moderation functionality would achieve this moderation, but it is something we need to think about if we go the route of 100% user controlled ads. –  Redbeard 0x0A Nov 5 '09 at 15:34
    
Oh, and don't forget about Paint.NET as an image editor too, its OSS and FREE - getpaint.net –  Redbeard 0x0A Nov 5 '09 at 15:35
    
As a Project Leader I would say that this particular role is like a combination of Anders/Mich. Most OSS projects require some marketing from the leader to get adoption until at least the initial groundswell of users exists. Personally I suspect that either the project leader or some sponsor of each project would be happy to fill in some details to get a bit of free advertising - we all want our respective code to be used surely - isn't that the point?! –  Simon Steele Nov 11 '09 at 11:48
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Awesome idea.

We could also leverage the power of tags so that everybody sees an open-source project that they are interested in. Here's how it would work...

  • Anyone could post a question on meta with the tag [oss-ads].
  • Attach other tags to that question, such as [ruby] or [asp.net].
  • Then, if you're in, say, the [ruby] tag on StackOverflow, you would see the most-upvoted projects under the [oss-ads] [ruby] tag from Meta.
  • The question body would have a certain format (name, url, description) so that an ad could be auto-generated from the question.
  • Users could browse the [oss-ads] tag on Meta and upvote projects they like.

This is certainly more complicated than Jeff's proposal, but it allows different audiences to "self-select" for different open-source software advertisements.

online advertisements make people happy

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Bold, lists, big fonts. The only thing this needs to become the perfect answer is a picture of some people looking happily at a computer monitor. –  XMLbog Sep 29 '09 at 19:47
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@Welboug: Uh... thanks? –  Portman Sep 29 '09 at 20:04
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+1 for the pic. –  Tom Hawtin - tackline Sep 29 '09 at 21:24
    
Looks very similar to a photo off maddox.xmission.com (one about Stock Photography) –  alex Dec 21 '09 at 5:47
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Sounds good - and it provides a legimate way for people to advertise OSS through contributions - rather than being spammy.

Of course, when I mention any high performance binary serialization frameworks for .NET (that happen to rhyme with frotohuf-bet) it isn't spammy at all...

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You're referring to your secret Autofluff-Pet framework here? –  mmyers Sep 29 '09 at 20:25
    
My secret is out. –  Marc Gravell Sep 29 '09 at 20:41
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Nice idea. But I really don't see why you would want to exclude self-hosted projects. I, for one, am glad that my project moved aways from sourceforge which was a constant pita.

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The benefit with non-self-hosted projects is that it would be easy to extract information, like the project description and logo, from the project website, since they all would have a standard format. –  Portman Sep 29 '09 at 19:46
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I understand the benefit, but it does exclude a lot of projects. Self hosting is not difficult (in the scheme of things) nowadays. Having said that, you are doing something great for free and I suppose an exclusive version of something good is better than not having the thing at all. –  Jeremy French Oct 2 '09 at 10:29
    
the trouble with self-hosted is that it can (and does) disappear. I'd be much, much happier with OSS projects hosted on SF.net, freshmeat, google code, or Codeplex. –  gbjbaanb Jan 22 '10 at 22:36
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I like the idea of promoting Open Source projects, particularly those that aren't already that well known. I agree with Alex though, that it's probably best that it's not fully automated. Make the people who want to promote their project do some work to make for better ads. Get them to fill in a form, write an x-word description and/or provide an ad image.

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I just heard this idea listening SO #69 and love the concept.

I think some degree of emphasis should be given to raising visibility for lesser known tools. If the stack overflow open source ad (SOOSAD) list is populated with nothing but the Most Active or Most Downloaded projects already indexed on the respective source code hosting sites, then the cool quotient of SOOSADs will be pretty low.

I wonder if you could use stackoverflow questions and answers as source data to find little known tools. For example, if a post has a particular tagged "tool", is heavily upvoted, then scan the post url's, and see if that url is a project page on one of the source hosting sites. That kind of automation might miss the point since the tool may not be why an answer was heavily upvoted.

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How about using Freshmeat as a data source? The data quality may not be as high, but it includes self-hosted projects as well as those on the major code hosting sites.

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Like it. I would think you might also want something to keep that monthly question more visible so it doesn't fall off the main page. Keep it visible so people will contribute to it. Maybe have Community kick that special tag once a night or something so it stays visible. Or a small link to the current month's question at the top of the sidebar maybe.

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Generating Content

Automatically extracting information from the project hosting sites is likely to leave you with extremely low quality information. I've used both SourceForge and now Google Code and decided a long time ago to give up on the project site as the primary home page for the project. Instead I use the real site for users, and the Google Code site for developers and bug reports etc. If you crawled my project, you'd get nothing interesting for users.

I would suggest that either someone involved with each project or a project sponsor suggests their project (as Alex suggests). Use some standard format ad for those projects without a graphical designer on board (most of them) - I sure as heck wouldn't be able to come up with an Ad that I'd want to see plastered all over Stack Overflow but would still love some advertising.

Voting for Ads

I find the idea of votes for the adverts worrying. Surely the most popular open source projects are potentially the ones that are least in need of free advertising? Don't get me wrong, everyone should be eligible for it but the jQuerys and Paint.Nets of this world are likely to edge out any small project every time. Is that right?

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What about including ads to Creative Commons licensed dev podcasts as well?

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I think we have to limit it to projects involving source code... –  Jeff Atwood Dec 6 '09 at 23:21
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