Stack Overflow is a very important site when it comes to finding information regarding the technical details of certain software products. For questions such as "How do you integrate this?" or "How do you modify that?", you can usually find the information here, directly from people who already faced this problem and solved it.

One of the key factors of success for any kind of software is how easily adaptable it is to the different circumstances of the people who will use it. So, having the answers to those questions in a single place, with the information properly compiled and edited, and a powerful community system to avoid wasting time on useless information is very very important.

I have seen countless software projects fail because of poor documentation that is hardly updated, badly organized, or just covers basic usage and no advanced technical needs.

So my question is this: Is it possible for businesses to create accounts and to answer questions regarding their own products? And is this kind of usage of the site supported by the community vision?

I think business could use this as a HUGE opportunity to grow their documentation (by learning from the questions themselves), improve the user experience and give more credibility to the capabilities of their products. And I think this applies both if your company sells software, or fitness equipment (on the fitness Q/A site)

This could also mean an additional business idea for Stack Overflow, offering its services to companies in order to have "verified profiles" or extra information, but the point of my question is just about the possibility of business accounts and how this fits with the community vision of Stack overflow, and the Terms of Service.

EDIT: I changed the question title to better match what I intend to ask

Just a little bit more information to support my question:

1) Before asking this I made a search on the Stack Overflow user database for corporate accounts on Microsoft, Google, Apple and a few other large companies. Found people who used the words on their nicknames but no corporate accounts appeared.

2) I read the entire FAQ for information on this matter, nothing appears regarding corporate usage other than advertising information, but nothing about making questions or answers with a corporate identity.

3) I also made a google search just in case, but didn't find anything on this matter.

  • 4
    "Is it possible for business to create accounts and to answer questions regarding their own products?"... sure it is - what makes you think it's not? It's actually done all the time, but of course the accounts are owned and operated by individuals. The "verified profiles" thing though, not sure that makes sense. Content should be judged by it's own merits, not by who posted it. – user159834 Dec 23 '12 at 3:08
  • @WesleyMurch My experience with Stack overflow is one of a strong community, people really try their best to answer questions and make this a great site. Would it discourage people from putting that effort if companies appeared here? Are there terms of service that disapprove this kind of corporate accounts? Is this kind of usage of the site, within the vision given by the site creators? That is the kind of questions that I am trying to answer. I know that it is technically possible to create the account, but my question goes beyond that point. Hope I made myself more clear. – Mickle Foretic Dec 23 '12 at 3:13
  • Somewhat related: Will there be mechanics to handle non-personal profiles? – Brad Larson Dec 23 '12 at 4:06

There already are 'corporate accounts' on Stack Overflow (contrary to what jmort253 said). The DevExpress team account is one such example.

We have a few guidelines:

  • Answers should be self contained, and should actually answer the problem. This isn't carte blanche for the business to promote itself. This is an opportunity for a business to provide a programming answer to a programming problem.

  • If there is serial upvoting going on between that account and other accounts, we'd handle it the same way as we would any other time: invalidate the votes, warn/suspend the people involved, and go about our business.

  • They don't get a free pass on 'self promotion'. If they're just link dropping to their products, the answers will be deleted.

All in all, it's worked quite well in some cases so far. In others, the accounts haven't mastered the art of answering programming problems without wanting to link-drop.

We don't separate corporate accounts and individual accounts, nor should we. If a company wants to have an 'official' account they use to answer questions related to their product, that's up to them -- but they're treated like we'd treat any individual user.

  • 2
    Agreed. There's also no technical difference between this type of account, and personal accounts belonging to prolific open source developers that support their creations on SO. You could be a person, a company or an army of mad monkeys - the rules are the same no matter what. – Tim Post Dec 23 '12 at 4:15
  • Maybe I should clarify that these aren't special accounts, despite them being corporate. One member just simply created an account and most likely added multiple logins to it. There's nothing special about that, not at all... – jmort253 Dec 23 '12 at 6:51
  • Is this allowed under the current ToS? It states "Subscriber certifies to Stack Exchange that Subscriber is an individual (i.e., not a corporate entity)" and that services are "solely for Subscriber’s own use, and not for the use or benefit of any third party" – Martin Smith Sep 6 '14 at 13:08
  • How do you know it's corporate account? – Thomas Weller Oct 21 '15 at 19:16

Is it possible for businesses to create accounts and to answer questions regarding their own products? And is this kind of usage of the site supported by the community vision?

There are no business accounts or accounts representing an industry, and quite frankly, this would be a bad idea, even on Stack Overflow. In fact, even social media experts will tell you that the best way to use Twitter or Facebook to represent your brand is to be a living, breathing individual. On Stack Overflow, the most interesting questions are tweeted by real people, not by automated bots or people hiding behind the facade of a corporate entity.

With that said, if you look hard enough, you'll find Google employees with Stack Overflow accounts, answering questions all over the place. They represent themselves as real people, and they indicate in their user profiles that they are Google employees. In fact, the user profile is the appropriate place to advertise, not the Q&A portion of the site.

Now, what kinds of questions are the Googlers answering, you might wonder. Some, like Amber answer questions just for the sake of being helpful, and these questions have nothing to do with Google. Others, like former Googler Nick Johnson, would answer questions primarily about Google App Engine, which was a project he worked on at Google. One thing all these Googlers have in common is this: Their user profiles and accounts are theirs, and they aren't trying to be a company; they're people like you and me.

Additionally, some Google products redirect programming questions to Stack Overflow and use Google Groups only for product support, which is an important distinction:

If your goal is to use Stack Overflow for product support, then you're looking for something else. However, if you're redirecting your users to a place where they can ask real, actual programming questions, and where anybody in the community can answer the question, then Stack Overflow will most likely be a good fit.

For more details, see the FAQ. Hope this helps!

UPDATE: George Stocker pulled an example of a Stack Overflow account that represents a company, but there's nothing special about it. It's simply a regular account that is shared by multiple people, and I still think it's a bad idea. Social media experts suggest that people connect better with other people, other individuals.

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