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What are the local conventions for using Stack Overflow to recruit participants for empirical studies?

We are soon beginning a study on how software developers think about trustworthiness, and think Stack Overflow would be a great place to find people. However we don't want to annoy people with spam!

Initially we would like to focus on a small number of developers and do an interview, e.g., via Skype, phone, or email.

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Have you considered just putting a bit of "contact me if you're interested in participating in a study" text in your bio, and then tricking users into reading it by posting vast quantities of high-quality answers? – Shog9 Jan 12 '11 at 23:09
up vote 8 down vote accepted

Thank you for inquiring first. I'm sure you have the best of intentions, but I'm afraid any type of solicitations (whether for volunteers, open source, employment, contributions, etc) would be an inappropriate use of these sites. It would likely be flagged and removed as spam.

Meta and Chat fall under these same rules.

We have, however, introduced academic researchers to selected community members who indicate that they are willing to be interviewed. We would be interested in helping assist any research using the public creative commons data we expose, just contact us. The advertisement option from @Pollyanna is also an option, but indiscriminant solicitation of users for anything (other than answers to on-topic questions) would be considered misuse of these services.

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Meaning that stuff like this would be removed even from chat unilaterally by SO Inc, even if the community wouldn't mind it being there? Although I can totally see your point of view and spam prevention is important and all, I'm not sure whether I'm very fond of that. I used to think that the people hanging around in the chat rooms get to decide what's okay and what isn't – Pëkka Jan 12 '11 at 21:02
Does it for example mean that Meta chat regular @TylerChacha isn't allowed to ask people to look at - and give feedback on - the web app he is developing? (My point of course being that, hell, of course he is allowed!) But by what standards? Because nobody minds. And that, in my eyes, can be the only valid rule for what is or isn't allowed on chat – Pëkka Jan 12 '11 at 22:07
@Pekka: Indiscriminate solicitations are spam an not allowed for a reason. Do you really want to open that window that says, "Sure, go ahead and post your study announcements, your advertisements, your job listings, your Viagara ads... and we will decide then which ones we want and which ones we don't"? Because you're setting policy of "acceptable use". I can't tell you how many times I've heard, "My advertisement is okay to post because it is really cool and everyone wants one of these thinga-ma-bobs." You really don't want to go there. – Robert Cartaino Jan 12 '11 at 22:44
@Pekka: You're being a bit disingenuous with your @TylerChacha example. A regular users asking folks in a development chat room he frequents to look at a web app he is developing is not indiscriminant and not what we're talking about here. – Robert Cartaino Jan 12 '11 at 22:44
@Robert I hear you. Re Viagra ads, you and I both know that is not what I mean to even remotely create the impression of allowing. My point is just two things. 1.) it was always said, as long as I can remember, that chat is the place where some stuff that is taboo on both SO and Meta - like, say, mentioning a Open Source project - would be okay to bring up. That has been the chorus in many, many well upvoted answers in the past few months. That's why I'm astonished and slightly disappointed to see this banned this strictly (in what to me is a surprising turn.) (2. coming up) – Pëkka Jan 12 '11 at 23:18
2.) The spam flagging mechanism on SO works very well. Openly spammy answers are prosecuted with extreme prejudice, and removed within minutes. The judgement on borderline cases (e.g. people pointing to their own products in the context of valid or at least half-way valid answers) is left to the community - some contributions get spam flagged, some don't. I think there is no major problem there, and that's the way I would love to see it for chat as well. – Pëkka Jan 12 '11 at 23:21
@Pekka: The author came here and asked if, as a matter of policy, it is okay to use our services to "recruit participants." It is not. Having said that, I already contacted the author to see how we can help. It was nice of them to ask how best to make this happen. That's the way to do it. – Robert Cartaino Jan 13 '11 at 0:25

I would consider it as spam if it was on the main site, and as off-topic if it was here.

I'm sorry, I'm a researcher myself, but people come to stackoverflow to ask and answer programming questions, not to browse research options; and meta discussions should be only used for discussing the main sites themselves.

However, I don't think it would be any problem it publish it on chat, especially if you create a separate room and just mention that room's existence on some primary chatrooms.

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Thanks for the answer. You think it would be fine to publish it on the main stackoverflow chat? – Andy Fugard Jan 12 '11 at 11:55
@Andy I don't know, I don't frequent that room - but in the rooms that I do frequent I would consider it fine, as long as it isn't too obnoxious. In general, chat is a lot more flexible of an environment. – Oak Jan 12 '11 at 11:57
testing reply – Adam Davis Jan 12 '11 at 16:28
@Andy Fugard : I'm sorry, it would not be appropriate to use chat for solicitations. Please see my answer here:… – Robert Cartaino Jan 12 '11 at 20:57

Your best option is to advertise on the site using the link at the bottom of the site.

If you contact team@stackoverflow directly they may choose to let you run some ads for free - they've been known to do so for open source projects, and other "good causes" and if your study is particularly interesting, notable, and open, then you may get lucky with free advertising.

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If you don't mind the slight risk of getting flamed by people who mistake your project for spam, chat might be a good place as well.

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Chat on the main stackoverflow or meta? Have to build up my reputation for the former. – Andy Fugard Jan 12 '11 at 10:37
Probably more on the main site. Although the people hanging out on Meta chat would probably make an interesting bunch of interview partners, too. Make sure you keep it short, and mention your academic background. – Pëkka Jan 12 '11 at 10:39
It would not be appropriate to use chat for solicitations. Please see my answer here:… – Robert Cartaino Jan 12 '11 at 20:55

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