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The Magento "ecosystem" is hugely dependent on 3rd party extensions. Some are free, but many are commercial extensions. How do we balance appropraite answers involving third party extensions vs. spam?

For example, when someone has a super long question about setting up complicated shipping rules, a common and popular answer would be to recommend they purchase and use the WebShopApps Product Matrix extension.

Similarly, someone whose purchased the Product Matrix extension might have a question about how use it.

I think these sorts of questions and answers are valid and useful for the proposed StackExchange site and the Magento ecosystem, but they leave us open to spamming opportunities. StackOverflow itself has this problem to some degree, with 1 rep users showing up recommending their extensions on every question that has the right keywords. (which, thankfully, gets stamped out quickly by the moderators and/or automated systems)

What level of self-promotion or promotion of other's third part products should we allow on the Magento StackExchange site? I know the knee jerk reaction is none, but a big part of being a Magento developer/service-provider/maintainer is picking the right extensions to use on your site. We'd lose a lot of valuable information if we stamped these sorts of questions out entirely.

(Disclaimer: I sell a Magento debugging extension and ebook, so my views have some obvious biases to them)

Proposal: Magento

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It's an excellent question to ask, and one which we'll revisit as a community as the site matures, so thanks for asking it during the proposal phase.

Interpretations regarding these kinds of questions and answers are a matter of opinion. As such, they remind me of the US Supreme Court's rules regarding when a work of art is subject to censorship as obscenity. That is to say that while it's not appropriate/impossible to set anything in stone, the aggregate actions of site users will reveal a consensus which will (hopefully) be intuitable and consistent.

It's important that the site users' action drive the determination as each user will have different tolerances for and determinations of those posts which appear to be purely commercially motivated rather than earnest answers and contributions to the body of knowledge. Ideally, this difference of opinion will average out such that truly helpful answers involving commercial products are marked as accepted; downvotes and votes to close questions involving a commercial product will not disenfranchise legitimate, valuable questions; and downvotes & flags of answers involving commercial products will only occasionally result in that action taking place.

If we must propose a few ground rules, it seems that some of the SE principles will apply quite well here. For example, link-only answers should never suffice (and will likely be caught by the SE engine). Further, an answer which links to a commercial product and includes only the product's boilerplate may likely be voted down, because (1) it does not address the OP's failure to research and (2) it contributes nothing beyond what a simple Google search would. A better answer involving the product would be one which both links to the product and offers an evaluation of the features and code as well as further customizations which may be necessary. So in this case, both a better question and better answers are possible.

Another ground rule would be to close/respond to questions such as "I installed XYZ Corp's extension and now my site is broken" with a message to engage the vendor for support OR to get the user to post further details. It will be nice to have our own site in which the community wiki can contain general information for turning on path hints, enable error display etc. Can't wait!

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    Very well said. The line between shamelessly promoting one's own material without actually adding value to the community vs honest recommendations of something known to be beneficial and fit for the users use case is a tough one to draw before knowing what challenges will be faced as the site matures. – davidalger Jan 2 '13 at 4:42
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About extensions promotion

I think it depends on the type of the question. If author asks about "how" to implement a certain feature, then an answer should be directed that way with a clear guide on how to manually do it. There is no room for advertising in here.

On the other hand, if question is more generally asked in a clear "how could I achieve X without any programming knowledge", then 3rd party extensions should be advertised, but again with a clear answer on how exactly it can be done. I do however think, that alternatives (if there are any) should be noted with a side-by-side comparison, and that author of the answer should write his own (subjective) opinion on how good the extension is written and it's pros and cons. Because of that, I think extensions review system (like the one started on Extension_Reviews) would definitely help us in this area. In the end though, if extension is good and if it does the job from the question well, then I see no reason why it shouldn't be promoted.

About 3rd party extension questions

Why not? The point here is to help everyone that has a Magento related question. Although, people should be forwarded to official support forums after the answer is given.

In general, I also think that those things will most likely sort-out for themselves and we will see which way the train is going. No reason for complicating and limiting things too much at the start.

  • Regarding "how to implement X feature" questions, if someone needs something (e.g. combined & minified JS & CSS output), does it not make sense to point out Fooman_Speedster, so long as it's more than just a link to the extension? Even at the agency level working on $100K+ sites sometimes the best solution is to use a well-established product from a vendor with support. Thoughts? – benmarks Dec 28 '12 at 23:38
  • I think that we agree. I would always want to ask myself "what exactly does the author of a question really want?". Is it a solution to a general problem "My store is slow. I think I want minified JS. How do I do that?" or to a programming / designing question "I'm having problems reading and processing JS files for minification". The latter one is answered by a detailed programming answer with no need for advertising 3rd party modules. Answer to the first question though, should have more than one (if there are any) 3rd party extension mentioned with a comparison and subjective opinion. – Jernej Golja Dec 29 '12 at 0:19

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