It's been covered before that posting links to your own website is ok, but should there be a line drawn? There were several spam flags today for Ira Baxter's recent posts, presumably because they all link to his website. Initially I disagreed because his answers seem for the most part relevant to the question, but then I looked into it more and realized there's three things that set this apart from most of the related cases that have come up:

  • This isn't an occasional thing -- he's posted 412 links to his website in the last year
  • This isn't a random blog he writes for a fun, it's a for-profit company he founded and makes money promoting
  • I'm not willing to go through all 412, but from the sample I checked, he generally doesn't mention that the products he's recommending are his own. The site is linked from his profile, but most people aren't going to check that

Is all this considered acceptable use, or are the spam flags accurate?

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  • Would it change anything if Ira disclosed how many sales he's made from links in his SO posts (if he even has such information)? Fewer sales would imply spammier posts, while more sales would imply useful posts. And of course, I ask this rhetorically... I don't really expect Ira to just hand out the details about his company. – Mark Rushakoff Jul 17 '10 at 10:18
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    @Mark: Yes, those details are unlikely to appear here. I suggest you simply examine how many of my answers are upvoted. – Ira Baxter Jul 17 '10 at 10:40
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    It might be worth noting those 412 links point to something like 20 different pages, each one a different tool for a specific problem. And a fair fraction get upvotes, indicating somebody thought the answer was reasonable. So I might look odd because I probably act like 20 different tool sources, all rolled under one name. And that might explain why I can provide a lot of answers to a broad audience. – Ira Baxter Jul 19 '10 at 1:36
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    "he's posted 412 links to his website in the last year" — I thought SO was about the question and answer, not the user. In that case, why is the relative rate of product related answers relevant? To put it another way: if that had been 412 genuinely different users posting those same answers, would you have a problem? If not, why not? Wouldn't it be exactly the same information? – detly Jul 19 '10 at 6:44
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    I've asked a similar question some time ago, maybe it does help: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/56383/… – Time Traveling Bobby Jul 19 '10 at 7:52
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    Folks, as a general reminder, no matter what the outcome of the discussion,. let's be civil here, okay? The person in question has never hidden his identity, and is going out of his way to participate in the discussion here, and to comply with whatever solution the community is working out. Please when participating here, let's bring our cool heads only and leave everything else at the door. – Pekka Jul 19 '10 at 18:22
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    @defty: The information tends to be more biased and less objective/reliable if the posts are by the guy that is selling the tools getting recommended. @all: Here are 67 additional posts with links. – sth Jul 23 '10 at 5:14
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    FWIW, this discussion directly inspired the current policy for promotion found under /help/behavior and /help/promotion on every site. Although it was triggered by a discussion on Stack Overflow, the outcome reaches much further and the discussion remains an important artifact for those interested in understanding this policy. Thus, it will not be moved. – Shog9 Sep 19 '15 at 18:35

13 Answers 13


Thanks to everyone who participated in this discussion, particularly Ira.

Based on what we've decided in this question, I have updated the /faq on all sites to make it policy:

May I promote products I am affiliated with here?

The community generally frowns on overt self-promotion and tends to vote it down and flag it as spam, so be careful. Post good, relevant answers, and if they happen to be about your product, so be it. However, you must disclose your affiliation with the product in your answers. Also, if a huge percentage of your posts include a mention of your product, you're clearly here for the wrong reasons. Our advertising rates are quite reasonable; contact our ad sales team for details. We also offer free vote-based advertising for open source projects.

  • If enterprising individuals with an ad budget would like officially sanctioned plugs (ads on the right, say) to their commercial products to show on specific questions (as Ira has shown by his quantity of answers) isn't this a revenue and development opportunity for SO/SE sites? Targeted, narrowly placed ads placed by carefully by the advertiser.... or is this getting into "roll your own AdWords scale endeavor? (Or would it end being too much work relative to its potential for abuse? or is this basically what SO ads strive to do?) – Jared Updike Oct 28 '10 at 0:22
  • @jared contact ads@stackoverflow.com -- our rates are very reasonable! – Jeff Atwood Oct 28 '10 at 0:33
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    I only now discovered that this guy is here now, too. I remember him annoying the hell out of me in Usenet a decade or two ago with posting "answers" solely to plug his company's products. I am appalled the guy is still around, and I am appalled he hadn't been caught out at SO yet. – sbi Sep 3 '12 at 16:24
  • Jeff, There is one user who has been constantly been promoting you tube videos in-spite being warned by several experts. What should be our stand in this? Flag his latest post (which has already been edited)? – Siddharth Rout Apr 21 '13 at 8:49
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    @siddharth always flag! – Jeff Atwood Apr 21 '13 at 9:08

Policy suggestion

If an official policy is going to be set on this, I would suggest it say that whenever

  • somebody mentions a product they are affiliated with - commercial or otherwise

  • or makes factual statements about it ("It can do X but does take Y into consideration"; "It runs well on a XYZ series server")

  • Simply any kind of answer that would directly influence a purchase/usage decision

they make their affiliation reasonably clear inside the answer.

To avoid every answer from a software company employee being loaded with a huge footer of mumbo-jumbo, I suggest that using the word "our" or "my" be enough to indicate the affiliation:

I am looking for an extremely fast solution to swarble gorgles in a multi-server environment. Any recommendations?

Our Quadruptron IV can do this. It can swarble 50 gorgles per second.

Alternatively, they can of course also use a normal disclaimer at the end of the contribution ("Full disclosure: I am CEO of Quadruptron, Inc.") or "I am the maintainer of the project" or whatever. The affiliation is very easy to work into the text flow.

Normal questions involving a product should not require full disclosure in the question text, although I would say it mostly makes sense for everyone involved and is good style.

It goes without saying that an answer needs to be a valuable contribution in the context of the question asked in any case.

I think that the presence of software vendors - commercial and otherwise - on SO in general is a great thing, especially because it's in their own best interest to answer questions about their product when/if they come up.

