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Motivation
We get a lot of questions asking for equipment recommendations. I am not going to deal with whether these questions should be asked or answered (another debate) but want instead to advocate a simple practice that will bring more honesty to our answers.

This site has an implicit goal of providing objective, neutral, impartial and high quality answers. But many of the answers to equipment recommendation questions seem merely to reflect their own buying preferences and therefore are not a sincere answer to the questioner's needs. This is not an equipment advocacy site.

So I am advocating that whenever we recommend some product XYZ we add a simple disclaimer something like this:
Disclaimer: I own and use product XYZ
or conversely
Disclaimer: I do not own or use product XYZ
and it might sometimes be relevant to say
Disclaimer: I have no connection, commercial or otherwise with company XYZ

I think this kind of honesty will limit tend to limit the subtle (and not so subtle) advocacy that we see on this site.

A very good example of good practice is seen here in John Cavan's answer to this question:
Advice Pleaseā€¦ Sony to Canon?

His up front disclaimer immediately tells us that he is probably impartial since he is not advocating the camera he owns.

Another good example is the guy from Shutterbug who openly declares his affiliation.

So my question is: Do you agree that we should, as a matter of [policy|good practice] [ask|require] that, in the case of equipment recommendations, the respondent gives a disclaimer?

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I am not sure about this one, at least as a general policy. First, I fully agree with Sean about those who have a professional connection to the product/company/service under discussion. People generally don't like sales pitches here to start with, and blatantly advertising a product will generally get you some judicial down votes (whether you proclaim your affiliation or not).

As for disclaiming personal brand loyalties, I think that is a bit of a hard sell, largely because it is difficult to enforce, and sometimes is not always brand loyalty, just an enthusiastic recommendation (such as the excellent example from John Cavan that was linked.) This site is growing very fast, and not everyone reads the FAQ or visits this meta site. We could move ahead and define such a rule stating that you must provide a disclaimer on all equipment recommendations, but thats kind of like saying to private-sector union members "You must vote with a personal ID card so we can put the screws to you if you exhibit any kind of personal opinion and vote against the grain."

Assuming we did pass such a rule or policy, here are the problems I see with enforcing it:

  1. People don't always read the FAQ or Meta, so won't know to disclaim.
  2. People don't always recognize their own bias as bias, and won't recognize the need to disclaim.
  3. Many people are passive, or even aggressive, rebels, and will ignore the policy just to be spiteful (and because they don't like it.)
  4. Some people will perceive the rule as a violation on one level or another (why should they have to openly declare their personal preferences as though it was a legal proceeding?), and will ignore the policy to protect themselves.
  5. Some people will find the policy to be "stupid on its face", tying their hands, tedious and annoying, etc. etc. and will ignore it on principal.

At most, I think such a policy should exist, but be limited to those who have a professional and/or commercial affiliation with whatever product, company, or service they are promoting. As for the general membership who are simply product owners, I think we should leave well enough alone, and moderate on a case-by-case basis if any moderation is necessary at all. I say this because of the nature of Photo-SE, and of SEN itself. The whole idea is that content is community moderated and community built. We already have a fairly diverse population of photographers here, some with brand loyalty and some who have used and own many brands and are rather brand-agnostic. Even if someone does exhibit strong brand loyalty in an answer to an equipment recommendation question, there are bound to be other answers with less bias, stronger pro and con arguments, based on more solid, founded and experiential knowledge. I think we can let the nature of the site take care of bumping the appropriate answers to the top and dropping biased answers to the bottom via votes.

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I think the community mechanism guards well against the overtly biased answers and, where it fails, I think the moderation mechanism will help to catch it. For myself, I prefer to add the disclaimer, especially if I'm about to make statements that may appear subjective or defensive, but that's my preference and I think it helps the acceptance of my answers but it isn't necessary for it. In fact, for others, when they don't do it in a subjective context, I'm less inclined to their response. Perhaps that's the self-regulation of the site working as we would expect. :)

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Yes, absolutely this should be done whenever there is a professional connection to the product/company/service under discussion. A disclosure of that connection is a matter of ethics.

Yes, often when reading a recommendation for a specific thing XYZ it is helpful to know the writer's personal experience and brand loyalty.

However, sometimes there are cases where it really doesn't matter. Requiring a formal declaration of affiliation or (non-affiliation in the style of "I have no connection, commercial or otherwise with company XYZ") seems like overkill to solve a problem that may or may not materialize as a significant issue.

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Here is an example case where I think a disclaimer should be necessary:

How to watermark a folder of photographs?

The interesting thing about this particular answer is that the account name of the person who answered is the name of the company that makes the software being promoted. I am not sure if we are willing, as a community, to accept such an account name AS a disclaimer...or whether we want it to be explicit. I'd like to know what peoples thoughts are on this specific case, and the general type of case involving an affiliated individual promoting specific products.

My own opinion is I don't care for it much. I don't think our forum should be used as a place to advertise software, and if we don't discourage such answers, it'll become a more and more common practice.

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  • Yes, I think it is troubling. The name is not sufficient, there needs to be an explicit disclaimer. This is commercial advocacy which seems to cross the borderline of what is acceptable. Answering questions about the product and the company is another matter and is useful, provided there is always a proper disclaimer. I share your concern about astroturfing. – labnut Apr 7 '11 at 5:59
  • Now comes the hard part. Despite the fact that the user is advertising his/her product...it seems to be a product specifically designed to solve the provlem the OP described. I would personally still disallow the answer, and leave it up to an unaffiliated person to offer that product as a solution. But is that the right solution? Should we allow such advertanswers in this one type of case? – jrista Apr 7 '11 at 6:55
  • I think it can be acceptable under certain circumstances: 1) it must be a direct and relevant answer to the question. 2) it may not make any claims for the product except to state that it is a possible answer to the question. 3) It must carry an explicit disclaimer. 4) The respondent must state his connection with the company. The answer fails tests 3 and 4 so should be disallowed. – labnut Apr 7 '11 at 7:22
  • @labnut: I whole-heartedly agree. Great analysis. – jrista Apr 7 '11 at 15:58

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