At our company, we have a proprietary stack made of a Java framework, a JavaScript framework and an Eclipse plugin. We use this stack internally, and sell it to some clients who wish to use it to develop their own product with our support. The internals of the product are not a secret and we don't mind discussing them publicly. We are currently thinking about using Stack Overflow to ask questions about it. We plan to ask only questions that would without a doubt be good questions if they were about Hibernate, Struts, or whatever...

However, since the product is not available for free, only our company and our current and future clients can be interested in technical questions about the framework and the plugin.

Although it might seem questionable to use a freely available public tool to answer an internal need that would otherwise cost money and time to install and maintain, I can't see anything in the FAQ that prevents us to do so. The only thing that might be considered "borderline" at first thought is that questions could be considered "too localized", but that would be a mistake: even if only a couple of dozens of users could be interested in the questions, they are very likely to stumble on any of the questions at some points, because they use the product and the framework a lot.

However, we don't want to exploit a loophole and abuse Stack Overflow, which we find very useful for all questions about very widely used technologies, so we prefer to be sure.

Q: Is it OK to use Stack Overflow to ask questions about a proprietary framework?

  • 8
    It's not as weird as it sounds. Lots of programming frameworks are proprietary and require user investment. We have zillions of questions about Microsoft's proprietary implementation of the .NET Framework. We have a ton of questions about Microsoft's development tools, which you have to pay (lots of) money for. We have a fair number of questions about control libraries that you have to buy. So questions about your library/framework would be fine, even if your company hasn't reached critical mass yet.
    – Cody Gray
    Aug 26 '13 at 14:35
  • 3
    Just beware that using a free Q+A site is no substitute for product support. You can't count on volunteers to get the job done for you, having your support staff contribute to answer the questions is important. Check this question for an example of how even large companies cannot skip this. Aug 26 '13 at 15:48

Yes. It is entirely appropriate to ask a question that requires the use of a proprietary, non-free product, so long as the question is still a programming, or programming related question.

  • As long as framework's licence does not conflict with SE content licence, I guess?
    – Mołot
    Aug 26 '13 at 14:33
  • 5
    @Mołot In what way? If someone is posting code as an answer, they do indeed need to ensure that they have the right to apply the cc-wiki license to it. I'm assuming that someone writing code on top of your framework still "owns" that code, and would be able to do that. Unless you're posting the source of your framework, the license of the framework shouldn't be an issue here.
    – Servy
    Aug 26 '13 at 14:34
  • I believe there should be some limits to it. If I ask a question in the form "I've written a framework for myself called [[name]] that I don't intend on giving anyone. How do I do [[action]] using [[name]]?", then it's kinda weird. Aug 26 '13 at 14:35
  • 3
    Don't worry about licensing, just ask the question, leave the legal stuff up to us.
    – Tim Post
    Aug 26 '13 at 14:37
  • 2
    @JanDvorak If the details of the framework are well hidden, and very few people have access to it for whatever reason, then perhaps you won't get an answer, but that doesn't mean the question wouldn't be allowed.
    – Servy
    Aug 26 '13 at 14:38
  • @Servy I have worked on a reporting framework with licence explicitly forbidding sharing information obtained from paid support and provided documentation with 3rd parties.
    – Mołot
    Aug 26 '13 at 14:42
  • @Servy this is somewhat a shift in thinking away from the old "too localised" close reason, which actively rejected questions about proprietary frameworks. Isn't it? Aug 26 '13 at 14:43
  • @Mołot It is not SE's responsibility to enforce such agreements. You may get in trouble for posting such information, and if you don't own in then the 3rd party can submit a DCMA takedown notice of that content if they are willing to assert that they own it, you don't, and you don't have the right to provide that information.
    – Servy
    Aug 26 '13 at 14:44
  • @JanDvorak I've never seen questions closed as TL for this reason. There are plenty of languages that have a very small pool of experts, or at least that are active on this site. A TL question is one that would only be of interest to the OP. This is a question that would be of interest to anyone willing to buy and use a given product, which could be anyone.
    – Servy
    Aug 26 '13 at 14:45
  • 1
    That is not what "too localized" was ever meant to be used for, @Jan.
    – Cody Gray
    Aug 26 '13 at 14:51
  • @TimPost: Really? Ask for forgiveness later?
    – user102937
    Aug 26 '13 at 16:56

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