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    @Arjan there should be no limit IMO as long as the rules are followed. (That an answer needs to be a valuable contribution in the context of the question in any case goes without saying.) – Pekka Jul 17 '10 at 9:42
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    Okay, so maybe the part "which product Z does not" in the 2nd bullet should be removed from the example? – Arjan Jul 17 '10 at 9:49
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    Suddenly realizing that 412 out of 670 answers is more than 60%, I think some limit would be in place. (I've updated my answer, @Ira & Pekka.) – Arjan Jul 17 '10 at 11:26
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    @Ira, as for your Many answers suggest commercial products, provided by people unrelated to the product. (Hunt for any mention of "NCover") Very true, 585 results by many different people for NCover, but ALL of the 10 results for "SD Test Coverage" are yours. (Please note I really don't mean to make this personal, but I don't have other examples.) – Arjan Jul 17 '10 at 11:45
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    I think mentions of competing products also need to be explicitly called out. – Bill the Lizard Jul 17 '10 at 13:59
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    Pekka, I think your heart is in the right place, but... This should not be necessary. You're effectively setting up guidelines for targeted advertising on SO - and there's already a system in place for that. One or two self-promoting answers out of 100 might be called a misunderstanding; 400+ is a blatant attempt to get around paying for your ads, and deserves neither sympathy nor "clarification". – Shog9 Jul 17 '10 at 21:59
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    @Shog9 Re Ira, I must say that I've never felt irritated by his answers because his product recommendations always actually answer the question asked. I have asked questions which Ira answered and while I never ended up choosing his product, I felt the contribution was reasonable and I didn't really care whether it's the vendor who links to it or not. This is why I tend to defend him here. If it is decided that promoting your own products to this extent is not okay at all, I can totally live with that as well. – Pekka Jul 18 '10 at 8:13
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    @Shog9 Re the guideline suggestion, what goes without saying is that the self-promoting answer must still be a relevant contribution to the asker's question. So I don't think it can really be called a guideline for targeted advertising, it would just be putting into a rule something for which there already is a Meta opinion: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/15787?tab=votes#tab-top – Pekka Jul 18 '10 at 8:15
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    @Shog9: Is this kind of activity really circumventing the ad system? A vendor can either pay for advertising by giving SO money, at which point they can just forget about it, or they can have an employee post useful answers that promote their product. As long as the answers are in fact useful, they are still contributing to the community, just using time instead of money. – Larry Wang Jul 19 '10 at 5:17
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    @Shog9 questions in which no product recommendations were requested are indeed a grey area. While I think John Saunders is being too harsh with the example he points to, I would not necessarily be opposed to an outright ban in that area simply to avoid long and complicated discussions. – Pekka Jul 19 '10 at 17:57
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    @Shog9: I completely agree with your evaluations of those examples, I am only saying that the author of PRE2000 writing the "Using our PRE2000 library, you could simply write ..." answer should not be punished for such answers simply because it is his own product, even if such (helpful, of course) answers make up 100% of his user history. In fact, its quite plausible that he might have a separate account for the sole purpose of promoting this product. (Or maybe all he knows how to do is write regular expressions using this program's interface!) – Larry Wang Jul 19 '10 at 18:09
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    @Pekka: there's a very real slippery slope here, IMHO. I'm very reluctant to advocate what amounts to mass censorship based on the potential for abuse, but once a user demonstrates a clear willingness to use any excuse to include a promotional link in his answers, I feel it is necessary to become more strict (lest we fall into the trap of giving a pass to advertisers who take the extra step of embedding their links in nominally on-topic answers). – Shog9 Jul 19 '10 at 18:10
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    I see I haven't said this before in this topic: -1: I don't think "our" is enough. Remember the number of users we have for whom English is not their first language. I'd prefer something more explicit like "Product X from my company", or "Product X (from the company I work for)". – John Saunders Jul 27 '10 at 17:25
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    @Ira: "don't" what? And, you still don't get Stack Overflow. Any policy is followed or not by individuals, to the extent they want to. There may be penalties if the policy is not followed, but it's up to the individual to decide what to do about that. I usually consider such policies to be the consensus of the community, and I usually try to adhere to that, while expressing any disagreement here in meta. – John Saunders Jul 29 '10 at 18:32
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    @Ira: "people acting on their opinions" is exactly how these sites are meant to work! – John Saunders Jul 31 '10 at 7:22

As the "spammer" in question, I think it reasonable to rise to my own defense.

I think this question is a knee-jerk reaction to anything which has a whiff of commercialism, regardless of its utility.

Spam is defined by wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spam_(electronic) as "use of electronic messaging systems (...) to send unsolicited bulk messages indiscriminately."

My responses are not indiscriminate. Nor are they unsolicited.

While many of my posts (not all) might be argued as commercially biased, they are NOT spam by this definition. I challenge Michael or others to find a response which is not reasonably related to the question posted by the OP, or in fact even very good answers. The OP explicitly requests information and my responses are, I claim, on-topic.

The fact that they are upvoted by some readers indicate that they believe the answer to be a reasonable answer. The fact that OPs sometimes mark them as best answer shows that the OP believes he got a good response to his question.

Presumably if the post was made by somebody other than me, and the upvoters didn't know the difference, they would have upvoted anyway.

The implications are that my responses are useful to the OP and to the readers.

While I don't always (or even often) note that I am a principal at the company, my icon bio data is extremely clear about my status and what my responses might mean. (EDIT 72 hours after original post: A policy of making this connection explicit seems to have formed at about 12 hours after original post. Immediately thereafter I agreed in a number of comments to various responses to this question to implement that policy on future answers, and revise previous answers as time permits. But the storm still rages on; read the rest of this post).

StackOverflow is useful because it gets answers for posters. Objecting that an answer has some commercial property doesn't negate the value of that answer if it is relevant. There are lots of answers that point to commercial products (e.g., Microsoft) and they aren't marked as spam. Why should posters not be able to get information about useful results, just because my company is small and not a lot of people know about it? Nobody here seems to object to Microsoft getting what amounts to free air time, just because it has mindshare and therefore a non-MS person will provide a MS-biased answer.

While I do make a living from selling my tools, as far as I can tell everybody else at SO pretty much makes a living doing something that is commercially valuable. I'm passionate about the tools I build. I believe they are extremely good at what they do, and of considerable value to the community.

I believe I am doing the community service. I think you should allow any vendor (oh that awful word) that has useful responses to provide such responses.

And I don't think this position should be repeatedly argued at SO, but rather become an explicitly embraced policy.

You are of course allowed to have your own opinion about the quality and relevance of individual answers, and up/down vote answers accordingly. You can downvote because you don't like commercial products, but I just think you are doing the OPs a disservice.

EDIT (12 hours after original post) There now seems to be an additional new objection, which is that there is a large quantity of posts that refer to a (my) website.

  1. If a question gets asked, then a reasonable answer should be a reasonable answer. (Whether a question gets closed as a duplicate doesn't change this).

  2. If the answers are reasonable, why does it matter what site they link to, or how many times that site is mentioned across all the SO answers?

  3. In case anybody is paying attention, one of the reasons that I have a lot of answers is because my company builds a lot of different tools (using a common engine, check my bio if you want to know how this might be possible).

I think I'm getting singled out on this partly because I can provide a lot of useful answers. That seems downright unreasonable.

EDIT (36 hours after original post)

There appears to be a proposal for a policy suggesting that marking one's own products explicitly in an answer would be A Good Thing. I've agreed (see various comment threads where I seem to have to repeat my agreement repeatedly) to do this, and have in fact gone back and made changes to some of my posts.

However, it is entirely unclear that having a policy proposal is the same as

  • having a policy
  • having that policy be known
  • having the policy be followed. Consider a malcontent that doesn't like the policy. (It may be obvious there are some working this SO thread). S(he) simply decides to take matters into her own hands and mark policy-following answer as spam anyway. A blinking "somebody marked this as spam" is likely a magnet to a other malcontents, and thus you are likely to get a piling-on effect. Small numbers of malcontents then produce almost predetermined outcomes; its called exponential decay. For those malcontents, I suggest this link.

I guess I'm not thrilled with how "community consensus" works. Welcome to the Internet.

In any case, I'll make the commitment that if policy is decided, "no self promotion", then I'll quit providing my-tool answers where my tools make sense, even if I think that's dumb. It'd be nice if the malcontents would make similar commitments about SO "policy". I don't hold a lot of hope based on some of the vitriol present.

EDIT (48 hours after original).

In spite of the invective, I do not recall having answers I have provided removed as spam. (It is possible there were some; early on in using SO it was pretty hard to tell why my rep went up or down). What I find very disturbing is that since the start of this discussion, I have suddenly had a number of answers apparantly spam-buttoned-out, as indicated by several roughly 100-point drops in rep. The coincidence strongly suggests causality. Apparantly there are those that have read the thread(s) here and aren't interested in a positive policy outcome, and have simply gone vendetta.

EDIT (64 hours after the original)

Here's an answer which I think has just been spam-tagged. I'd like somebody to explain to me how it is not a direct answer to the OP's question, regardless of attribution. This looks like outright spam-button abuse. (It was visible when first tagged; if you can no longer see this message, that's because it has been spam-deleted. Its harder to make your case when the evidence in your favor is deleted.)

EDIT (July 27). The vigilantes are killing good answers. Here's one upvoted by the author of the question.

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    Your definition of spam doesn't matter. It's just that the option to report what the community feels is abusive happens to be labeled "spam". I only read the first answer listed, and sentences like "The consequences are a commercial program transformation tool DMS Software Reengineering Toolkit that is useful for [..]" are very much spam (even worse: hidden spam) in my definition. – Arjan Jul 17 '10 at 7:39
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    @Arjan: My definition of spam? I took it from Wikipedia for heaven's sake. Regarding your "first answer listed": the specific question was, "What most influenced your career?" I responded specifically with a technical work that is NOT mine (and which is a seminal work in software engineering, sheesh!), and went on to explain that work has made me commit about 20 years of my life to that approach, which resulted in a particular piece of what I think of as spectacular machinery to implement the original paper's ideas. What, this didn't address the OP's original question smack on? – Ira Baxter Jul 17 '10 at 7:45
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    @Arjan: And the OP's question was, "Does anyone know of a good tool for cleaning up/formatting PHP files?" which it directly answers, including additional information about what happens with most PHP formatters that I have encountered (being thrown together by PHP folks who are really lousy at parsing code reliably). What part of my answer isn't a useful response to the question? You seem to be enumerating my responses and objecting, as I suggested as a challenge in my response above. Fine, quote the original question and then your objection to my answer. – Ira Baxter Jul 17 '10 at 7:59
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    I really feel different. In my opinion, a recommendation by somebody who's not involved is totally different from a recommendation from the product owner. (Also, discussions about the definition of spam are, in my experience, a knee-jerk reaction of many people who're self-promoting in some hidden way.) – Arjan Jul 17 '10 at 8:07
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    @Ira: Regarding spam, all posts on SO are bulk (covered better elsewhere on Meta). The beautifier answer mentioned above does sound more like marketing than answering; that distinction isn't always clear, but you do ignore half of that question (everything about Maven). A simple change from "Check out SD PHP Formatter" to "Check out my company's PHP Formatter" should be enough to make your relationship explicit (in the answer itself, your bio often isn't sufficient). – Gnome Jul 17 '10 at 8:33
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    I think this question is not about the definition of spam. The only reference to "spam" is that the option to flag posts is labeled as such. – Arjan Jul 17 '10 at 8:43
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    @George yes, full disclosure would have been better, no doubt. But he has shown his affiliation with the company in his profile from the start, and provided meaningful input on the question, and I can't bring myself to seeing this as too problematic. This is not somebody leaving "Hi use www.xyz.com itz great thx" posts by the truckload, of which there are many on all trilogy sites. – Pekka Jul 17 '10 at 10:06
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    @Ira, (+1) Even though your answer here is somewhat defensive (reasonbly, you were being attacked), it is obvious from your comments that you're going to be very reasonable and adult about all this, and make an attempt to fix the "problem". Well done! – devinb Jul 17 '10 at 20:56
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    @Ira: 412 answers is free advertising. Either start paying for it, or at least announce your relationship to the company in the answer. Even "see my profile for my relationship to this company" would be enough for me. – John Saunders Jul 18 '10 at 3:58
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    @John: I think I got the community-chooses-policy concept. I didn't understand why you chose to step in and make a remark about my compliance to the "new policy", when I fact I have clearly stated earlier in the thread that I would, and in fact have already started doing. I worry about "policy being decided" as a stable state; it appears subject to ongoing re-deciding (witness answer started by Shog9). One can argue that the discussion isn't old enough to be stable. Fair enough. So... when is the policy decided? – Ira Baxter Jul 18 '10 at 18:54
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    @Ira. It seems you've taken a bit of bashing here. I haven't gone back and read all your posts, but for what it's worth I support your position. I don't see anything wrong with suggesting your own products in an answer (provided they are in the context of the question). I don't see how quantity of links changes anything, provided the answers are in context and useful I don't see a problem with it. Clear disclosure is of course a good thing that I would encourage. I think your efforts to go back and bring your old posts into line with new [proposed] policy are admirable. – Simon P Stevens Jul 19 '10 at 8:40
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    About the answer shown in your EDIT (64 hours after the original) : nothing personal but this is the perfect example of the kind of answers I dislike. The OP is posting a question with 3 parts and it's like you only see the third point and jump on it to push your tools. This is exactly what I don't consider as a good answer but a commercial plug only and I'm indeed extremely tempted to flag it as spam. – Pascal Thivent Jul 21 '10 at 1:21
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    @Ira I don't consider you gave the OP exactly what he wanted, you gave him only a partial answer, justifying yourself here by the fact others already gave good answers. This is IMO a bad practice and using the work from other to justify a commercial plug only is clearly flirting with the limits of abuse (note that I still didn't downvote nor flagged your answer). As it has already been mentioned, what if every one with a commercial product to plug started searching SO for every opportunity to plug their wares ultimately saying it's ok because others already gave good answers? – Pascal Thivent Jul 21 '10 at 14:00
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    @Ira: you remind me of a drug addict who denies he has a problem and doesn't understand why nobody believes him. Seriously, "My product exists, but I'm not recommending it to you. I thought you should know about it so you could buy it, but I'm not recommending that you buy it." I'd be insulted that you think I'm that stupid, but it strikes me that maybe you can't help yourself, and don't realize what you're doing. Get some help, Ira. – John Saunders Jul 22 '10 at 2:13
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    Just throwing my two cents in here (a little late), but I was disappointed to see Ira's posts keep rising to the top of the spam flags. He seemed to have conducted himself well in the individual answers I saw, with his affiliation disclosed and with the product being very relevant to the question. I agree with the others who have stated that he's contributed to the site not with money through advertising but with his own time in providing quality content. – Brad Larson Aug 6 '10 at 18:18

If the best answer to the question happens to be a commercial product, it seems entirely irrational to me that it can't be posted by any user.

Forbidding the person most likely to be familiar with the product from doing so would seem to go against the real goal - getting good answers.

That said, posting your own product without disclosures is essentially misrepresenting something - most readers will assume that your opinion is unbiased, and it's not.

Still, this seems pretty easily solvable:

  1. Post good, relevant answers, and if they happen to be about your product, so be it. That means that it's okay to list your own product if it really meets the criteria, but if it's wildly off what the poster asked for, it's SPAM.
  2. Clearly disclose conflicts and biases. While I think "our" or "my" probably conveys it, some folks obviously don't, so why debate it: You're only posting your own stuff when it's appropriate, and helpful, and it will make people love you, right? What's the harm in getting used to pasting this: (Disclosure: I [work for/own/whatever] the company that makes it, but I think it's a logical fit for your need).

It seems as though the last thing you want is some guy who knows that his app has a rarely-discussed feature to solve the problem sitting around waiting for some other user to discover it. On the other hand, those that blindly post their own product to any borderline-related query should be down-voted and flagged.

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    Except that this does not work. There are many cases where a commercial plug is not the best answer and doesn't even really answer the question. This happens all the time (I can find many examples of "How can I do this with X" - "With my Y you can"). This is tiring. – Pascal Thivent Jul 19 '10 at 13:49
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    @Pascal I largely avoided flagging anything since I'm on the fence about it (hence posting this question in the first place), but I did flag this one for exactly that reason. The OP asked for a tool to combine GCDA files generated by GCC from C/Obj-C sources on Mac OS, and the answer was for a tool that doesn't combine GCDA files, doesn't work with Obj-C, and doesn't run on Mac OS – Michael Mrozek Jul 19 '10 at 14:04
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    @Pascal: I don't see your disagreement here. Jaydles says the answers should be good and relevant, and you're objecting to irrelevant answers. Moreover, the "what you really want" answer is well established on SO, since lots of people overspecify the problem or are going down a path that doesn't work. – David Thornley Jul 19 '10 at 14:05
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    @Mrozek: and the reason I responded is that guy wasn't making any progress with the solution he had. Based on the empty set of answers he has, he would otherwise have nothing. If you can't get an answer to the question as posed, then a reasonable response is to change the question. The tool I mentioned didn't do GDCA files. It did handle GCC, which was one of his desiradata. You might object to my answer, but it is the only answer he got, it addressed the technical issue he faced, if not the specific detail. And, he thanked me for the answer. – Ira Baxter Jul 19 '10 at 16:30
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    @David I'm not disagreeing, I'm saying "getting good answers" only doesn't work in practice. I don't have any interest in pushing a product Y when a question about product X is asked. However, someone commercially involved with Y (payed product/consulting/support/whatever) has an interest in doing so and I've seen this pattern happening many times. See the examples of this previous question. I don't call this good answers, I call this spam. Yet it occurs and will continue to occur. – Pascal Thivent Jul 19 '10 at 17:50
  • @Pascal: You may call it spam, but that doesn't make it spam. It is unreasonable to redefine words with well defined meetings. Theres a standard definition used by most of the internet, hashed out after a long time by groups of people collectively smarter than you or I. I won't repeat it for the Nth time here, you're a big boy and can go look it up for yourself. If you chose a better label for your objection, I might feel better about discussing your objections. – Ira Baxter Jul 21 '10 at 23:59

It's simple honesty and courtesy to state affiliations. And if it's not the law yet (in the USA) it probably soon will be. See FTC Moves to Unmask Word-of-Mouth Marketing - Endorser Must Disclose Link to Seller


It's unpaid advertising, pure and simple.

I would call it spam, simply because there's no such thing as a private reply on SO: every answer addresses every reader who finds that question. But if that makes you uncomfortable, then fine: it's just rude.

SO provides an extensive system for placing advertisements in designated locations. If you have a commercial product that you wish to promote on SO, then pay for it. It's folks buying ads that keep the site up and under continual improvement.

There is more than enough angst and controversy over the official, clearly marked, paying-for-the-site-to-keep-running ads - clogging the answers themselves with unofficial, unmarked ads should never be seen as acceptable.

Flag as spam or flag for moderator attention, lest this become a cancer on the site...


Look, I'm not saying they aren't well-written advertisements. I'm not saying they're completely off-topic, or that the tools being promoted couldn't, for some users in some situations, prove useful. Advertising doesn't have to be cringe-inducing - that's just what we're used to, because there's so much of it around. But take a look at something like Eric Sink's blog - he writes about source control, running a software company, advertising, and of course his own company and its products. There are some great articles... And it's brilliant advertising, since people want to link to them. The "Joel on Software" site is the same thing, fun to read while at the same time a huge series of ads.

I don't have a problem with good ads. I'm not anti-advertising.

But SO isn't anyone's personal blog. Questions from people struggling to use competing products shouldn't be seen as an open invitation to hawk your own. SO users, as a group, tend to be rather trusting - the starting assumption when reading an answer is that it is actually intended to solve the problem described in the question.

I consider the abuse of this trust to be poisonous. And I have no sympathy for systematic, long-term abuse, regardless of what name you give it. I regret that I have only five flags a day...

