Let's talk referrals

PlayfulPhoenix

Founder of SFF.N
Original poster
SFFLAB
Chimera Industries
Moderator
Gold Supporter
Feb 22, 2015
1,049
1,960
Hey everyone,

A while ago I wrote an announcement post that covered a slew of things, but among them was the topic of referrals. More specifically, we announced that we were instituting a policy whereby referral links would not be permitted on the forum, pending some community discussion.

To be honest, we've had most of our attention taken over by some behind-the-scenes work (which we will hopefully share soon ;)), so this topic hasn't been on the forefront of our mind since I last brought it up. But I saw a few posts made over the past few days that mentioned the subject, and was reminded by them that now is as good a time as any to create this thread. So here we are!

I'll go ahead and quote myself from the aforementioned post back in February for context:

4. We are introducing a new policy regarding referral links on the forum. It's been called to our attention on multiple occasions that some users have been using referral links when discussing products or services on the forum. In general, these take the form of links to online marketplaces that have an associate or referral ID appended to the URL, such that the person who is associated with that ID is compensated whenever a user purchases items though that link. Although we don't feel that there have been any brazen examples of unethical conduct as a result of the use of these referral links, we have ultimately decided that the best course of action is to ban use of these links moving forward. Simply put, this is meant to be a straightforward policy enhancement that we think is the right choice to make for the community, with respect to ensuring that financial incentives don't induce biased discourse.

We'll have a bit more to share and to discuss with respect to referral links more generally, but for now we ask that everyone recognize this new rule and refrain from posting referral links moving forward.

Although that announcement was one of many, I want to make it clear that it wasn't a decision that was taken lightly. There was considerable conversation on our part with respect to what was the right course of action for this, and we arrived at the aforementioned decision based on the following reasoning:

  1. Allowing community members to use affiliate links incentivizes people to promote and/or advocate for products they could profit from (through the use of affiliate codes), rather than to promote products that are germane or in the best interests of others.
  2. While not all uses of referral links are abusive, we don't currently know of a reasonable method available to us to moderate all affiliate links, such that we can distinguish (and delete) the abusive ones. (There would also be a considerable cost associated with simply attempting to do so, even if the solution was ultimately imperfect.)
  3. The gains by individuals who are using affiliate links in a non-abusive way are outweighed by the costs Minutiae takes on by moderating all links, as well as the costs the community incurs by having to co-habitate with abusers of referral links.

At this point in time, our thoughts are unchanged since we banned referral links... but that doesn't mean that we're forever against referral links being used on SFF Forum. To the contrary, we're actually quite open to many different approaches and considerations surrounding the use of referral links - we just made the decision in the short-term to forbid such links as a matter of caution, in order to buy time until we were convinced that a particular approach was the best for us, and for the community. As I've said before, we really want to get this right.

In the meantime, i's been interesting (and helpful!) for us to get community feedback in this regard, and watch discussion on the subject when it's come up. Since we enacted the ban, perspectives and proposals have been fairly diverse. The ones I can recall that I've seen discussed would include:
  • Support for a permanent ban.
  • Support for a limited ban (only allowing certain users or types of links to be used).
  • Support for moderating links based on whether or not a particular link is abusive or non-abusive.
  • Support for moderating links on a case-by-case basis (taking into account the history of the user).
  • Support for using automation to convert all affiliate links to ones that support SFF Forum/Minutiae.
  • Support for little-to-no restriction on the use of links (and affiliate links within those), so long as they follow existing rules.
I'm sure that there are others, but these are the most vocalized.

---

With that, then, we want to turn the microphone to you all. What do you think? What would you prefer personally, and why? And - most important to us - what's the best approach that we can take for the community, SFF Forum, and Minutiae (in that order)?
 

Biowarejak

Maker of Awesome | User 1615
Silver Supporter
Mar 6, 2017
1,731
2,219
I'd say go for it and if there's user disatisfaction come back around to more moderation heavy ideas :)
 

Phuncz

Lord of the Boards
Editorial Staff
Moderator
Gold Supporter
May 9, 2015
5,209
4,548
I'm seeing URL shorteners being used for malware all too often (though mostly through email) so I'd welcome the change.
 
  • Like
Reactions: Biowarejak

Biowarejak

Maker of Awesome | User 1615
Silver Supporter
Mar 6, 2017
1,731
2,219
I'm not sure that we can really enforce high-value posts, but I'm not comfortable with people blog-spamming low quality content.

A much better post would have been a poll that uses the list of sff cases, and then an OP that got updated to reflect that and was referenced IN their blog post as part of their research.

How far does the no affiliate linking go, however? We really can't enforce something on their own site
 

iFreilicht

FlexATX Authority
Feb 28, 2015
3,241
2,355
freilite.com
How far does the no affiliate linking go, however? We really can't enforce something on their own site

We can however remove any links and close any thread for any reason. This thread has zero value being on this forum and it is likely associated with affiliate links. Two good reasons to do both of the above, in my opinion.
 

Biowarejak

Maker of Awesome | User 1615
Silver Supporter
Mar 6, 2017
1,731
2,219
We can however remove any links and close any thread for any reason. This thread has zero value being on this forum and it is likely associated with affiliate links. Two good reasons to do both of the above, in my opinion.
That's quite true, I was more concerned about their site potentially having a link to a site that has a link, creating a sort of rabbit hole scenario.

I agree the post has no place, but I would actually like to see a 2017 sff case round up and I don't want anyone to feel discouraged from that.
 
  • Like
Reactions: AleksandarK