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Related to

Defining the limits of self-promotion

The top two answers to this question were deleted:

There is any monitoring hosted solution?

The accepted answer's account has 19 of 20 answers deleted, all for promoting the same product, his product from his company. This user was subsequently suspended. While I don't disagree with this suspension based on the data, I think in the above specific question those answers are correct:

  1. they answer the question

  2. they disclose affiliation with the product

I have thus undeleted those particular answers only.

My beef with self-promotional folks isn't the promotion itself -- this is covered by the faq -- but that all they seem to do on Server Fault is promote their stuff.

If they had a more balanced mixture of genuine participation, and some REASONABLE, ON-TOPIC, DISCLOSED promotion, then I would not be opposed to it.

I have unsuspended the user in question because he has a number of valid questions at least and I strongly encouraged him to answer this post on meta.

Is there some way we can better educate folks about this before suspending them?

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What you're saying pretty much fits the way I think. I've mentioned elsewhere that before I flag posts as spam I have a look at the poster's other posts. If I see they have posted other non-spam answers I don't flag them.

As for how to educate them, that's a tough one because my personal observations suggest the majority of spammers are hit and run. i.e. They'll post some spam and either disappear or change accounts. Such actions are deliberate and calculated and I don't believe any attempt at education would have an effect on them.

For those who post both spam and non-spam, and I don't see much of that, I'm inclined to think direct contact from a moderator is probably the best approach and I suspect such users would most likely react appropriately. Unless the system has a way for a moderator to post something privately to users (perhaps something worth consideration) this would need to be done via email. I'm assuming mods have the use of a system email account so that they don't have to use their own.

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I think that some basic rules should apply in every situation:

  1. Does the answer/comment legitimately provide a solution to the question where the response happens to include a product the user is affiliated with? The developer of a tool is going to know the most about it and be able to say whether it is relevant or not. Whether it's a paid product or not should be irrelevant(1).
  2. However, the key here is "legitimately provide a solution". Where the answer is clearly just promotional and not helpful at all then it should be marked as spam. In all likelihood, the answer will have been voted down as well.
  3. Affiliation should be disclosed.

(1) E.g. is there a distinction between a completely commercial product and an open source product that has commercial options? Is this something you want to be considering? Probably not - it shouldn't be relevant so long as the tool solves the problem.

If what John Gardeniers says above is correct then it should be obvious in most cases of spam because the accounts change, they have low scores etc. In those cases I think the account should be suspended and answers deleted.

In the case where the account has other answers, questions, a reasonable score, linked to another active account elsewhere then a warning should be given rather than immediately suspending.

But I do think there needs to be some consistency. Since Jeff is referring to my account in this instance, I can use some examples from it.

  • My answer here is a legitimate response to the question. This is specifically asking about hosted monitoring tools which my product is.
  • This is different from my answer here which is much more promotional in nature. It has been downvoted accordingly and I shall delete it shortly.
  • Further, I did not disclose my involvement in this however I should note that this answer was added several years ago and the rules may not have been in place then.
  • I believe my answer here has been deleted unfairly. This question is specifically about alternatives to my product (Server Density and one of our competitors, Scout) (because it didn't publicly support Windows at the time) so I answered to note we now had a beta version (and subsequently updated the answer when support when public). Whilst this is self promotion, the question is specifically about my product.

So this indicates that there is a distinction between product questions (whether it's asking what is the best tool for x or whether it's specifically a question about product y) and more general questions e.g. (what is using up all my memory...use my tool x to find out). The former should be given much more leeway (still subject to the requirements for relevancy).

  • 1
    I give you lots of credit for asking a number of good questions that are unrelated to your product, but your answer activity needs more .. balance .. IMHO. Not every answer should be an excuse to cherry pick a place to put text that mentions your product. This is not genuinely contributing. – Jeff Atwood Apr 14 '11 at 9:30
  • Agreed. The balance between the number of answers posted which is considered promotional (even within the rules I suggested above) and genuine non-promotional contributions should be considered before suspending. I shall now make sure I'm contibuting much more and I think this supports the case for warning "real" users first. – DavidM Apr 14 '11 at 10:04
  • Thoughts: 1. If you're going to mention one of your products the Answer posted here must be a full answer (eg How product solves problem). Disclosure of affiliation is absolutely required, no "should" about it. 2. It does matter if it's open source, if your proposed solution has no chance of benefiting you in any meaningful way, you're obviously not posting from a self-interest prospective. 3. The fourth example ("unfair" delete) could be edited to be less advertisey and it would be acceptable if affiliation is disclosed IMHO. – Chris S Apr 15 '11 at 17:59
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    4. Chopper is a bit aggressive, but he only gets false-positives about once every two or three months. In this case you're somewhere in the gray area on account your answers being obviously advertising motivated; but questions being completely valid. He does a lot of garbage collection every day, so mistakes are inevitable; I'd rather he err to collecting the gray with the black; but it's just my opinion. – Chris S Apr 15 '11 at 18:04
  • @chris this user now maps to serverfault.com/users/80749/davidm – Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 10:09
  • @Jeff, what are you doing on SF at 6 AM on Sunday?! – Chris S May 8 '11 at 14:26
  • @chris well my point is, the user got incorrectly destroyed (and 7 questions with +13 votes and all their answers) which points to your false-positive prediction being.. sort of untrue. Or true, depending on how you look at it. – Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 21:49
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My 2 cents: Suspend them like we are now, put a button in there to make objecting easier (flag for mod to review the suspension). I think most of these suspensions are completely valid and the spammers will just move along as soon as they're caught. For the few that object, the flagging for review would be a quick way to notify the mods that the user might not just be a hit'n'run spammer.

  • This raises the question of just how many do dispute the suspension. I've only seen one here on meta so far. – John Gardeniers Apr 19 '11 at 8:24
  • I think I've seen 2 or 3, this would make 3 or 4; and that over a year's time. One or two of those might have been in chat too. – Chris S Apr 19 '11 at 12:28

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