I understand, and completely agree, that personal involvement in a software project which you are recommending should be disclosed while answering a question. What I am unsure of is whether you need to, and the level of involvement at which you need to, begin disclosing when you are involved in a package deriving from the app you are recommending.

My specific case

I am an official developer on a website that repackages Windows software for use from removable media (link is in my profile if you need to know more about the site).

There are a number of ways to which I could be potentially connected to an individual package on the site:

  1. I am directly responsible for the package
  2. I am not directly responsible for the package, but have had releases of that package attributed to me
  3. I am not responsible for the package, but have assisted the developer with the initial packaging by contributing code that helps implement portability
  4. I have had no involvement at all with a package but know of it and can/will provide support for it
  5. I have had no involvement with, and may not even know about, a package

All effort I expend on the site is purely voluntary, so at no point above do I receive anything for my involvement with any given package. (In future there is the potential for paid software to be made available through the site, but I am unsure of what involvement volunteers will have with those packages.)

We don't change the base application (except under extremely rare circumstances) and either do not need permission (the base application is under an open source licence or a freeware licence that allows repackaging/redistributing) or we obtain permission to release a portable version.

So, on to my questions:

  1. If I were to recommend the original application (with which I have had no actual involvement) should I add a disclosure statement for the portable package, and at which levels of my involvement in the portable package should I disclose? (There have been instances where a portable package has become officially supported by the app's developer, or at has been linked to from the app's website)

    Example: I answered the question Tool for taking screenshot and quickly editing it with PicPick. There is an official portable release of PicPick on the site I am involved with to which I have provided a small amount of help in the initial creation of the portable package (falling into point 3 above). I did not add disclosure here as I am in no way involved with PicPick itself.

  2. If I were to specifically recommend the portable package at which levels above should I disclose my potential involvement? (Obviously 1, probably 2, maybe 3, the rest I am assuming no?).

Obviously this is a very niche question, but I would like to have some semblance of consensus so I can't be blamed for promotional posting where I have assumed I do not need to disclose my almost-but-not-quite-related involvement.

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Can you add wether or not you receive royalties/commissions/ consulting fees/pay-per-download on various levels? –  Oxinabox Feb 11 at 23:32
    
@Oxinabox We receive nothing as we are all volunteers. I've edited the question to reflect this. –  winterblood Feb 11 at 23:48

2 Answers 2

I would definately add this. In addition to the usual unwritten rule - that your sole purpose on a site should not be to shrill your product, clearly indicating 1,2 or 3 means that your answer has a little more weight, since you're familiar with the product and safely meets the open-ness criteria.

4 is implicit in answering. 5 is implicit in not answering ;).

Packaging is a bit of a complication though. I pretty much hacked together, in a very ugly way, one of the earlier 'portable' distributions of k-meleon. I don't mention that every time I recommend it though. Its probably useful to understand the intent of the rules - that folk don't use the site as free advertising and nothing else. In this specific case, I wouldn't consider it essential. I probably would add that I helped package the software at the bottom if I did, but thats entirely an ego thing. If its a rare, one off recommendation for a product you're only indirectly involved in, chances are no one will really worry about it.

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By 4 & 5 I specifically mean knowledge of the portable package eg. I have extensive use and knowledge of Netbeans, but may be unaware of a portable package of Netbeans on that site. –  winterblood Feb 12 at 1:39

This is a really interesting question; thanks for taking the time to think about the situation.

I suggest this be analysed from a "spirit of the law" perspective. What is the point of requiring disclosure? Typically it is to allow the consumer to understand how the author might be biased. There are two ends to the spectrum:

  • Somebody with a vested interest in one commercial product that stands to gain from more people using that product over a competing solution. Their bias needs to be weighed carefully. They might be able to give a good inside scoop on a product but they might not offer the fairest comparisons.

  • Somebody who contributes so a volunteer effort such as open-source projects (or this website). They may have a vested interest in a solution and even be biased in it's favor, but their opinions should be weighed differently that the case above.

As a case study, I recently answered with a recommendation of Gitlab. At the time it was irrelevant, but shortly after answering I submitted a small patch for a new feature. If accepted this will make me a contributor, yet I don't plan to include this "affiliation" every time I mention the product unless it is somehow relevant in context. My motivation for contributing the patch was similar to why I took the time to recommend it here: I believe in it's usefulness and suitability for a particular task. The same goes for any number of contributions I've made to open-source software over the years.

As a package manager for a Linux distro, I have made over 1,000 contributions1 to packaging various pieces of software. Most of these are only distro related, but a fair number of them are patches that were also submitted upstream to clear up issues with the original projects. In this sense, like you, I am "involved in" much of the software that I might recommend here. Frankly it has also made me aware of some software that I would not recommend2.

I would suggest that your involvement in packaging should be disclosed as often as relevant mainly because it gives your opinion of a product more credibility. One of the things we want to see in answers here is personal experience with a product to know it's suitability for a task. Being a package manager gives you a pretty good idea about the functions of a piece of software and it's overall quality even if you don't use it for anything. If that is how you know it is worth recommending, say so. If you have other experience with it, say so.

On the other hand if you really have no knowledge of the product and just happen to have a link such as "it exists on a site you are involved with" or "the developer asked you a question once", that information is likely irrelevant and disclosing it doesn't serve much of a purpose.

1 Ohloh stopped tracking the PLD-Linux package repository a couple years ago, but you can see some old data here.

2 For example although I packaged it for Arch, you won't find me recommending this in answer to this question any time soon!

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