17

The guidelines for expected behavior state:

The community tends to vote down overt self-promotion and flag it as spam. Post good, relevant answers, and if some (but not all) happen to be about your product or website, that’s okay. However, you must disclose your affiliation in your answers.

And the How not to be a spammer guide says:

The community here tends to vote down overt self-promotion and flag it as spam. Post good, relevant answers, and if some (but not all) happen to be about your product or website, that’s okay. However, you must disclose your affiliation in your answers.

There are lots of meta posts discussing formulation and whether or not various specific or types of posts are appropriate or not, but I've failed to find any that make it clear what exactly counts as disclosure. Is a clear mention in my profile enough?

It may well be it depends on whether the original question already mentioned the product, or whether it was asking for any solution to a problem. As Jeff Atwood stated:

The key point is that you're not promoting any specific technology, you are merely answering existing questions that are already about that technology.

Still, I'd like to have this clarified.

Since I only know a single programming language well, and happen to work for a company with economic interest in that language, a very large percentage of my answers will naturally contain a solution in this language (though I occasionally answer using other, even competing, languages too). Adding an explicit mention inside the body of every answer (I probably have close to a thousand relevant posts) would approach a signature level of noise. As Jeff Atwood stated:

In general I would consider this a signature block, which is not necessary. I agree that removing the signature block is the correct thing to do here, since it's ultimately more words on the page that don't necessarily answer the question. Here at Stack Exchange we have an irrational love of signal-to-noise ratio. :)

It might even appear more promotional than leaving it out.

tl;dr

Is a clear mention of my affiliation in my profile enough of a disclosure…

1. when the question is about the particular product?

2. when the question is for a solution to a problem in general?

5
  • 4
    My initial thought is while a statement in your profile is helpful in understanding your perspective on certain topics, I don't think it is enough if your answer is recommending some product/company/website that you have an interest in. A concise parenthetical remark (I work for this company/J is my sister-in-law) near where you are encouraging someone to use/check-out something you are affiliated with is enough for me.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 1 at 14:29
  • 1
    @Adám do you have an example of your nr. 2, a question that asks for a solution to a problem in general? I'm having trouble imagining a question where the asker wouldn't already let you know they're trying to solve some issue using language X or Y. The only think I could think of are CodeGolf questions, but I would say the answers there aren't promoting languages so there's no promotion thus no spam thus no disclosure needed.
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Feb 1 at 14:51
  • @Tinkeringbell Yes, in fact it was exactly such a question that prompted this. Probably also quite common on Software Recommendations. (I intentionally omitted this reference to avoid appearing self-promotional.)
    – Adám
    Feb 1 at 14:55
  • Ah yes, that example makes things much clearer :-), thank you!
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Feb 1 at 15:00
  • 6
    Thank you so much for being such a good sport about this, @Adám. You took the original request to add affiliation on board and then posted a very civil question here. That's simply the best way of dealing with it and is very much appreciated!
    – terdon
    Feb 1 at 16:27
14

Since I only know a single programming language well, and happen to work for a company with economic interest in that language, a very large percentage of my answers will naturally contain a solution in this language

I think the key aspect is: when someone asks "how to do X in language Y", and you tell that person "this is how you can do it", or "you got it wrong here", then your answer has nothing to do with your company having an interest in that language.

In other words: affiliation disclosure is required to make a potential conflict of interest transparent.

Thus the litmus test should be: from the perspective of any reader, does "the reader knows about your affiliation" change anything for the reader regarding the quality of your answer?

Typically, that affiliation matters when your answer contains some sort of "recommendations", as in "feature Y of product X has a clear advantage here, over some other product". Then me, as a reader, I would like to know about your relationship with that product. But when you are just telling me "when using X, just do Z", then that statement is just that: correct or incorrect, and your affiliation doesn't matter to that.

So:

Is a clear mention of my affiliation in my profile enough of a disclosure…

1. when the question is about the particular product?

