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Earlier this morning a user edited my answer to add a couple words and a link to Amazon. The item I had recommended was a permanent marker, such as a Sharpie. This is a standard household item. I doubt that any person reading this site has never heard of a Sharpie or, in generic terms, a permanent marker.

Should we be purposely linking to Amazon or another store that sells a recommended object? Even if it really is a standard household object?

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  • I do apologise if adding the link upset you in anyway... I just thought it might provide information on what a Sharpie is and where they can be got from. Clearly this was a mistake – MrPhooky Mar 12 '15 at 9:08
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    I don't see why SE would mind Amazon links, considering SE converts all Amazon links to the SE affiliate link, so they would benefit from that: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/26964/… – pacoverflow Mar 13 '15 at 4:28
  • @pacoverflow Saying "Amazon links are allowed but not links to any other online store" would be extremely difficult to enforce. – Mooseman Mar 13 '15 at 17:32
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No.

I don't think we should ever link to online stores. This is already a precedent: when Mr. Cartaino removed an Amazon link for wi-fi equipment, he stated the following reason:

Removed the potentially spammy link. There is just too much potential for abuse for this sort of thing.

For extremely common household items, I think we should trust people know what it is. If they don't, the OP or another can comment, and we can handle it as we do a...

...reasonably common household item. Where, at the discretion of the answerer, an image of the product may be added. Images make an answer feel more useful without opening a can of worms spam.

For more obscure items a picture should definitely be included, as well as an explanation of use.

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  • On a second note - if it isn't a link to an online store (just to a site with info), would that too be 'spammy'? – MrPhooky Mar 12 '15 at 9:10
  • @MrPhooky A Wikipedia link would be fine, providing it isn't relied upon for a decent explanation. (Granted, if Wikipedia goes down, there's probably no more internet...) – Mooseman Mar 12 '15 at 12:05
  • For obscure items that you don't happen to personally own, and that don't have a Wikipedia page with images, finding a freely licensed image suitable for SE might be difficult sometimes. – Ilmari Karonen Mar 12 '15 at 18:43
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No.

A Sharpie is a brand, iirc. I asked around to some people and they had no idea what a Sharpie was. So I don't think it hurts to clarify.

A way to get around it would be to add a description of what is being mentioned, but we can all search the internet.

The exception would have to be product suggestions and showing examples. I wouldn't do this all the time, though.

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    Clarifying -- i.e., "permanent marker" -- is great. It isn't the answerer's job to do a web search for the reader. – Mooseman Mar 23 '15 at 11:27
  • @Mooseman I agree. That is my point add some description if is pertinent, but don't go overboard :) – Pobrecita Mar 24 '15 at 6:06
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Sometimes.

I do think that links to Amazon or other online stores can sometimes be valuable, especially when writing to a global audience:

  • Things that are common household items in one part of the world may be hard to find locally in other places. By linking to a specific listing in an online store, the reader not only gets a clear idea of what item is meant, but also at least one example of where they might obtain one, and how much it would cost.

  • In some cases, the name of the item might mean different things in different parts of the world, or there might be many different kinds of items sold under the same name. In such cases, linking to an example helps clarify the intent.

  • A particular use for linking to an online store is to demonstrate that a certain item is available cheaply. There's little point in using a hack that costs $10 to make, if the proper tool to solve the problem is available for $2.

  • Often, just finding the right place to buy something can be hack-worthy in itself. Often, people write "I cannot / don't want to use an X" when they really mean "I don't want to pay $100 for an X." Showing that an X can be bought for just $10 online may be enough to solve the problem.

For some personal examples, in this answer I linked to an Amazon page for a feather duster, because it turns out that there are many different things out there called a "(feather) duster", and just linking to the Wikipedia article would've been useless, because the item it describes is not the kind I meant.

Similarly, in this answer I linked to the product page for a shoe dryer on the website of a local vendor, because there turn out to be several kinds of devices sold as "shoe dryers", and their prices vary by orders of magnitude. The link demonstrates both the specific kind of dryer I'm talking about, as well as a typical price for one.


All that said, I do agree that there is a definite risk of such links being spammed. Personally, I'd never include such a link in a post if there was any chance of it being even suspected of being spam. (At least, I hope that nobody assumes that I'm here to sell feather dusters or shoe dryers.) Where such doubt might exist, an explicitly disclaimer might even be in order, such as:

Disclaimer: All Amazon links in this post are purely for illustrative purposes. I am not in any way affiliated with Amazon, or with the respective vendors or manufacturers of the linked items.

In particular, we should be extremely wary of any links containing affiliate codes, and (at the very least) aggressively edit any and all such links to remove the code.


Ps. While directly embedding a picture of an item in an answer is certainly often useful, finding a freely licensed image may be difficult. While it's unlikely, in practice, that anyone would sue either you or SE for copying an image from, say, Amazon into your answer, doing so without permission technically constitutes a copyright violation. Thus, from a legal viewpoint, a link may often be a better alternative.

(In particular, all SE content is distributed under a Creative Commons license, so by including an image in your answer, you may be considered to have asserted that the image is also reusable under that license, especially if you don't explicitly disclaim that. Thus, if someone else were to copy the image from your answer, use it to, say, advertise a competing product, and get sued for it, they might be able to argue that it was your fault for implicitly lying about the license status of the image. Yeah, it's kind of a far-fetched scenario, but stranger things have happened.)

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