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Using affliate links in answer/question

Update: just found out that the db.tt links are not only used for all new referrals, but also for URLs to public files (for now: only if explicitly shortened by a user). I guess that makes blocking the referrals impossible — unless the risk for link rot in such Dropbox shares is considered too high too. Also, as most answers are about whether or not referral links are acceptable, I am asking to merge the answers with Using affliate links in answer/question.


If Jeff's July 2009 statement is still authoritative:

Personally, I would flag any affiliate links as spam.

Appropriate on your blog, but not on a public forum, IMO.

As far as I know, Dropbox referrals are for extra disk space (for both parties), not for money. So I guess rewriting like the Amazon links makes no sense here. So just like lmgtfy links are banned: can we ban Dropbox referrals? If yes, then things like:

  • www.dropbox.com/referrals/NXXzMDXXXjk (source)
  • www.getdropbox.com/referrals/NXXzMDXXXjk (source)
  • db.tt/NXXzMDXXXjk (source) (Though db.tt is used for al new referrals, it is also used for shortened links to public file. Guess that cannot be blocked then.)

I've also seen one referral to SugerSync, but I guess it is too dangerous to ban all /referral URLs?

  • www.sugarsync.com/referral?rf=bcnxxxxd6wban (source)

(The above referral ids are mangled, but could be real after all. Some use TinyURL links, but you cannot get them all. As for non-hidden referrals, let me quote Shog9: how would you feel if I edited your answer [...] and added my own affiliate link.)

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marked as duplicate by Arjan, Jeff Atwood Jan 28 '11 at 8:35

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

6  
What problem does these give other users? E.g. what problem to you wish to solve by banning them? –  Ian Ringrose Jan 20 '11 at 9:18
1  
@Ian, a few come to mind, apart from enforcing Jeff's quote. For one I wonder if referrals are anonymous. And for Dropbox I think it's just disk size, but I am not sure — who needs to check that? Also on Super User I've seen Dropbox referrals posted as late, duplicate, answers. (Flagging as spam feels quite over the top to me; if the flag threshold is reached, then the penalty is quite severe.) Above all, the most childish reason: I don't like being fooled into clicking URLs that have some side effect, even if it has hidden benefits for me. –  Arjan Jan 20 '11 at 9:26
    
As an aside: non-Dropbox-specific cases have been discussed in Using affliate links in answer/question. This feature request is merely about blocking; I guess discussion about referrals in general should be continued at that other question? –  Arjan Jan 20 '11 at 10:40
    
-1: Why should it matter so long as someone is getting their issue resolved? –  RSolberg Jan 20 '11 at 15:55
    
@Chester, that is a different discussion, right? –  Arjan Jan 20 '11 at 16:55
    
Nope... All part of the same conversation. Just a different opinion that Jeff I guess... –  RSolberg Jan 20 '11 at 17:33
    
Ban this kind of referral to? :) –  Benjol Jan 22 '11 at 0:35
    
I actually think the SE referrals are bad indeed, @Benjol: many users don't even know they are using a referral. And even though I know, I still often copy the wrong link (expecting the "short permalink" to be a nice link, not a link with some special meaning, and then forget to copy the title link instead). And in comments, the short links provide no detail about what question is being linked to at all. (No need to click links when one knows what is linked to.) –  Arjan Jan 22 '11 at 12:20
    
@Arjan, you might be interested in this question then... –  Benjol Jan 22 '11 at 12:39
    
As in my answer, I think this question is not an "exact" duplicate. Yes it discusses a similar topic but I think "affiliate" links (money is involved) and "referral" links (where token rewards are involved) are different, and they should be treated differently. What say you? –  edgerunner Feb 9 '11 at 13:49
    
@edgerunner, I'd say all answers were off-topic with my original [feature-request] about automating the blocking (which I changed into [discussion] after I gave up that request). Possibly because I should have used explicit links rather than starting with "If Jeff's July 2009 statement is still authoritative", and instead of using inline links to refer to old discussions about wether or not such links are acceptable to start with... (That aside, I think both referrals and affiliate links are evil, as you never know if their handling might change in the future.) –  Arjan Feb 9 '11 at 14:04

4 Answers 4

IMHO Dropbox and similar referral links (not affiliate links where money is involved) are a grey area between spam and legitimate referencing. If people can get token rewards like reputation on SO for sharing a useful piece of information (Dropbox itself is good to know about) why shouldn't they get token(ish) rewards from Dropbox as well?

I believe the answer lies in being honest about it. If you are posting such a referral link, just say so openly, so that people going through that link can do it voluntarily. Posting a referral link disguised as a regular link should be considered bad behavior, warned and edited out, and only marked as spam for repeat offenders.

