Google sponsor some tags within the SE network. In particular, here on Server Fault , and .

The Google support pages have this to say on the matter

... the Server Fault links for technical questions about system and network administration ...

Ok so here is the text of a recently asked question tagged with a Google sponsored tag

Unable to start a google cloud project- Forbidden

I recently signed up for google cloud using my google apps for business account. Entered the billing information and went to the google cloud platform however, I cannot start a new project. The only information I get in the activity window is 'forbidden' I am not sure what is wrong here.

Anyway to help me rectify this

I put a Close->Off Topic->Questions involving web hosting control panels vote on it.

This isn't the first question like this and I imagine that like the others it will soon be closed as off topic as, at this point the OP isn't really doing system administration they are using a Web App/Control Panel to create something to do system administration on.

The purpose of this question is to garner community consensus on the validity of this type of question or not here on Server Fault.

My question:

Where is the line for the Google sponsored tags between using a Web App/Control Panel and doing system administration on the objects provided by the Web App/Control Panel ?

  • I'm not sure if I want to touch or judge some of these questions... But perhaps it would be helpful to have those the tags are aimed at involved? It looks like there is very little usage of the tags here so far though. The main usage of google tags seems to be on stackoverflow.
    – Reaces
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 13:46
  • 3
    I think we should welcome their comments. There are few questions now (although there are quite a lot that have been closed and deleted) but we've had a couple of spats already where the OP states that Google tells them to come here and the community says no that very definitely isn't our bailiwick. There is clearly a gap, having something we (or they) can point at can only be a good thing as more people get driven in this direction.
    – user9517
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 14:24
  • Such a question should be closed, but that particular close reason isn't relevant to the situation, and will be confusing at best. Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 20:08

5 Answers 5


I think there's definitely a bright line here.

With vendor-sponsored forums, you end up with a lot of angry chatter between customers, and when you look through such things there are pages of people with smoke issuing from their ears over fairly minor issues, and occasionally the vendor will chime in with something only slightly helpful.

Nobody needs that, anywhere.

How do we stop that, then? Also, how do we avoid this feeling like a helpdesk? Easy. These questions are on topic if:

  • They relate to professional systems administration, or at least closely enough that the answer will be useful to a reasonably competent professional
  • The way the cloud service is being used represents reasonable business practice
  • The community can give an answer, because doing so wouldn't require access to the cloud vendor's systems
  • The question is not specific to that particular asker and their account issues
  • The question provides enough information about what is going on that we can reduce it to an actual systems administration problem and answer it

That all comes from close reasons we have actually used and had as templates.

Nobody could possibly expect us, this community, to provide free support for Google. They get a fancy logo on their tags and who knows what else, but really, questions that don't meet the 4-part test above don't belong here and aren't helpful and probably won't get an answer from us anyway.

That a web control panel is used to bring up a server is neither here nor there. Yes, generally, there are APIs for this kind of thing, but the web control panel doesn't butcher the system in the same way cpanel or plesk does. It's just used to configure the environment around it, and it's just a direct frontend to the API in every case I know of.

The issue here is more that we need to close questions about people's bills and credentials, and questions where people haven't given enough information, and other questions that aren't answerable. That's it.

  • +1 Great summary. I agree, this is how they should be handled.
    – EEAA
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 19:00
  • +1 I can agree with this.
    – Reaces
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 21:21

I'm going to try to put in my opinion on what is a hard topic...
As I am often involved with Azure setups, my opinion might be clouded towards allowing them, so keep that in mind.

Are cloud hosting panels the same as control panels and as such Off Topic?
No definitely not.
While control panels change the way the underlying OS handles, interfaces such as those offered by Azure, Google, AWS only serve to configure the OS on a basic level.

Are cloud hosting panels Off Topic by default?
It depends.
Cloud hosting panels are used to configure the underlying OS, which could be On Topic as it is becoming a more prevalent subject in the world of systems administration.
They are however also used to manage things not directly related to the OS, such as billing.
There is also the fact that problems that occur by misunderstanding the cloud hosting panels interface is not something we can help with.