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    Are you branding all commercial promotion as spam, or only unmarked ones? Because as a user who actually had a problem solved by a commercial suggestion (by a user whose name was the same as the company), I can't really agree with completely disallowing all commercial suggestions. Sometimes, the only tool to solve a problem is one that will cost money. Which then means, are free solutions or solutions that sponsor SO the only ones that are valid? – Grace Note ModStaff Jul 17 '10 at 23:03
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    @Grace: I'm saying it's a red-herring. This has nothing to do with commercial vs. non-commercial software - I've promoted commercial software in answers, just not software I make money off of. It's also not about self-promotional answers occasionally being useful: of course they're useful, some of the time, for some small percentage of users - if spam didn't work (find its target), it wouldn't be a problem because no one would bother posting it! This is a case of a user abusing the popularity of the site to promote his own business - everything else is just a distraction. – Shog9 Jul 17 '10 at 23:31
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    Spam works by blasting millions of useless answers to people that didn't ask for anything, in the hopes that some tiny percentage may have some faint interest. Answering people's direct questions with directly relevant data, even if it is a commercial answer, doesn't look anything like that. If we follow your path, Microsoft gets tons of free mentions simply because they're huge and their advertising got to you in the past. And I'll remark that its folks providing answers for free that allows SO to even do that crass commercial advertising that it does :-} – Ira Baxter Jul 18 '10 at 1:49
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    @Ira I see you're still defending your narrow, self-serving definition of spam. Bad form, man. Bad form. – George Marian Jul 18 '10 at 2:24
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    @Ira As far as I'm concerned the discussion is not about spam. So, IMO you should stop talking about spam. That said, if someone wants to consider such posts as spam, so be it. I don't think that's an unfair point of view. Shog9 puts it well when he states: I would call it spam, simply because there's no such thing as a private reply on SO: every answer addresses every reader who finds that question. But if that makes you uncomfortable, then fine: it's just rude. Further discussions of the definition of spam only serve to undermine your position. That was the point of my previous comment. – George Marian Jul 18 '10 at 3:19
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    @Ira: I seem to recall an interview with Canter where he recounted receiving thousands of positive responses. As I said to Grace above, the problem with spam is not that it fails to find an accepting audience... It's the collateral damage, the waste of time and resources, and the resulting loss of trust in the system as a whole. See also: the tragedy of the commons. – Shog9 Jul 18 '10 at 6:10
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    @Shog9: Give me a break. Canter's recipients didn't ask for his spam. And I'm sure if you poll them, the vast majority would have said his "message" was unwanted and irrelevant to their lives, let alone what they might have been thinking +-1 day from recieving his message. The audience here at SO is actively asking for information, and I believe you will find that my answers (and those of other relevant commercial suppliers) are welcome as plausible answers to their question. Your example is so far beyond a reach that I think you damage the part of your position which is defensible. – Ira Baxter Jul 18 '10 at 8:04
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    I'm a little bit surprised about your reaction, @Shog. Spam is commercial, that does not mean that commercial is spam. You are right, that Ira is not paying for his "ads" on SO, but if you pay for them, you show your commercial to all users, if they search for this particular product or not. Ira is answering questions where his products can help the asker to solve his problem and I really have no idea what's wrong with that. Do you suggest that the question asker has to wait till someone else, not working in Ira's company, tells him that Ira's product exists? That does not make sense to me. – Ladybug Killer Jul 18 '10 at 9:01
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    sigh... Look, this is what I was trying to avoid. Don't call it "spam", don't call it "evil", don't bother with any label you can't nail down - arguing semantics is pointless. Look at the facts, go through the answers, tell me how questions are being honestly answered by linking to a non-free product in answers to questions explicitly asking for free tools, or vague claims that some product could solve a specific problem if the proper definitions were written (followed by a link and no definitions). Ira is a good salesman - but the fact remains, these are sales pitches, not answers. – Shog9 Jul 18 '10 at 18:26
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    @Ira: at the time I write this, the question has been viewed less than 400 times, with under 30 votes between the top two answers. That's not bad for a weekend post on Meta, but it's hardly an overwhelming indication of community opinion. If you agree with Pekka's suggestions, then go implement them! As for me, I stand by what I wrote - you're intelligent and a good salesperson, but your actions on SO disgust me. Whether others agree or disagree will be borne out in their future actions here and on SO itself... – Shog9 Jul 19 '10 at 1:59
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    Oh - and nice job cutting off the relevant portion of that comment, the bit where he states that changing platform isn't an option. So both you (as stated in your answer) and Joe (as stated in his comment) recognized that not only did your answer fail to answer the question, but that it wasn't even relevant to the situation of the person asking it. But there it sits... – Shog9 Jul 19 '10 at 2:07
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    As I commented on the above answer, a vendor can either pay for advertising by giving SO money, at which point they can just forget about it, or they can have an employee post useful answers that promote their product. As long as the answers are in fact useful, they are still contributing to the community, just using time instead of money. If they are not useful, they will be voted down or deleted. Why is special action necessary? – Larry Wang Jul 19 '10 at 5:22
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    @Ira: In your mind, it's not spam because it's you doing it - I'm unlikely to change your mind on this, and so I'm not about to waste words trying. Call it whatever you want, and pick and choose whichever parts of Wikipedia articles don't apply to you - whatever makes you feel good about yourself. I'm not flagging posts indiscriminately, and I'm not flagging posts where the content and links are actually on-topic - if you actually believe that linking to your site from any question containing certain keywords is appropriate, then report me (team@stackoverflow.com) and be done with it. – Shog9 Jul 19 '10 at 16:41
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    @Shog9: By 'special action' I meant that I interpreted your statements as meaning "someone promoting their own product should be treated differently from someone promoting a third-party product," which I disagree with. If you are indeed only marking inappropriate/off-topic answers in an objective manner, that's great. I am just a little bit worried by your tone. Going through and downvoting all posts by a certain user is clearly abusive; going through all posts by a certain user deliberately looking for posts to downvote may or may not be, but it sure doesn't feel right to me. – Larry Wang Jul 19 '10 at 18:00
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    good grief, @ira... I'm here to participate in a discussion on how this sort of behavior should be perceived and handled, not co-sign your little campaign. If you think, honestly, that you understand what the community wants from you, then act accordingly; if you don't , and can't handle the uncertainty, then pay for guaranteed, free-from-user-veto, ad space... Otherwise, take your chances like everyone else. – Shog9 Jul 31 '10 at 5:11

SO and friends exist to get good answers to questions.

Anything that causes more and better answers is good. Anything that stifles useful answers is bad.

I'm firmly opposed to any policy that restricts anybody from giving a good, relevant, answer to a question, just on the basis of irrelevant details like personal involvement. I agree that attribution is necessary, and I know that it's possible to deliver irrelevant and bad answers while recommending software, but if I have a problem and somebody out there sells a product that will solve my problem, I don't want any policy stopping that somebody from recommending it.

