AskMeFi policy FAQ: advertising one's work in response to questions? November 11, 2015 1:01 PM   Subscribe

In response to a recent question on Ask, wherein the poster asked how to create a certain kind of thing, one of the responses was "I can do X. I'd be willing to do that part. (Apologies if this sort of reply is not allowed here; I won't do it again.)" I took this (possibly erroneously) to mean that the responder would do the service for a fee, which struck me as advertisement, which I thought was probably not allowed, but a check of the FAQ and an attempt to search for similar topics did not actually lead to a clear statement of whether this is allowed.

I'm asking here only because it seems like this is the sort of thing that should be spelled out somewhere, such as the FAQ. I don't want to advertise any services myself, and I also don't want to see a lot of advertisements in AskMeFi replies. I don't think it's necessary to call out the specific reply in this case, or its author, because the author was clearly conscious that their posting may or may not be appropriate and offered not to do it again if so. (In fact, maybe they were offering to do the service for free—I couldn't tell either way.) This seems like a general enough issue.

So, to be clear, I'm only bringing this up because of my surprise that there do not seem to be clear guidelines about advertising services in replies. If I missed the guidelines, I apologize for wasting time and space on this. But if there are no written guidelines, perhaps there should be?
posted by StrawberryPie to Etiquette/Policy at 1:01 PM (37 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

For the policy stance itself: in general, people should not be offering to do services for fees in answers on Ask, just as folks shouldn't be posting requests like that as questions (for those cases, hie thee to Jobs, yo).

There are odd situations where it might make more sense in the specific context, but the safe bet is to err towards don't. But if anybody has specific examples they're curious about, it'd be fine to ask here and we can go into more detail.

In terms of documenting it: I think this has mostly just been a soft guideline thing, yeah, as much as anything because it comes up fairly rarely and I think is deleted much of the time when it does if it's not on the right side of some fuzzy area in the specific context. We can look at whether there's a good spot to notate it in the FAQ, but if it's low-frequency enough that we don't see or have to take action on it more than once every few months that may be overdoing it a little.
posted by cortex (staff) at 1:09 PM on November 11, 2015

In terms of documenting it

I can do that for you. MeMail me for my rates.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 1:14 PM on November 11, 2015 [40 favorites]

I'm a consultant who specializes in setting rates. Let me know if you need help with that and I'll bill you.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:24 PM on November 11, 2015 [8 favorites]

I've done it a few times, in response to web development needs, but always tried to answer the specific question first if it was answerable.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:35 PM on November 11, 2015

I think it is worth documenting in the FAQ. In this case, obviously the poster was uncertain if such a thing was allowed and so it really wouldn't hurt to make things more clear.

I do think mentioning that you do something professionally in the context of an answer is OK, but just saying, hey, I do that thing really rubs me the wrong way.
posted by ssg at 1:43 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I feel like this sort of thing hits the sweet spot where the rules about self-linking and the rules about marketing/promotion collide and hasn't really needed an explicit rule. This isn't about you, Pepsi Blue.

"I'm a professional TKTKTK, and generally we use/do whatever blahblahblah" is helpful without pitching. Who knows, maybe by being thoughtful and helpful you'll get a memail later asking about more significant help.

(On preview: For a small fee I'll follow stavros around and flag it and move on every time he does that again.)
posted by notyou at 1:43 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

For a fee, I will eat anything that has been left on your counter for more than three hours.
posted by bondcliff at 1:54 PM on November 11, 2015 [23 favorites]

(On preview: For a small fee I'll follow stavros around and flag it and move on every time he does that again.)

I actually outsource all my MeFi commenting. Maybe you could hire them to do it!

posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:55 PM on November 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm a consultant who specializes in setting rates. Let me know if you need help with that and I'll bill you.

I'd actually pay for this service.
posted by Faint of Butt at 2:02 PM on November 11, 2015 [5 favorites]

Want to DTMFA? Pass me their details and for a small fee you can A consider T MF D'ed. Tell your friends!
posted by billiebee at 2:02 PM on November 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

I'm a consultant who specializes in setting rates. Let me know if you need help with that and I'll bill you.

I misread "bill you" as "kill you" and was simultaneously impressed with and frightened by your rather unorthodox business model.
posted by col_pogo at 2:29 PM on November 11, 2015 [13 favorites]

As long as this isn't something a person is making a habit of, I don't think it's a problem and may be helpful in certain situations. If someone is routinely going around and plugging their services on the green, that's spammy, but if the question is "how do I find a widget transmorgification service in San Francisco who will work on Sunday" and the answer is "I do that. MeMail me," then that's pretty useful.
posted by zachlipton at 2:32 PM on November 11, 2015 [14 favorites]

I know what you're referring to, and I couldn't figure out if they were offering to do it for free or for a fee either. I think the FAQ should at least mention it's discouraged, but not banned outright. Keep everybody on the same page.
posted by Aranquis at 2:54 PM on November 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

