This user (jowierun, also on superuser and a few places besides) is finding old questions related to document conversion and adding advertising for a document conversion product. Is this kind of promotion spam? Should they make their affiliation explicit? Should the 70-odd comments be deleted?

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    That is spam and will (should) be taken care of spam flags. – Josh K Jun 11 '10 at 15:07
  • Good catch! --- – Pekka Jun 11 '10 at 15:10
  • Can you post specific examples? Going through SO posts, I'm having a hard time finding them. – Gnome Jun 11 '10 at 16:36
  • Have at it: google.com/… stackoverflow.com/questions/2729118/… – Tobu Jun 11 '10 at 17:17
  • @Tobu: What's spammy about that one, 2809362? For a pretty vague and open-ended question, it looks like a decent answer; I'm upvoting it. – Gnome Jun 11 '10 at 17:42
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    @Gnome It says “hi my friends didn't like that software, last I know they were looking at this better thing”. What it doesn't say is: I sell this, that one is my competitor, and the friends are actually clients. – Tobu Jun 11 '10 at 21:58
  • @Tobu: He doesn't actually say "friends", which seems to make the difference for me here: omission vs misrepresentation. However, you have omitted that he said "they" are using two different products now, which are not by the same company ("XML Publisher" is apparently an Oracle product). – Gnome Jun 11 '10 at 22:55
  • @Gnome Failure to provide relevant information is misrepresentation. Clients are people you know, and a product you sell is a product you use, but omitting the first half doesn't convey an accurate meaning. – Tobu Jun 11 '10 at 23:20
  • @Tobu: Does he work for Oracle too (doesn't appear to be the case), or is his mention of that product just an inconvenient fact? Is your omission of that also a misrepresentation, then? If you actually read the answer, he says they are "looking into"; they may just be potential clients. In that case, "one site I know of" seems a perfectly reasonable way to characterize them. – Gnome Jun 12 '10 at 0:18

This is a bit of a weird one actually. I've gone through the last 10 or so posts of his and the thing is, even though he keeps plugging the same products, he is actually answering the questions.

The answers all seem to be relevant and I haven't noticed any blatant copy/pasting. And the products he keeps mentioning are all free or have free versions. I agree that it feels very spammy, but should we start flagging answers en masse that might actually be useful?

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    There was such case earlier: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/46793/…. Even though it was on topic, and answering the question, reviving every old question for that is in my opinion wrong. – Gnoupi Jun 11 '10 at 15:31
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    Maybe invite him here to clarify? – Pekka Jun 11 '10 at 15:31
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    @Gnoupi: I remember that, and I think it was somewhat different. That user was providing no context for his answers - he was splashing copypasta everywhere. If you read this particular user's answers carefully, you'll see that they are all written specifically to answer the question (not just "use this product", but explaining why and how). It's definitely suspicious, but I'm not ready to call it spam yet. – Aarobot Jun 11 '10 at 15:33
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    @Down : Invited. – Gnoupi Jun 11 '10 at 15:35
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    (P.S. I'm not specifically saying that we should definitely allow this - just that we should carefully consider the facts before flagging him into oblivion.) – Aarobot Jun 11 '10 at 15:37
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    His answers are relevant; but since he answers old questions, they are not helpful to the OP. The motivation might be 1. to get searchers to see the name of his product, which doesn't otherwise get mentioned on SO. 2. to publish positive opinions of the product on a high-ranking site. – Tobu Jun 11 '10 at 16:13
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    @Tobu: Questions are supposed to stand the test of time. Providing a relevant non-self-promotion answer on an old question seems to be okay. The mere fact that this involves a product of his shouldn't change that. Instead, factors like actually addressing the question (e.g. copypasta is good indication this is not happening) should be considered. – Gnome Jun 11 '10 at 16:33
  • @Aaro, "copypasta," eh? I'll have to remember that one. +1. – Pops Jun 11 '10 at 17:31
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    @Aarobot: Agreed, he's plugging his product, but he openly discloses his relationship to it, plus he is writing a custom reply to each question with a fair degree of thoughtfulness, so I'd put this in the "advertising, but the good kind" category. – Ether Jun 11 '10 at 17:39
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    @Ether: I actually don't think he's disclosed his relationship, at least not on Stack Overflow. It would help mitigate some of the spam complaints if he did, even if it's just in his profile. – Aarobot Jun 11 '10 at 17:50
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    @Aarobot: bingo. Reading an answer or two and then glancing at his profile might lead you to think that he's just recommending some 3rd-party product that he himself has used and liked. An answer like this merely borders on off-topic if there's no relationship between the author and the vendor... but it's most certainly spam if they're one and the same! – Shog9 Jun 11 '10 at 18:16
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    @Shog9: You're right, most of them seemed OK, but looking closer, there are a few that aren't really on topic. Personally, I think this could be resolved by simply asking/requiring him to disclose his affiliation in his user profile, and flagging the spammiest posts (I'm still opposed to going on a flagging spree though). – Aarobot Jun 11 '10 at 18:44
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    @Shog9: I've gone through several of his answers; it seems much more likely he's honestly answering about what he knows (i.e. what he does daily at his job) than has any ulterior motive (don't forget Occam), and we want that kind of person contributing to the site, right? I addressed Tobu's lack of pointing to clear examples elsewhere. – Gnome Jun 12 '10 at 0:27
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    @Shog9: I strongly believe we are all responsible for evaluating what we read (moreso online). If there are no clear examples of spam and we can't tell the difference between an accused spammer and someone genuinely contributing, then, well, aren't they a positive member of our community? – Gnome Jun 12 '10 at 0:32
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    @Gnome: but it's motivation that differentiates an enthusiastic user of a product from someone pretending to be an enthusiastic user in order to drum up interest in a product they've been paid to promote. The other common aspect of spam - the shear volume of "recommendations" - this guy already appears to be trying to hit. – Shog9 Jun 12 '10 at 1:01

In cases like these, I think the deciding factor is, are these messages being "posted indiscriminately?"

Like any other post, I think you have to look at the content, and not the user or their intentions. Many users are here for some form of self-promotion or another. Just because this user's area of expertise happens to be his product, that does not necessarily mean his content is spam.

As long as the user's posts are on-topic, helpful, and custom-written for the question being asked, I don't see that we have cause for complaint.


To be honest, this seems more like an avid fan than a spammer (see various comments responding to specific instances mentioned). Even the linkedin.com profile you found omits any relationship to the Docmosis project you think he's spamming.

And if we can't tell the difference between an avid fan who actually addresses the questions asked and someone involved in self-promotion... leaving them be is fine by me, even if they are "spamming".

If you can find better examples of spam, however, please include a list in your question; I'm sure plenty of people will evaluate them. I'm not defending him, but I am asking you to give concrete examples.

I have no problem with the concept of people answering using products they have developed or even help pay their bills. In fact, I would encourage it – as long as those users actually respond to the questions asked and follow other conventions of the community. We want experts on the site, and many of those are people who work with these things for a living.

  • I did not raise this issue to pick answers off one by one. The payroll relationship (Systemic write Docmosis) and intent to get publicity makes it advertising; the systematic pattern of behaviour, along with not mentioning the connection (come on, “avid fan?”), makes it spam. – Tobu Jun 11 '10 at 23:22
  • Ah, I missed that they have a partnership (and I should have seen that). Honest mistake. – Gnome Jun 12 '10 at 0:12
  • @Tobu: We evaluate answers individually based on content, not authorship (at least, that is the goal). After a pattern emerges is when you need to escalate. If you don't want to point to specific examples, then please, don't raise the issue. – Gnome Jun 12 '10 at 3:01

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