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    +1. I agree. However, out of 412 answers that present his products as an appropriate answer, there are bound to be some cases where his product is only related to the answer and is not, itself, an answer. I'm keeping an eye out for those. If his products are the answer, or even potentially the answer, then that's great, and the kind of contribution we should encourage. If not, then not. – John Saunders Jul 19 '10 at 15:19

I have just flagged as spam, Ira's answer to Any valid reason for code duplication?. While I appreciate his willingness to edit his previous answers, I do not think that adding the word "our" before his product names is adequate.

It just barely calls out his relationship to the product in question. In fact, I wonder if it will even be meaningful to some for whom English is not their first language.

Furthermore, reading his answer, I did not find it responsive to the question. The fact that he has a product that helps detect duplicate code does not respond to the question of whether there is ever a valid reason for duplicate code. It's great that there was a solution for the problem, but nobody asked for a solution to the duplicate code problem.

I will continue following his user feed.

Today, I used the 10k tools for the first time in a while, and noticed there were 25 flags. I clicked over there just for the heck of it, and saw several of Ira's answers on the first page. I was inspired.

So, since I said I'd do this publicly, here's the reasoning:

  • In his answer to Metaprogramming how much is too much?, written over six months after the previous answer, he starts by answering "There's never enough". That was the only thing in the answer that is responsive to the question. The rest describes how metaprogramming came to be, describes the "ideal world" with respect to metaprogramming, then states that the ideal world is provided by his product!
  • In his answer to What’s a good desktop-based code review tool?, he goes straight for the spam flag, presenting his company's diff tool as though it were a code review tool. The OP did not ask about diff tools!
  • His answer to Best Diff Tool? is better, but only because the OP asked for diff tools, and asking for the "best" such tool leaves an opening for those who think their product is the best. I'll grant that Ira does describe those features of his product that make it a contender for "best". I may even try it myself, as I've wanted a language-sensitive diff tool for decades. I did not flag this one as spam.

There are three more flagged answers, but the rest are not on the first page, so I'll let them slide for now.

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    Not responsive to the question? You and I sure live in different worlds. I've been building clone detectors for 15 years (see my tech paper citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/…), and what I told him was what I learned about clones. What I said was that yes, there were valid reasons, but to make them useful you needed a tool to track them. And, showed him a link to a tool that did just that, complete with examples. At least two people originally thought the answer worth upvoting. Looks like you've gone from "dislike" to "vendetta". – Ira Baxter Jul 19 '10 at 7:36
  • The "policy" being discussed says 'I suggest that using the word "our" or "my" be enough'. The example used in the policy is "Our Quadruptron IV can do this". The text in the answer is "See our CloneDR for a tool". So, you are apparantly objecting to the proposed policy. And that last bit... you're insulting my ability to write English. OK, you win. – Ira Baxter Jul 19 '10 at 8:01
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    @John... OK, we've sparred enough. I don't have many "enemies" in life, and surprisingly I've somehow made you into one. Are you willing to chat by phone for few minutes to help clear the air? You can send me a phone number via my email address at my icon, or ask me to send you mine. – Ira Baxter Jul 19 '10 at 8:14
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    @Ira: the question wasn't about clones! It was about whether there were valid reasons for duplicate code. The fact that there are tools for detecting duplicate code doesn't address the question of whether there are valid reasons for it. – John Saunders Jul 19 '10 at 10:06
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    @Ira: On your second comment, I and others have repeatedly attempted to make clear that "policy" is, at best, a description of how the Community behaves, not some fixed set of rules. I have done you the courtesy of explaining my reasoning on this, and doing so publicly. – John Saunders Jul 19 '10 at 10:08
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    @Ira: I don't know what air there is to clear. I don't know how much more clear I can be than what I've said here, publicly, for all to see and downvote. What could I possibly say to you in private that would be of more value to you than what I've already said in public? – John Saunders Jul 19 '10 at 10:09
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    @John: clones are defined to be duplicate code, which makes it precisely about clones. The OP said his code was full of duplicated code! If you want to misinterpret the technical definitions, then you can claim the answer is irrelevant. That's not a legitimate argument. You can always find a reason, if you are willing to twist the definitions or the facts. – Ira Baxter Jul 19 '10 at 16:36
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    @Ira, the bottom line of his question is "What could be a valid reason for duplicating code?" Does your product help answer that question? Your answer suggests that your product can help him find (and presumably remove) duplicates. He didn't ask about that! – John Saunders Jul 19 '10 at 19:34
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    @John: So you want a literalist interpretation of every question? SO would be a pretty useless place. ("Is there a tool that does X?" your response would be "Yes"). Most people asking questions have a specific question, and they're glad to hear a specific answer. Many answerers go well beyond the literal question, and try to provide help and advice about the trouble the questioner is about to have. Peoples asking about clones, especially "my code has a lot of clones (implied call for help)" should reasonably get help. ... – Ira Baxter Jul 19 '10 at 20:49
  • @John: ... If you know where clones are, your understanding and maintenance problems go down. Clone detectors are needed; they manage the #1 software smell, ask the refactoring guys. Maybe you don't think this answer is warranted. OK, fine. I've been working with duplicated code and related tools for 15 years. I think the answer is entirely justified. – Ira Baxter Jul 19 '10 at 20:50
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    @Ira: Sorry, man, I've got to call BS on that. I've been in the Software Product space, as well as most others, and, sorry, but you're dreaming if you feel that's responsive. He didn't ask anything about managing duplicate code. You might have asked him in a comment whether he was interested in managing his duplicates and if he said yes, then your answer would have been responsive - otherwise, no. – John Saunders Jul 20 '10 at 16:38
  • @John: So you are proposing that people provide the shortest possible answer that might satisfy a question? Most conversations anticipate the other party's response and provide answers to expected questions. If your wife asks, "Are you coming home soon?" you could answer "No" and just stop. But your wife would likely kill you if you followed it up with, "Would be interested in knowing what time?". You might not like my anticipation of next questions, but that's different than its an unreasonable response. – Ira Baxter Jul 21 '10 at 23:52
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    @Ira: I propose that you, or anyone else who answers a question, take the time to find out what the OP actually wants. In your case, you should go out of your way to make sure he actually wants product recommendations from the product vendor. I saw no reason to believe the OP in this question had any interest in your product, or any other product. If you thought he might be interested in products but just didn't clearly say so, then ask for clarification in a comment. Until it's clarified, you should not be hawking your product to such users. – John Saunders Jul 22 '10 at 2:10

I have nothing against commercial products, but I also promote full and visible disclosure for free services or personal blogs. Hence, I think undisclosed and somehow hidden self-promition should be removed. (I don't consider references in a user's profile to be disclosure.) Fully disclosed self-promotion is a different matter; I think in general that will be handled by the community votes, either up or down.

