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I recently saw a question about a problem (or possible bug) with subsonic on Stack Overflow. At first, I wanted to suggest that the asker post his question to the subsonic support forum.

When searching for the URL of that forum, I noticed that the subsonic project closed its support forums and now advises users to post all their subsonic-related questions on Stack Overflow.

Is this within the intended use cases of Stack Overflow, or is this abuse?

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Check out Joel's comments here: This topic was raised recently and Joel gave a through explanation. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/133522/… –  Alan Klement May 25 '12 at 13:10
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Also look at Trello on stackoverflow: stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/trello –  Alan Klement May 25 '12 at 13:12
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Maybe bump this to faq-proposed status? –  Cole Johnson Sep 10 '13 at 21:43
    
@ColeJohnson Done. –  Undo Sep 10 '13 at 21:47

7 Answers 7

up vote 67 down vote accepted

I think this idea of using Stack Overflow as an official support forum is inside-out : the community has to adopt the project, find it of interest, and talk about it on Stack Overflow.

Pushing to one particular destination from inside the project feels like forcing a fit for the community rather than letting one organically evolve.

One way is as you saw with Subsonic -- where they simply provide a single link to Stack Overflow among other links of places people can go to discuss Subsonic. I think that's an OK nudge and if you want to seed it with one or two questions yourself, that's fine too.

But outsourcing your forums or support to Stack Overflow alone is abusive and definitely frowned upon.

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Should probably modify your last sentence for what was done with Facebook. –  staticx Sep 29 '11 at 17:01
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"But outsourcing your forums or support to Stack Overflow alone is abusive and definitely frowned upon." Unless you have a lot of money like Facebook, right? –  Nicol Bolas Jan 24 '12 at 16:24
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@nicol there's no money in the Facebook arrangement, and it is absolutely true that we would get a ton of Facebook API questions regardless because Facebook is, well, Facebook.. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 24 '12 at 17:46
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Despite it being "Frowned On" it is commonly done. I have seen several examples. But the one that jumps to mind is Microsoft's Pex and Moles (now Fakes). They closed (read-only) their MSDN forum and put a sticky question on it says: Pex forums shifting to stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/pex (social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/pex/thread/…) –  Vaccano Sep 11 '12 at 14:30
    
Hi Jeff, I just wanted to know what are your thoughts re: my comment below: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3966/… –  Ika Jul 3 '13 at 18:59

I've spoken with Kevin Bourrillion of the Google Java Collections and Guava projects. He's recently announced that Stack Overflow should be used as one of the support mechanisms. From his mailing list post:

Where-to-post summary:

  • How do I? -- StackOverflow!
  • I got this error, why? -- StackOverflow!
  • I got this error and I'm sure it's a bug -- file an issue!
  • I have an idea/request -- file an issue!
  • Why do you? -- the mailing list!
  • When will you? -- the mailing list!
  • You suck and I hate you -- contact us privately at me@glennbeck.com!
  • You're awesome -- aw shucks!

That sounds like exactly the right balance to me. Topics requiring "deep" knowledge and discussion are likely to be best on a specialist list - whereas questions which "dabblers" can answer easily would do well on SO.

It's one thing for SO to be a user-to-user forum so that fellow developers can help solve problems, but I don't think it's really appropriate for reporting bugs and making feature requests for technology vendors (whether open source contributors or companies) to reply to.

I think it's fine for SO to be one of the encouraged ways that users help to solve each other's problems, but I wouldn't want it to be the primary support forum for a technology (insofar as reporting bugs, defects, feature requests, etc.).

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ok, the last two bullet points were only meant as a joke... the email address I gave was "me@glennbeck.com" :-) –  Kevin Bourrillion Jan 6 '10 at 21:59
    
@Kevin: Ah - when I read the post the full email address was anti-spammed. Not knowing who Glenn Beck was didn't help, either ;) I'm leaving them in anyway, as it's part of the character of the post... –  Jon Skeet Jan 6 '10 at 22:08
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@Jon, to get a feel for the Glenn Beck sentiment, watch "The Daily Show" (More4 8pm most days in the UK), they have a go at Beck almost every night. –  Rich Seller Jan 6 '10 at 22:35
    
More than a year later, I think this policy of the Guava project is in no small part responsible for there being a wealth of valuable Guava content on the site: stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/… –  Kevin Bourrillion May 7 '11 at 17:33
    
You can see the latest style of how we're pimping SO on our main project page under "How to communicate with us": guava-libraries.googlecode.com -- does anyone still want to try to convince me that this is abusive of SO? –  Kevin Bourrillion May 7 '11 at 17:35
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@Kevin: Glad to hear it's working (although as per mailing list discussions recently, it's sometimes hard to get the word out). I still think the "discussions/feature requests on a mailing list, answerable questions on SO" is a great model. –  Jon Skeet May 7 '11 at 17:38
    
Can we add a new kind of flag to raise when someone files a bug report for some product on SO? –  Chris Gerken Sep 11 '12 at 14:37

I think explicitly saying "SO is our support forums" is a bit weird, but saying "StackOverflow is a good place to asking programming questions, such as those involving SubSonic" (as they are doing) is perfectly valid.

Using it for bug-tracking, or general discussion of SubSonic wouldn't be appropriate - but mainly because such questions aren't appropriate for SO anyway!

