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The question Free, open-source substitutes for Mendeley? attracted several answers, included one by the OP https://academia.stackexchange.com/a/8476/102, which combines both a commercial solution (for hosting) and a free open-source solution. I can't help but think that the entire question was a disguised advertisement for that product, although it could be perfectly genuine.

Should we delete answers linking to commercial solutions, in order to avoid disguised advertisement?

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    I don't think it was disguised advertising since there was a 4 month gap between the question and the self answer. I cannot tell if the OP's answer really is FOSS. – StrongBad Nov 5 '14 at 11:21
  • @StrongBad: I'm not entirely convinced it is disguised advertisement, although the fact that the only two answers from that user are about the same product is not helping (but both answers are relevant). – user102 Nov 5 '14 at 13:05
  • Also consider the user's posting history: stackexchange.com/users/1622666/jonas-stein While his answers here are related to the product, it's not like he's a shill for it. It is likely that he created this solution as a result of not being able to find one. Self-answers like this are encouraged on other websites, if you eventually do find a suitable solution, even if, in this case, it sounds shilly. – Compass Nov 6 '14 at 16:24
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I think our primary concerned should be to get good answers to our questions. Answers that show how a product is the best at solving the problem should be encouraged regardless of if the answer is posted by a regular user of the site, a new user, or a representative of the company that sells the product. If someone who has a vested interested in a product provides a good answer, great. One line link answers, as always, should be discouraged by down votes. Answers touting products that do not provide an answer to the asked question should also be down voted.

It would be nice if answers always state if there is/isn't a conflict of interest, but that is hard to enforce. I see no issue with leaving a comment asking for a statement about potential conflicts of interest when the answer is not clear about it.

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If a commercial product is a relevant answer to a question, then it should be posted as an answer. I'd rather err towards more complete answers (with possibly some hidden advertisements) than less complete answers. I care more about the end result (is it a good answer?) then the motivations of the person posting it.

I consider a product mention spam only if it's not a valid answer to the question (in which case, it should be flagged and deleted).

Certainly, users should follow the disclosure policy; but I don't think a heightened level of suspicion is a good thing. It leads to comments like the one on this answer, which I find unfriendly and not particularly helpful.

Now, if an answer mentioning a commercial product was getting upvotes from sockpuppets to make it appear more popular than it really is, then I would be concerned.

Note: the description of the spam flag says that it should be applied to a post that is:

effectively an advertisement with no disclosure. It is not useful or relevant, but promotional.

An answer that is useful or relevant is not spam.

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  • I don't mind comments that ask the user to state if there are/aren't conflicts of interest. – StrongBad Nov 5 '14 at 15:01
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As long as it's not shameless self-advertisement and done in good faith, I don't believe there is any issue with providing a full disclosure and software as an option, in accordance with most SE policies.

I know that a lot of research benefits from using open-source technology, but commercial technology is also useful and practical, and helpful to the user, and sometimes a person may have made software that genuinely is beneficial for the user.

That being said, the product should be addressed to be as close to the request as possible.

Appropriate

Question: How can I farm potatoes?

Answer:

Potato Farmer, which I made, can help you since it plants, cultivates and harvests potatoes. It uses patented technology based on astrology to determine the best time to plant. It is capable of planting 4000 potatoes a minute. Harvesting is based on echo location and the free Potato Farmer 1000 can only harvest 1 potato a week, but the full version Potato Farmer 2000 can harvest 42 potatoes a day. Note that it really isn't helpful for carrot farming.

Inappropriate

Question: How can I farm pumpkins?

Question: How can I make mashed potatoes?

Question: Where can I buy potatoes?

Question: Can someone explain to me the benefits of potatoes?

Answer:

Potato Farmer, which I made, can help you since it plants, cultivates and harvests potatoes. It uses patented technology based on astrology to determine the best time to plant. It is capable of planting 4000 potatoes a minute. Harvesting is based on echo location and the free Potato Farmer 1000 can only harvest 1 potato a week, but the full version Potato Farmer 2000 can harvest 42 potatoes a day. Note that it really isn't helpful for carrot farming.

The software should be directly applicable to addressing the problem for me to be okay with it.

A few weeks ago, we had a user promoting a sort of course management system of some sort. On some questions, it worked, but on others, it was noted that the user had searched for the tag and submitted the answer as the product, without ever addressing the question. For some, it was an appropriate solution. For others, it was way off mark or ignored the question entirely and proposed an alternative.

Also, if the only thing the person is doing is answering about Potato Farmer, then that falls into the spam category for sure.

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I find anything mentioning a commercial solution extremely dubious, especially if it is one that I have not already heard of. In fact, in my short time at the site, I've already been involved in the cleanup of one apparent commercial spammer. On the other hand, some prominent and well-known products like Web of Science are often brought up in reasonable contexts. The question is, how do we determine the difference between marketing and legitimate recommendation?

My thoughts:

  • If something is already large and significant (e.g., has its own wikipedia page), then it is an established fact of the scientific world and there is no need for special scrutiny.

  • For anything else, a heightened level of scrutiny is important, and in particular a person needs to make a clear and convincing disclaimer about their relationship (or lack thereof) with a product. Only posts by a convincingly unrelated advocate should be retained. New pseudonymous posters may have a hard time being convincing...

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  • Hmm, this answer is inconsistent with the general SE policy, which explicitly allows mentioning own product with disclosure: "Post good, relevant answers, and if some (but not all) happen to be about your product or website, that’s okay. However, you must disclose your affiliation in your answers." – ff524 Nov 5 '14 at 14:40
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    -1 Many of the questions that need "product recommendations" are looking for small products. People affiliated with a product are in a good position to say how the product solves the problem so it seems silly to not let them answer. Further, the issue isn't really about commercial products and I see no difference between recommending free and proprietary products. As you say we want legitimate answers and not marketing. – StrongBad Nov 5 '14 at 15:07
  • Perhaps I'm much more suspicious about commercial advertisement than the norm... I'm happy to follow the community consensus, though. – jakebeal Nov 5 '14 at 15:32

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