So where is the line?
If you're asking questions on how to configure your OS in a specific way, or how to compare a specific OS to its on-premise variant. There is a good chance your question can be formulated in a way that is On Topic.
If you're asking about billing, or about functionality of the panel that is not directly related to the OS, it is Off Topic.

That doesn't really help.
No it doesn't. The subject is a bit hard to put into definite terms.
For cloud hosting panels it can vary wildly on the subject matter, the expertise of the person asking, and the way the question is formulated.
Even more so than regular questions, if you have a question about any of these, do plenty of research first.
Otherwise chances are your question will be closed.

  • 1
    Do you mean for OT to stand for on topic or off topic? I assume off topic, but that ambiguity makes your answer hard to follow.
    – alx9r
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 16:12
  • @alx9r I updated the wording a bit. Hopefully it's easier to read.
    – Reaces
    Commented Sep 6, 2015 at 16:47

There are a couple of topics involved here, one of which probably deserves its own meta question. But first:

Where is the line for the Google sponsored tags between using a Web App/Control Panel and doing system administration on the objects provided by the Web App/Control Panel ?

Yes, technically-speaking, they're using a vendor's control panel to create infrastructure.


How is this different from someone doing the same with AWS? We get a quite a few questions from people about how to do such-and-such on AWS, which most of the time involves their GUI Console, and I've never felt that those questions are off-topic.

One caveat that I try to mention whenever I'm answering these questions is that best practices dictate that the GUI Console (whether AWS, GCE, Rackspace, etc.) should only be a read-only interface. Any modifications should be done via the vendor's API in a controlled, repeatable, testable manner.

Now, the second point is the appropriateness of Google sending their unsupported customers here for support. Perhaps this should be a sepearate question? Seeing all of these "HALP!!" questions come through, my reaction was always "Go ask Google", because I'd never actually seen Google follow through on their statement that they have people monitoring and answering questions here. Well, turns out that's not true - if you look at , you can see that there's at least one Google employee that comes here periodically to answer questions.

So, to summarize, as long as the user seems to have a modicum of a clue about GCE operations, I say leave the question as-is. People that aren't familiar with GCE don't need to feel any obligation to answer the questions or help out - just let them sit until a Google employee comes along to answer.

  • I haven't seen many questions from AWS or Rackspace users that were in effect 'I clicked a button and it didn't work HALP!'. So for me there is a line. One side there is a technical question that can possibly be answered by the community. The other is a call to the hosting provider. Similarly billing questions cost of usage questions etc for me call Google.
    – user9517
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 16:03

To my way of thinking, we can't control what crazy stuff anyone is going to send our way. Thus, the fact that someone has come here because Google suggested they come here shouldn't be part of the on/off-topic decision. If a questioner expresses some displeasure at having their question closed after following Google's advice, our response should be a polite but firm "take it up with Google".

The issue of the tag being a sponsored one doesn't, IMO, change the topicality of the question, but I can see how it could get into a slightly more grey area. SE pays to run the site, in order to keep running, they need money. They get the money through advertising (of which sponsored tags are a part). Sponsors need to see value in spending the money... but what value are sponsors getting? I can't actually find anything concrete about what assertions are made about what sponsoring a tag actually gets the sponsor.

I'm not saying that if SE were insane enough to tell Google, "sponsor this tag and you can send all your freebie users to SF and they'll do your support for free", that we should just roll over and take that, but the issue isn't automatically quite as simple as "burn them all with fire". Without the sponsored tags, there's less money to run the site, and (in theory) SE might go out of business. So... compromises. Maybe. Or hopefully not.