But whether commercial or non-commercial, disclosed or undisclosed: 412 out of 670 answers, that's a link to a specific website in 60% (!) of the answers.

Are these products suitable for many different cases? Are the questions duplicates of each other (in which case >3k should then vote to close, rather than answer, if you'd ask me)? Of course, one's knowledge makes one more likely to answer the questions one understands best. But would for 60% of that set of questions one's own product be the answer? Or is the set of questions not only limited to one's knowledge, but even further limited to those to which one's own products could be the answer? Like George put it in a comment:

What if every one with a commercial product to plug started searching SO for every opportunity to plug their wares?

So yes, why not define some limit to ensure that doesn't happen? That limit would probably be some random figure, like "at most 10% of one's posts", but just let's make it clear?

(EDIT: Added thoughts on the limit.)

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    I have asked several questions to which Ira provided an answer. While "here's a commercial tool" may often not the answer the asker is looking for, his answers are always on-topic and point to a product relevant to the question, so the input in itself is fine IMO. But a more clear disclosure would be desirable. – Pekka Jul 17 '10 at 8:30
  • @Arjan: Fine. Let SO make the policy, either way, clear. As it is now, I don't think it's clear. I happen to disagree with you about whether you need to make your position clear, if the answer is directly relevant. Otherwise every Microsoft person will need to note they are from Microsoft when they answer a question. Mostly I'm complaining about the extra typing and the extra text to read in the answers. I would have been happy to list my email address but SO gave everybody an alias. – Ira Baxter Jul 17 '10 at 8:32
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    @Ira I think your point about Microsoft employees is not entirely valid, as they are usually involved in giving support on MS products rather than making product recommendations. Anyway, I agree that having a clear policy would be a good this; but adding the word "our" to "try SD Formatter" would make the connection very clear already. – Pekka Jul 17 '10 at 8:35
  • @Pekka: I stand somewhat corrected on this. What's your position on a MS employee suggesting the use of another MS tool to help solve an OP's problem, then? (e.g., "You can use MSXSL...") – Ira Baxter Jul 17 '10 at 8:39
  • @Ira: I know you want a clear policy stated by someone in authority so you can either feel vindicated or ... I don't know, something else, but it's not a clear issue and questions can be answered in a wide spectrum of grey. Do you have a proposed wording for that policy and are you willing to hash out the (endless) nuances of how it should be applied? Similarly, hypothetical vague answers to unstated questions (e.g. the MSFT employee example) don't make very good policy discriminators. – Gnome Jul 17 '10 at 9:13
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    @Ira they should mention that they are MS employees in that case IMO. – Pekka Jul 17 '10 at 9:15
  • @Gnome: Not interested in vindication. I've had this objection raised a few times in the past, but not with this much discussion. I'd like to know what to say, to avoid having this discussion again. I suspect without such a policy, there will always be someone that objects "hey, that's a commercial product spam". (Actually I don't think the policy will stop the objections, but it will at least end the discussion quickly.) I'd really rather be sleeping right now. – Ira Baxter Jul 17 '10 at 9:21
  • @Gnome: Regarding hashing out a specific phrasing: I'm not the powers-that-be at SO, and I'm actually not sure who is, other than the folks that started the site. I assume they care about this topic. I don't want to hash out something just to be nixed by a third party who wasn't involved. I am willing participate in a hashing out – Ira Baxter Jul 17 '10 at 9:23
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    @Gnome: I have a suggestion, though. Rather than trying to phrase something repeatedly, an answer checkbox, "I represent the company that offers this product" would be easier, and provide a link to a big SO disclaimer: "this guys says he represents the company. Take what he says with a grain of salt, as he is probably biased..." all of which would be fine by me. THen you could define SO-spam as recommending a product from your company without explicit signal, and it would be clear to everybody. – Ira Baxter Jul 17 '10 at 9:26
  • @Ira: And that's part of the impedance mismatch: we have a community site, yet you're asking for an indisputable policy to use as a measuring stick. – That suggestion is way too complicated. If it's important to be clear about mentioning products which pay your bills and you can't do that without a complicated system (something that doesn't apply to you, just use words like "our product"), then such a person probably shouldn't be answering. – Gnome Jul 17 '10 at 9:31
  • @Gnome still, there is community consensus on many issues. I'd say it's not impossible to reach. I added an answer with a suggestion for a policy. – Pekka Jul 17 '10 at 9:31
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    @Pekka: Community consensus forms convention rather than authoritative policy. I think the former is fine in this situation, combined with discussion such as on Meta. I suggested Ira try to word it to demonstrate how hard a non-vague policy would be, and because that's a much better use of effort than repeatedly calling for someone else to do the work. – Gnome Jul 17 '10 at 9:35
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    @Pekka, some more consensus at the question Michael referred to: How do I mention my own products in answers? – Arjan Jul 17 '10 at 9:39
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    @Gnome I took a shot at wording a non-vague policy below. Its essence is identical to what @Chris says in @Arjan's linked answer. – Pekka Jul 17 '10 at 9:45
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    @Arjan: "apparantly disregarding other questions in which they could not advertise their thing..." What do you "disregard other questions"? There's 250+ examples by your own admission of places where I could not "advertise" my thing and yet I did something arguably constructive. Regarding knowing my competitors: yes, I could supply more data; once in a while I actually do that. Do you provide a list of all the options you know for every question? I doubt it. – Ira Baxter Jul 18 '10 at 8:15

Another solution could be to have vendors who promote their own products be given a special tag next to their name. That would take care of the disclosure problem in a simple and convenient way, as well as having the potential for people who are bothered by such posts to be able to filter out ALL self-promotional material that was posted in accordance with the rules.

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    sure, as long as they pay us for that privilege. Current price is one million dollars. – Jeff Atwood Jul 19 '10 at 5:34
  • @JeffAtwood I'm not sure if I understand why a tag is a privilege (especially a very expensive one)? I believe that having your posts, entirely and silently, filtered out by a noticeable portion of the user base here is far more of a negative effect than the small boost to reputation that a tag (similar to the verified tag found on many sites) would be. – Rescis Apr 8 '18 at 17:14

I despise spammers, but I think I'm on Team Ira (i.e., I don't think he's a spammer). He's on topic, and doesn't try to hide his association. HOWEVER, when his answers get flagged for spam, I don't automatically clear the flags. While I'm on the team, if the community wishes to declare an answer spam (six flags over an answer) it'll get deleted. While I can't see who has flagged, I've emailed one user who asked for direct mod intervention, letting them know why Ira isn't banned (not spammer, no direct action; community decides fate of answers)