Some examples (check out the URL's on the links)

Bad: A referral URL with no disclosure

You may want to consider using a service like Dropbox to keep your code up to date on both computers.

Good: A clean URL

You may want to consider using a service like Dropbox to keep your code up to date on both computers.

Acceptable: A clearly disclosed referral URL

You may want to consider using a service like Dropbox to keep your code up to date on both computers

PS. I'd be extra happy if you sign up to Dropbox using this link so that we both get 250MB of extra space for introducing you to such a time saver ;)

Edit: To be sure that this policy of openness isn't open to abuse :)
Spam!: A clearly disclosed referral URL in a totally unrelated answer/question

Blocks in Ruby are lambdas that can be assigned to variables and passed around.

PS. I'd be extra happy if you sign up to Dropbox using this link so that I get 250MB of extra space for giving you this nice answer ;)

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3  
+1 for encouraging honesty. One reason I'm against referral links is that they are often obscure so you can't immediately see what you are clicking (in the Amazon case for example). –  ChrisF Jan 20 '11 at 10:35
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As an aside, I often see a 4th form, like: consider using a service like Dropbox to keep your code up to date on both computers (referral link) where there's only a referral link, and the note about the "referral" is not even right next to that. (For Dropbox I guess I agree with the above, if we know for sure how it works. Though if the consensus is that all referrals are equally bad, then an automatic ban still helps, in my opinion. +1 for a nice answer.) –  Arjan Jan 20 '11 at 10:37
    
Is it dishonest to answer someone's question with a referral link? Isn't that what an upvote and downvote are for? –  RSolberg Jan 20 '11 at 15:58
    
+1, I feel that just enforcing the disclosure policy is the best answer. If you aren't comfortable explaining that the link you posted has an affiliate reference, and what you'll make if someone follows it .. there's a good chance that you shouldn't be posting it in the first place. –  Tim Post Jan 20 '11 at 16:23
    
so do area 51 "commit to my proposal" links fall into this grey area? i remember being surprised to see on area 51 that i had been referred to the gaming proposal by someone. –  Kip Jan 21 '11 at 2:33
    
Whew! I dithered for a while as to what to include in this answer a few days ago—I'm glad to see that it's considered acceptable. –  Dori Jan 21 '11 at 4:15
    
Thank you everyone. @Kip: I'd say those kinds of links are good as long as they don't commit you just by clicking. It is okay to send someone to a page where they can read and commit voluntarily, as long as it is relevant to the question/answer. @Dori: You may want to raise the issue on the graphicdesign meta. They could have different opinions. –  edgerunner Jan 21 '11 at 12:58
    
@Chester: It is dishonest to answer with a referral link disguised as a regular link. It is ok to answer with a referral link that openly says it is a referral link. –  edgerunner Jan 21 '11 at 13:02
    
As for acceptable, @Dori: I think the main discussion about referrals is not in this feature request, but in Using affliate links in answer/question. (And edgerunner, note that @Dori was not notified, as only the first @name will get a notification. Notification taken care of by this very comment though.) –  Arjan Jan 21 '11 at 14:59
    
Actually, the Dropbox links do not show anything special, and often directly redirect to some normal link, saving the referral in the session or a cookie, until one actually subscribes. Thinking about it, I guess it might even overwrite any earlier referral you might have clicked on purpose. –  Arjan Jan 21 '11 at 15:01

I hate these just because someone uses them to answer a question, then the link dies, and the answer is now useless. Just had an accepted answer become useless because of this not too long ago.

Its a worthless way to answer a question.

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I personally think that affiliate links of any kind should be allowed only if the person clicking the link has something to gain by clicking the link.

If the only person gaining is the person writing the question, it should not be allowed.

In addition, it is just best practice/nice to actually say... as per Edgerunner's answer.

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A link is a link. Does it really matter if it is an affiliate? So long as it takes someone to a place where their question can be resolved, who cares? Why does it matter?

Now if people are throwing affiliate links for dropbox on a question that's answer is "use jQuery", probably spam... But someone asking about cloud file storage and synchronization between computers, not spam...

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What if they mention Dropbox as they can still earn some free disk space there (and whatever other benefits I don't know about), while they don't get (or already capped) similar benefits for some other product they actually like better? –  Arjan Jan 20 '11 at 18:18
    
Then the person is unethical? This is a stupid conversation, you are bringing up the folks can still post these links because Jeff said he was against it. The whole conversation is simply stupid... –  RSolberg Jan 20 '11 at 19:21

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