  • I'm not sure if the finances of the site should be of any concern to us. We're it's customer base, not its employees. The main issue here as I see it is the difference between control panels and cloud hosting panels.
    – Reaces
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 6:06
  • We're also, presumably, interested in the continued existence of SF. While the major factor in SF's continued existence is a healthy community etc etc, if SE doesn't have money then SF ceases to exist (in its current form at least). I agree with you that the main issue is panels in their various forms, but Iain specifically asked about the sponsored tags, not just "poor-quality questions from GCE users", so I thought I'd address that aspect of the question.
    – womble Mod
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 6:21
  • 2
    There have already been at least 2 'discussions' where Google users have come here because Google 'told. them too. Their question was clearly not about system administration but was about some aspect of the web app not working as expected.
    – user9517
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 7:09
  • 1
    I'm just not quite sure what we can discuss about the financial aspect of SE. We don't know well enough the deal behind the sponsored links, the actual income / financial health of SE. AFAIK the only sponsored part is that google refers to SF on their support page, and everything else is unknown. And talking about SE going out of business because we're being rude to google customers? Really? That's such a massive leap.
    – Reaces
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 7:38
  • @Reaces: Well, we shouldn't be any less rude to Google customers, because we shouldn't be rude to anyone. <grin> The "sponsored" part isn't that Google is telling people to come here -- it's that someone (presumably Google) is paying SE for putting the logo on the tag.
    – womble Mod
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 9:17
  • 1
    @Iain: We shouldn't deal with questions any differently because Google told the questioner to come here -- we say "this is off-topic" and close the question, and when they say "but Google said to come here!" we reply "I'm sorry that Google gave you incorrect advice" and we're done. If they want to keep on about it and be disruptive, they get banned until they cool off.
    – womble Mod
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 9:18
  • @womble I wasn't saying they don't pay. I meant to say that anything related to payment is an unknown factor for us, and frankly not a necessary topic of discussion when talking about the topicality of questions. Separation of church and state, only in this case separation of financial and utility.
    – Reaces
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 9:22
  • I'm assuming we're the church here? Our Lady of the Blessed Close Vote. <grin> I agree that it would be better if we didn't care, but the only thing "special" about sponsored tags is that they're paid for, so I can only assume that that is what Iain was referring to when he included it in his question.
    – womble Mod
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 9:24
  • @womble The other special thing is that google directs people here while also advertising the tags in the process. In other words there is a specific origin for a lot of the users of these questions. And of course the subject mater being so closely related / easily compared to a hated subject, control panels.
    – Reaces
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 9:26
  • Yes, but that's orthogonal to the sponsorship of the tags. If Google told people to come here and weren't sponsoring the tags, we'd still have the same set of questions coming and we'd still have to deal with them, and we'd still get people saying "but Google told me to come here!".
    – womble Mod
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 9:27
  • So what you're saying is we could remove everything about how google pays for the tags from the question and nothing would change. So talking about how google pays for the tags is not relevant? I win! Hooray!
    – Reaces
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 9:32
  • Heeeey... declaring yourself the winner is cheating!
    – womble Mod
    Commented Sep 4, 2015 at 9:33

We've had a ton of discussion on control panels, and the consensus was to make them OT. I don't care who the vendor is, or anything about the question. It should be marked OT and closed. The very second we start making exceptions for platform x we invite trouble.

Additionally the rate of change in these control panels is such that these questions will become obsolete relatively quickly

  • 3
    Jim, there is a huge difference between something like cPanel and something like Iain is asking about. One is a replacement for real sysadmin tools that violates all sane principles of sysadmin. The other is the de-facto way to create infrastructure in the cloud. Whether we like it or not, Cloud providers are not getting any smaller and as such, their role in the sysadmin world will increase and along with it, our need to at least be somewhat accepting of questions that involve building infrastructure using their tools.
    – EEAA
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 15:26
  • 1
    agreed but I don't think we are ready for that distinction just yet, and I've added another reason as well. I'd even argue that AWS control panels are OT. Scripts to do the same task however would be on topic. the policy is such that even mentioning a control panel in your question is OT and I agree that it's much simpler to simply close rather than parse for exceptions.
    – Jim B
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 15:44
  • @EEAA At the level that I'm asking I don't think there is any distinction at all. Clicking a button and not having it do what you expected isn't being a sysadmin it's driving a web app/control panel.
    – user9517
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 15:59
  • 1
    The discussion on control panels was to ban hosting control panels. I.e. those that take a server and enable it to become multi-tenant, with an emphasis on taking complex services and dumbing them down. So it's not a matter of making an exception. Allowing AWS and Google hosting platform questions isn't the same at all. (Having said that, I think control panels at large should be banned, not just those focused on hosting. Webmin must die.)
    – Wesley
    Commented Sep 3, 2015 at 18:17

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