Or maybe MetaFilter should just take a finder's fee.
posted by Kabanos at 3:08 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Here's the relevant FAQ entry. Here's the text about self-links in AskMe answers:
In comments, in well-defined circumstances, self-links can be okay. Including a link to your own site in a Metafilter comment is okay provided that it has some relevance to the topic being discussed, and you clearly disclose your affiliation to the site or site-owner, and this type of comment is not your only form of site participation. Random off-topic insertions of self-links into other posts are discouraged and such links may be removed. Similarly, linking to your own content in AskMe answers is okay to do occasionally and with disclosure. People who seem to be self-linking continually, or seemingly with spammy intent may have their content removed and their account banned.
It's not addressing exactly the same thing as you're asking about, I think, but figured I would link it here anyway. We do sometimes see people being like "hey this is exactly my line of work, a general answer would be x but MeMail me if you're interested for more info" and I think that level of thing is generally ok.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 3:16 PM on November 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I agree with zachlipton, this is something I as a user WANT people to be able to do, as long as it's legitimately relevant and helpful. I think the snippet LobsterMitten quotes above captures the right spirit — if your purpose coming to mefi is to post links to your own business, you don't belong here. But if, in the normal course of participating in the community, you see a question you can help with by virtue of what you do for a living, it seems totally reasonable to mention it (with disclosure). There are clearly some judgement calls needed to determine when someone crosses the line, but I really wouldn't want to see an outright ban on this kind of thing.
posted by primethyme at 3:47 PM on November 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

After all this posting, you are no doubt feeling hungry. As a delivery driver, call me, and for a small fee, I will bring Chinese food to your home or work. Special Snowflake Discounts Available!
posted by marienbad at 4:03 PM on November 11, 2015

Does anyone need this thread translated into German? I can do that.
posted by Namlit at 4:35 PM on November 11, 2015

I don't see it as all that much of a problem if regular members respond to 'Can you recommend someone who does X?' or 'I'm trying to figure out if X is a thing I can actually buy. Can I?' with 'I am a professional Xer. Memail me if you want to discuss rates and projects.' There's a whole sub-section of the site dedicated to making professional connections, after all, so it would only be the fact that it's on Ask instead of Jobs that was the problem. People ask these questions on Ask because they're not intending to limit their query to people on MeFi, or because they don't even know yet if X is a service available in the world, but I don't think that should mean they don't get to find out that a Mefite can X for them.

Some brand new newbie who signed up just to post that? Yeah, okay, not so good. $5 is not a very steep price for a permanent advertisement on a pretty well ranked page, after all. But the difference between somebody who hangs out here and happens to X and an Xer who wants to let us all know he Xes should mostly be pretty obvious.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:24 PM on November 11, 2015 [3 favorites]

I feel spectacularly unbothered by the idea that someone would do this if they're otherwise an active participant on Metafilter, unless it's really a reach, like, "pay me to remove the malware on your PC when you asked for where to get a good malware scanner". If I asked a question about where to, I don't know, find someone who does upholstery in the Cleveland area and another MeFite happens to be that person, I wouldn't have to post that in two separate places to find them, and I wouldn't generally think that the odds of that person actually posting here would be so high as to be worth posting on Jobs first.
posted by Sequence at 5:26 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'll go to therapy for you for a small fee and the cost of therapy. I will also, for an additional charge, not be your lawyer, doctor, and/or cataloguer (no services provided beyond a sad shake of the head). I will also fail to read your terms of service for you for free (you have to press "I accept" yourself).
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:59 PM on November 11, 2015

To me it seems like one of those things where if you proactively let people know the line, you get more links right at the line. I like the buffer/mod discretion that ambiguity provides in this area. (And I've probably bugged them about self-promotion more than many members.) It's a nice contrast to the guaranteed ban for self-promotion in blue posts which is one of my favorite simple rules on the Internet.
posted by michaelh at 6:38 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I don't like it and would rather nobody ever try to use non-Jobs areas for jobs at all.

posted by Joseph Gurl at 8:37 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree with michaelh that it's good to have it a little ambiguous so you have to actually search your feelings about whether you're being a sleaze before you make the post.

I've definitely asked questions where if the answer was, "Hey, I do this for a living, MeMail if you want my rates and this here is my website," I would have been 100% delighted. Of course, I've asked questions that were literally, "Is this a job people have? What would I call this job if I were looking to hire someone to do this for me?" It seems pretty unambiguous that getting the answer, "Yes, this is a job people have, specifically I have it, and it costs $40 an hour, I work all over southern California. By the way they call us widget transmogrifiers," is great.
posted by town of cats at 9:10 PM on November 11, 2015 [1 favorite]

Is there an opportunity to monetize not posting on Metafilter? Because I do that all the time, and I'm going through my options.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 9:32 PM on November 11, 2015 [2 favorites]

I'm a consultant who specializes in setting rates. Let me know if you need help with that and I'll bill you.