  • Thank you for respecting the wishes of the community. – Shog9 Jul 21 '10 at 15:09
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    I don't think it's necessary for all his answers to be in one group or the other, which seems to be where a lot of conversations are stuck here. I check the spam flags pretty regularly, and most of his answers that've been flagged I think were good, particularly the ones on a question that specifically asked for a tool recommendation. Others completely don't answer the question, and a number of times he ends his answer with something along the lines of "the tool I just spent three paragraphs describing doesn't actually solve your problem, but it's kind of related" -- those I consider spam – Michael Mrozek Jul 21 '10 at 17:39
  • So, does the policy being formulated about attribution in this thread mean anything? Or is just, "well, if you agree with the policy its OK, otherwise just do what you wish?" – Ira Baxter Jul 22 '10 at 3:15
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    @Ira if Jeff or Joel or somebody comes up with a well defined policy on this and informs me of it I'm all in. The community is, and should be, mostly self policing. Mods should only intervene in extreme cases. THAT IS POLICY. I'm willing to go along with it. Since there is no "the policy" other than this, your comment confuses. Also, since I'm essentially on your side in a kind-of neutral way, I'm not sure where you're coming from. Be as proactive as possible and most of this goes away. You're 80% there. – user1228 Jul 22 '10 at 12:59

When those spam votes started coming in I looked at circa 5 of Ira's posts that had been flagged, found that they all contained an admission of the relationship (usually "Our FooBaricator 2000 can..." which is admittedly minimal), saw that several had positive comments from other participants, and decided to let it go.

The sheer volume does give me some pause, but each answer should be evaluated on it's own, and the ones I looked at were responsive at a non-trivial level.

May I suggest to Ira a more prominent disclosure?

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    May I suggest to Ira a more prominent disclosure? I'm curious to see Ira's response, as the Our wording is a result of suggestions in this question. – George Marian Jul 26 '10 at 23:27
  • @George: Is it? I though It has been a while, but I thought I caught the leading edge of that business...I was in the middle of moving apartments then, so I didn't spend much time on Meta, but I was looking at SO in the little cracks of my days. (And to...uhm, "test" that the internet at the new place was up to speck. Yeah.) – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jul 26 '10 at 23:48
  • A policy has been suggested. It appears to have been upvoted significantly more than other suggestions. (Do I really have to repeat this again?): I've agreed to follow the policy. It does not require a long disclosure. To the extent the policy becomes known and followed, I suspect it will be a very good signal. – Ira Baxter Jul 27 '10 at 0:08
  • @Ira: Please don't get your hackles up. I was late to the party, and chose for myself to let things stand the way they were in any case. I'd prefer to see a more prominent disclaimer, but I'm not about to go slapping extraneous spam flags on your work. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Jul 27 '10 at 1:40
  • @dmckee: Sorry if I seem a bit irritated. I've taken rather a lot of flak from George Marian and friends, and if my previous comment seems uptight, its because George already knows I've committed to chosen policy, and I'm tired of repeating it for him. – Ira Baxter Jul 27 '10 at 3:58
  • @ira My apologies for pushing your buttons, as I hate it when someone does that to me. However, that was not my intent. I was truly interested in seeing your response, but I should have just kept it to myself and waited. That said, you need to take the blinders off and look at the bigger picture. We've already discussed that my agreement with the policy proposed here doesn't illustrate my personal opinion on the matter. I'm relatively new to SO, and as such I haven't felt comfortable flagging your posts, for example. (cont'd) – George Marian Jul 29 '10 at 0:04
  • @ira That said, I'm not new to human behavior nor am I new to communities being invaded by promoters and their detrimental effect. All of my arguments have come from that perspective. However, you want to toe line of some "policy." That sets off all sorts of red flags for me. I hope you understand my perspective and don't take it as some personal attack on you. – George Marian Jul 29 '10 at 0:05
  • @George: Perhaps I have misassociated you with some others here. It sounds like you have agreed to follow the policy that seems suggested here, which is presumably a workable compromise for all parties involved. I'm not sure what you mean "want to toe the line". What I want is to be able to post answers that I believe are useful; they're the answers I happen to know by virtue of being buried deeply in them. Based on the evidence I see, there are those that don't care what compromise is reached. They are working on convincing me that providing answers that I have to SO are wasted. – Ira Baxter Jul 29 '10 at 6:56
  • ... I believe that will make SO a poorer place, even if others do not. – Ira Baxter Jul 29 '10 at 6:58

My rep at Stack Overflow is not yet that big, but ad and links to own contributions are a sensitive matter. So I try to write a suggestion.


Extend the answer section with a checkbox: "I'm promoting my own product/article. It may be commercial."

Checking the box has these consequences:

  1. Any downvoting will be not result in -2, but -40 reps, and any upvoting will not be worth +10, but +20 reps.
  2. In order to set a link on your own commercial webpage, you need a reputation of at least 500.
  3. In order to vote such an answer, you also need a reputation of at least 500. (500 should be enough to understand what is going on.)

Sanction: Anyone setting a link to her/his own contribution/webpage/product and not checking the box will first be warned and then banned.

Possible Consequences

If you promote your own links, with the mechanism explained the stakes are much higher. You can ruin much of your rep by misguiding or misusing the community's willingness to discuss freely about solutions.

You can't come in as a "fresh company" and place some ad as you don't have the rep to poker with, and you won't find much attention. Your answer with your link might show a downvote number of "-200", which is a bright red alert lamp for everybody. It might also show +50, but then you have earned it.

Real spammers will have struggle harder to mask their activities.

It is up to the community to decide what is annoying and what is not. Like this, nobody has to judge if sth is inside the limit or not.

People who wish to solve common problems by presenting an own tool may do so, but they will act carefully, not area-wide.

Most links for own contributions would probably move to the comments in order not to provoke downvoting the answer. In comments, such links are ok to me.

Other than @Pekka, I don't suggest a policy change as I don't believe such changes have enough influence in this case.

Thanks for reading :-) Many ideas are not meant to be realized 1:1, but to trigger other ideas. So may it flow...

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    Adding an extra checkbox for this doesn't seem warranted. There are probably a gazillion things we could possibly add a checkbox for, but think how ugly the UI would become! Moreover, your rep proposal seems poorly thought out (imagine the opportunity to game things all over the place!). – D.W. Jul 12 '14 at 2:30
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    Thx for reading. I fully agree about not overloading the UI with controls. - Sometimes, answering questions in SO in high traffic subjects has much of a game in it :-) It is not the main issue, but it is inherently there. - The intention is 1) to let the community decide what is annoying and 2) to set high risks for your own actions. I am curious if such a "democratic" regulation would be welcome here (let's forget about the premature pointing system and the UI). – peter_the_oak Jul 12 '14 at 6:02
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    Why +20 rep for an upvote? – Arjan Jul 12 '14 at 12:15

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