... and your answer is solely about that, and not going to make implicit or explicit comparisons with other projects: YES.

  1. when the question is for a solution to a problem in general?

... there is much more potential for said "conflict of interest", and thus an explicit statement(**) is a good idea, so NO.

Addendum: it definitely helps that the OP has a very short and precise profile. One click, and you understand the affiliation he is talking about here.


** But then, I Am Not A Lawyer, and also not an officer on the ethics committee

0
13

From your comment:

@Tinkeringbell Yes, in fact it was exactly such a question that prompted this. Probably also quite common on Software Recommendations.

Looking at your profile, the language you use seems to be APL, and the wiki says there are quite a few implementations that are free to use. As such, if you were to answer any question (one about APL or a general one) just saying 'You can do this with a free to use implementation of APL, like this.', it wouldn't require disclosure.

It only becomes a problem when you're saying 'You can do this with my company's tool, which I built using APL': Then you're actually promoting a company product and disclosure in the post itself will give people the information they need to determine any possible bias.

In the example question, you explicitly mention "Dyalog APL's ⎕R ("quad-R") PCRE Replacement operator". This doesn't sound like it's just the APL language, it's a product Dyalog made using this APL language. In this case, it's best to put in disclosure, and putting it in your profile doesn't help as no-one not many people ever visit that.

If the question already mentions the specific product (in this case, Dyalog's APL tools), you might still want to disclose you're the person working on some of these tools! It adds a little authority to your answer. But in that case, it's not really necessary, as you're not promoting a specific product/tool to the user as an alternative way to reach their goal

6
  • 11
    For what it's worth, as a mod on the site where the answer that prompted this discussion was posted, this answer pretty much sums up how I feel as well. Also, just to clarify in case anyone misunderstands: the OP did nothing wrong here. On the contrary: we pointed out the issue, the OP first fixed it and then came here for general guidance.
    – terdon
    Feb 1 at 15:34
  • not many people ever visit that ... do we have real statistics about that? I get plenty of comments that indicate people had a look on my profile.
    – GhostCat
    Feb 2 at 6:54
  • @GhostCat out of how many people that look at your posts? ;-)
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Feb 2 at 7:49
  • Well, I dont trust that "reached 4 million people" anyway ;-)
    – GhostCat
    Feb 2 at 7:53
  • Also FWIW, it was me who reviewed the mentioned answer and recommended the disclosure statement. Again, this was not meant to indicate any wrong behavior, but the formulation (and a link originally pointing behind a registration wall), indicated a specific commercial tool that implied an affiliation, so I recommended via a comment (now deleted) that such an affiliation, if any, is disclosed - just to ensure the post is "beyond doubt of spam". I then checked the answerer's profile and saw that such an affiliation actually exists, which is why I called a moderator for a clarification on ...
    – AdminBee
    Feb 2 at 9:17
  • ... the question raised by the answerer whether the affiliation statement on the profile was sufficient, because I am certainly not in a place to make that call. I completely concur with this answer and again, I think the OP responded to my concern very reasonably and did not do anything wrong.
    – AdminBee
    Feb 2 at 9:18
3

The phrase I use for disclosure is necessary but not sufficient. Affiliation disclosure isn't the most important thing IMO

Personally I have three tests for acceptable disclosure.

Does the answer answer the question?

There's a temptation for some folks to simply 'spam' stock posts with no real relevance for anything remotely looking like a potential fit for their product.

Super User's guidelines for this has the recommendation of "Give any personalized information to the OP regarding how the recommendation solves his/her question."

While generally SE's about the content, not the person my other two tests are... about the person.

Is OP's only reason for being on the site to promote his product?

One finds 'organic' users usually have a range of interests. If every single post is about the same thing - we get a bit suspicious.This is of course, a judgement call.

Disclosure.

As you might have noticed, this is the last point I look at. Disclosure dosen't need to be a postscript though. It can be organic to the post "I'm a developer at yoyodyne, and ..." can be acceptable disclosure.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .