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A user recently posted a question that asks, "How do you do X?" In the user's profile, there is a link to a software company that makes a paid-subscription product for doing X.

The user isn't explicitly shilling (or even mentioning) their product in the question, but it seems that they're only asking because of the services they provide - not because they, themselves, are trying to figure out how to do X. While I understand that people selling things like to do research about those things, it seems a little disingenuous to use a Q&A help site aimed at helping people who have real problems to do that research, especially without disclosing to the people providing answers that you're using them for researching your product.

This doesn't seem to be covered in the site tour or site help that I can find. I did some searching here on Meta and found one question asking about people posting answers related to products they're involved in, but I can't find any guidelines about questions related to products where the user has a commercial interest.

  • The question seems to have been phrased so that it has general applicability. And the OP has never mentioned his company or his product. So it's okay by that measure, I guess. If the OP's profile didn't contain the company link, I can't imagine there would be any problem, right? So should we close questions just because of what's contained in the Profile? On the other hand, I've seen some questions closed due to "asking for tool suggestion" reasons. I guess someone motivated enough could find an excuse to vote to close it. I don't see a real problem here... yet. – Joe Strazzere Jun 28 at 20:03
  • Yeah - I asked because I'm genuinely not sure. I think there are two important aspects - first, the potential commercial nature of asking about a product the asker is associated with. Secondly - do we allow askers to "conduct research" on our members, without disclosing their intent? I don't know how you'd know if someone was doing that or not, but the OP of this question seemed to be aggressively directing users via comments in a very "market research" manner, which is what tripped my radar. – dwizum Jun 28 at 20:14
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    Let me pose some more generic analogies. What would happen on diy.SE if someone working for Makita showed up and started asking what features people like in cordless power tools? Or on cooking.SE if someone working for LG showed up and asked people what types of cooking appliances they use to make dinner every night? Or here on Workplace.SE if someone from LinkedIn showed up and started asking people what tools they use to maintain a professional network? – dwizum Jun 28 at 20:17
  • I understand what you are saying. I think in general, we just assume positive intent. If the OP hadn't put the link in their profile, we would have had to simply assume that they were interested in how people track their professional accomplishments. So I guess the lesson to others is to ask whatever they want, but hide their association. I strongly prefer that people disclose these sorts of things, but obviously nobody here does (or at least not that I've ever seen). – Joe Strazzere Jun 29 at 0:57
  • "What would happen on diy.SE if someone working for Makita showed up and started asking what features people like in cordless power tools?" - I don't frequent DIY, so I have no idea. Has it happened? What if the OP doesn't disclose where they work - would the same question be okay? – Joe Strazzere Jun 29 at 0:58
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    One could argue that the large majority of SO users visit the site for commercial purposes and I'm not sure the goal or background of a question is ultimately relevant, provided that it's a good and on-topic question. The linked question here seems like a pretty obvious example of a polling question which should really have been closed. Questions like the DIY example you give are even more obviously polling questions that are normally closed on sight. – Lilienthal Jul 2 at 6:29
  • @Lilienthal I appreciate your input and you've made two good points very clear: 1) pretty much all of us are here because of our jobs, 2) regardless of the commercial nature, it's a polling question. – dwizum Jul 2 at 12:25
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The primary purpose of StachExchange is to provide information. To those who ask, we provide answers. To those who stumbled upon question while googling, we provide information.

The OP in question, in my view, made an effort to ask the question on-topic, according to rules, and in a clear way. That allowed some people to come up with decent answers (judged by upvotes). When the next person comes along asking the same thing, or when somebody googles and lands on Workplace, they will get help, quickly.

So I disagree that "it seems a little disingenuous to use a Q&A help site aimed at helping people who have real problems to do that research". The OP in question potentially helped many future people by asking that question.

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    Still, disclosing his affiliation would have been better, right? – Joe Strazzere Jun 29 at 1:00
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    @JoeStrazzere better, probably. Necessary though? What if a researcher stumbled across a question and used information from the answers? What would the ethical difference be in the use of the provided answers? Not disagreeing with you, I think the questions you've raised are both interesting and hard. – Player One Jun 29 at 7:18
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    @PlayerOne - others decide the rules here, so they must declare what is necessary and what is not. In my mind, it's always better when folks fully disclose all relevant information. – Joe Strazzere Jun 29 at 10:22
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    @JoeStrazzere agree with "always better to disclose". Not sure if there should be any repercussions when they don't. – aaaaaa Jun 29 at 15:21
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According to the license information in the Stack Exchange footer, information contributed to the site may be used for commercial purposes as long as both of the following conditions are followed:

  • Attribution — You must give appropriate credit, provide a link to the license, and indicate if changes were made. You may do so in any reasonable manner, but not in any way that suggests the licensor endorses you or your use.

  • ShareAlike — If you remix, transform, or build upon the material, you must distribute your contributions under the same license as the original.

This would suggest to me (in the absence of any other guidance) that a question designed for commercial research should be OK, as long as both it's appropriate for the site according to the help center guidelines and the answers are used in accordance with the cc by-sa 3.0 license.

Obviously we have no way to enforce that the license is honoured, but I believe we should assume good intentions unless we have evidence to the contrary.

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I think your question is a good one. Sadly as most things, I don't think we will ever know whether the intent was genuine or not because your questioning via comments seem to have been taken as criticism by the OP.

Coming at this logically, and with the original intent of Stack Overflow in mind, I believe there is a need for the person asking a question to offer some evidence of how they have tried to solve their own problem first. To me, the question feels a lot like what one might tag [homework] on SO. What effort did the OP put into finding the answer first? He has said it is extremely important to him. If that's true, I would have expected him to be offering something like 'I tried using a spreadsheet but found it was unwieldy because it grew to be unmanageable' or whatever.

Apart from showing little effort, the question itself doesn't cause me any problems but to receive a more welcoming reception (assuming a genuine intent) I would probably have opened the question more like: "I work for a company developing a product which does X, Y, and Z. I'm interested to know how other people do this." That is instantly being open and honest and I suspect would have been unlikely to even make anyone think twice about whether it's an OK question as it is clearly related to the workplace and careers. If anyone wanted to know what the product was, they would almost certainly try clicking on his profile where they would find the link.

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