I'd actually pay for this service.

posted by Ned G at 7:24 AM on November 12, 2015

posted by EndsOfInvention at 9:01 AM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Same as in town?
posted by beagle at 9:26 AM on November 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

town of cats, I like the way you worded that.

If a MeFite knows they have a need, but don't know exactly how to go about filling it, they're going to turn to Ask rather than Jobs - they don't yet know if it is a Job or what that job is called. A responder could easily say "I am a widget transmogrifier; I am not your widget transmogrifier" and provide educated advice and an offer to MeMail for further info.
posted by a halcyon day at 2:15 PM on November 12, 2015

It seems to me that "Looking for X in Y area" questions could reasonably be answered with "I'm an X in Y area!". People already recommend friends or professionals they have a working relationship with (which is kind of the point of the question), so almost any answer to that could have a conflict of interest (even if its a professional relationship, someone might give a discount or otherwise consider that someone sent them referrals).

Different from "I need help with X" being replied to with "I'll help with X, but only for $$$" which does seem against the spirit of AskMe.
posted by thefoxgod at 2:34 PM on November 12, 2015

I think I commented in that thread to say I thought it was fine, and I do - if it's all that poster does then yeah that's lame slash bannable, but askmefi is a machine for people to use their skills and talents to help each other so as long as they're doing that and not just trawling for clients I think it is in line with the ethos of the green.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:56 PM on November 12, 2015

I'm a widget transmogrifier, and have used links to a generic widget transmogrification website when answering questions thereabout. However, I also make clear that IANYWT, and should you need a widget transmogrifier, I am more than happy to help you locate one in your general vicinity. Because I understand the general squickiness surrounding self-links and self-promotion, I disclaim the transmogrification out of any and all answers I give on the subject.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 5:44 PM on November 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

This is one of those things that works fine in small doses when done by established members and would obviously become a problem if people started signing up to flog there business at every opportunity. I know the latter has happened at least once way back before the mods had auto alerts for comments in long dead askmes because I saw the spam-banning-deletion process in recent activity. But until it becomes a wide spread problem I think the self policing as it currently stands where no-one is abusing is just fine.

Here's a recent thread where I think a member who happens to be an electrician in Seattle would have easily got the best answer if she had stepped in and said "this is what I do in this area and this is a rough estimate of the cost". Which is a little different than what was being asked but in a very similar vein and one could easily see that statement leading to getting the job.
posted by Mitheral at 9:36 PM on November 12, 2015

I don't trust professionals to do a good job merely based on their Mefi membership. The idea seems weird to me.
If I am asking for recommendations for a lawyer in the X area, I want to hear, "I had good experiences with this lawyer, when I needed This, she did That and she was always professional or whatever.
Saying that you, personally, are such a lawyer would not be useful to me because it wouldn't be...a recommendation.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:08 AM on November 13, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seen the time I'm hanging out here, it's really more that I'm a good professional in spite of my Mefi membership. It comes as a surprise to me every single day.

A twist well worth pondering when you hire a lawyer in the X area.
posted by Namlit at 5:48 AM on November 13, 2015

Before we pulled the plug on We Love DC as a site I linked it in some DC-focused answers even though I was personally involved in the venture. (I'm not sure it really applies in this case since it wasn't ever something that did more than buy me a few beers, but it was business-ish and we had ads). My personal metric was whether I was providing an actual answer to the question even if someone didn't click through to additional resources beyond. Hey, here's a complete answer had to precede also, if you want more you can go look at this thing which I disclosed I am involved with.

My opinion is worth less than you paid to read it (even if you predate the $5 signup period) but I figure that if there's worth in the answer by itself it's not shilling. And why wouldn't other mefi folks want to know about what other mefi folk have to offer beyond their overt participation? I can see how it could theoretically be problematic, but that would require a question being allowed to stand that was nothing more than "who can I hire to do X?" and an answer to that which was a link to "me" with no additional useful information about the nature of doing X or how to vet someone who does it.

Since neither of those things would be allowed to stand by a mod by themselves this doesn't strike me personally as a big worry. Ask serves questioners by getting them complete answers and Metafilter itself by being a resource for googlers to find later to help them answer similar questions, right? If both of those things are met why would we want members to hide their light under a bushel?
posted by phearlez at 10:13 AM on November 13, 2015

Honestly, I don't think "take it to Jobs" is a good alternative in a lot of cases. For one, I suspect readership on AskMe is hundreds of times higher than it is on Jobs. And also, in many cases it's not that you've got a specific job or task and would like to encourage MeFis to provide it for you, but that you're not even totally sure how to go about getting done what you want done. Or basically what jacquilynne said. Fuck, I could have just paid her to write this comment. The old saying "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" comes to mind. If this hasn't historically been much of a problem, any sort of clearer or stricter policy would be a solution to a problem that doesn't exist and that could actually make things worse by creating a missed connection for the occasional Asker who has a problem to be solved that can be solved, for a fee, by an Answerer.
posted by drlith at 7:48 PM on November 14, 2015

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