I recently asked a question on Programmers.SE, How should one effectively use time at software conferences?.

I included links personalized to my Microsoft TechEd account. If you get some number -- I believe the number is 10 but I'm not sure -- of clicks on the account, you get a 3/4 inch button saying that you did so that you can pin to your lanyard. My assumption was that

  1. The link was not commercial in nature (which excludes NewEgg/Amazon promotions which Stack Exchange reserves for itself).
  2. The link was relevant to the original question (which excludes spam and link farming).
  3. The fact that getting people to click on the link being beneficial for me was explicitly disclosed (which excludes people being ***holes).

A moderator quickly edited out the affiliate parts of the links (replacing them with generic TechEd links) and removed my disclaimer.

Given that answerers are perfectly allowed to do far more than use a link with a certain affiliate code -- they're allowed to go as far as putting in entire plugs for their product so long as it's reasonably disclosed -- in my view posting of these kind of links is reasonable.

However, a moderator obviously thought otherwise. I'm not saying the moderator was incorrect in removing the links -- it is the prerogative of moderators to set policy like this -- that's why they're moderators. I'm curious if this is a community wide thing, or if it is specific to Programmers.SE, etc.

  1. So... what does the community (in particular the moderators) think on this?
  2. If the answer is "that's a no-no" then how far does a link have to go to be considered affiliate? (for example, would linking to a personal blog for some reason also be bad?)
  3. How/do the rules change for profile blurbs? Obviously personal links seem to be fair game in there.

I just don't want to do something bad in the future without intending to. :)

And just to be clear -- I'm not bitter about the original situation at all -- I've got enough hits just from my personal blog, so I'm not trying to get the original links reinstated -- I just don't want to mess up in the future.


This answer by Jeff states:

Personally, I would flag any affiliate links as spam.

Appropriate on your blog, but not on a public forum, IMO.

As for whether your action qualifies as "any affiliate link", my guess is yes, though at the very least:

  1. Affiliate links, even if the reward is not monetary, are somewhat distasteful to readers. (I've even felt weird right-clicking "link" and copying my SO-promotion link (example) into other questions, though, I assume it's perfectly fine.)
  2. It seems like you are mistaken that you disclosed it sufficiently - I see no disclosure at all, unless it's a comment you deleted. Your question body certainly doesn't even hint it.
  3. I wouldn't say it's immoral unless you are subverting an affiliate program which SO has in place (e.g. Amazon), though given the answer above, I think Anna's action was probably the best one.

And would linking to your blog be bad? That's been covered (with good reason, no).

  • @Renesis: The moderator deleted the disclosure (it was a comment). What exactly makes such things "distasteful"? I'm not sure Jeff's answer applies here because this is noncommercial in nature. (+1 for a well thought out answer though) – Billy ONeal May 17 '11 at 22:28
  • @Billy, I think people are suspect of being used. Sincerity is important, difficult to judge, and somewhat fragile. FWIW, you did sound sincere. – Nicole May 17 '11 at 22:35
  • @Renesis: Edited the title of the question slightly to show that distinction -- I have a feeling your answer is the right one though. – Billy ONeal May 17 '11 at 22:36
  • @Renesis: Hmm.. perhaps I don't understand. I have no problem being "used" in that way if it helps fellow SE members. :) (So long as it's obvious that the question as a whole obviously exists for the sole purpose of putting out a link) – Billy ONeal May 17 '11 at 22:38
  • Uh.. I mean "obviously doesn't exist" – Billy ONeal May 17 '11 at 22:48
  • Funny, since all Amazon links are automatically converted to SE affiliate links. Seems like Jeff wouldn't have a problem with affiliate links, particularly when combined with appropriate disclosure... – Cody Gray May 18 '11 at 0:19
  • I mentioned that program. SE's own programs are an entirely different situation. They could outright ban yours and include their own if they wanted. We are just third parties given limited rights to post content on a site fully owned by them. – Nicole May 18 '11 at 1:16
  • 1
    Yes, obviously they could do anything that wanted. I struggle to see how that's a real answer, though. If that were the policy, this entire meta site would be a worthless exercise in futility, probably best off not existing at all. I'm also not really sure where you mentioned that: It's not in your answer, unless you edited it out within the 5 minute window. You're specifically quoting an answer by Jeff. That's what my comment was based on. – Cody Gray May 18 '11 at 4:35
  • @Cody #3 "subverting an affiliate program which SO has in place (e.g. Amazon)". SO has rights of first refusal, or all refusal, in affiliate links. Of course if they want the traffic and participation they can't treat everyone like dirt. But this isn't the first or last issue where they've accepted that a few may disagree, be annoyed, or even outraged at their decisions/policies. – Nicole May 19 '11 at 0:34

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