Basically I think if it was a valid StackOverflow question, it's irrelevant how the user came to ask post it on the site

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"SO is our technical support forums" seems to mean the same thing as "StackOverflow is a good place to asking programming questions, such as those involving SubSonic"... –  Pacerier May 22 at 22:30

I think directing users to SO is perfectly OK and is completely the intended use of SO. Didn't Google choose SO as its main Q&A platform for Android? How is that different other than the number of users?

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I run several popular open-source projects myself, with their current support forums ranging from none, github issues, and google groups. All of these are failing for one reason or the other, and the community at large is requesting moving to Stackoverflow for tag-based support to solve the issues we're facing.

Perhap's Jeff's distain could be phrased a bit better, as I'm unsure how the following is abusive:

  • questions and answers / support: stackoverflow
  • discussions: google group
  • dev tasks: github issues
  • chat: irc

As this is exactly how stackoverflow is used presently for anything that is open-source or provides a public API. I've got question and need an answer. The only difference, is that the project owners would then endorse such actions. Shopify has jumped onboard and done this and seen great results.

It seems the benefits are quite clear:

  • answers by a huge active community dedicated to helping each other

versus:

  • answers in a closed small community who may not even be around to check

So I really don't understand any destain for this, as it seems great on all fronts...

Update: Klement posted a comment on the question indicating that Joel Spolsky seems to agree with the use case of using stackoverflow as a support channel for projects.

Update 2: Seems Jeff has a more concise opinion about this here:

Provided that …

  • 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

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

Then it is OK.

and after reading all the trello meta complaints, it seems that as long as you make it clear that stackexchange is a community driven and generic, it is okay. If you imply that stackexchange is our dedicated support forum for any type of question, that is bad.

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We will try this on the WordPress Stack Exchange, as it is also a great way to get experts (plugin writers) on our site. We hope that we can keep feature requests and bugs away since all plugins in the official WordPress repository use one shared Trac.

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I would like to add some observations and suggestions on the topic.

SO has a very specific & strong stance regarding astroturfing and self-promotion on SO. For example, posts form specific users that revolve around a specific product/company are ruthlessly deleted by moderators (even when they bring valuable information and where full disclosure is provided).

I am subscribed to several SO Tags and over last year or so I noticed a trend where I am literally spammed by posts related to a specific product/service.

Case in point, iText Software BVBA Corp moved their user community to SO. The company lead (B.L.) is fairly active on SO, but the posts bypass current controls for spam detection. Further iText users are tagging their posts under generic tags such as , , , etc, are providing recommendations that evade all spam filters that SO set-up around astroturfing and self-promotion. It seems to me that SO moderators are spending lots of their time going after little fish while astroturfing & self-promotion on a bigger scale is happening right in front of their eyes.

If some specific actions/measures are not implemented I see a trend where more and more companies\orgs would follow the same pattern resulting in progressively higher-levels of bias & noise on SO.

I don’t have a bullet-proof solution, but I could offer some suggestions. Perhaps all posts that are related to a specific company product/service can’t be tagged with a generic flag. So if something is tagged as can’t be tagged as generic – automatically by SO. Posts that go to generic feed/tag can’t talk about a specific product/service (otherwise they are flagged for deletion) etc. These considerations would also apply to search terms (‘Related’ & ‘Linked’ sections).

What do you think?

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If you feel that a particular user or users are violating the spam policy then flag their posts. If the flags are denied and you feel they shouldn't be then this belongs in its own meta question, not as an answer here, so that it can be discussed. You want to discuss the application of the policy to one or two cases, not what the policy is. –  Servy Jul 3 '13 at 18:48
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I do this regularly, however if you read my post you would realize that this is essentially not possible. We are dealing here with swarms of users / communities. Also I am talking about general trends and am using an example from my domain. You can probably come up with many other examples. –  Ika Jul 3 '13 at 18:56
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So you're asserting that every single site that uses SO for support (when it's on topic) is engaging in spam, and that it's not actually possible for sites to use SO for support without it being spam? If so, then yes, it belongs here. If not, and you're simply saying that some specific set of support communities are engaging in improper behavior then that should be its own question in which the appropriateness of that communities responses can be discussed. –  Servy Jul 3 '13 at 19:24
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Getting closer :). I certainly can’t assert that that every single product on SO is spam… this would probably take a long time to enumerate and prove …. I am just reporting a general trend that I observed. This is not connected with any specific company or product. So if your assumption that everyone on SO posting in reference to a specific product/service is tagging the post with general tags instead of the product specific tag, then I would agree with you that most of it is spam (i.e. I am being fed information that I am not after). –  Ika Jul 3 '13 at 21:25
    
Hmm, can anyone in Stackoverflow please provide the official stance and if there is anything planned to resolve the issue? –  Ika Sep 10 '13 at 21:43
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The official stance is summed up in the "self promotion" section of the help center, Ika. If you want something more detailed / specific, I can provide numerous links to discussions here on meta, but in brief: answering questions about a product you're affiliated with is awesome - recommending your product in answers to questions where they're at best tangentially related starts to get sketchy. BL's participation (from what I've seen) is exemplary - he answers questions asked about iText written by folks using it, which is exactly the point. –  Shog9 Oct 22 '13 at 17:48

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