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As a relative newcomer, I ask this question in all earnestness. I’m trying to understand the substance and spirit of the existing rules and culture here. I have no preconception of how they ought to be. Here are the current submission guidelines from the tags and topicality section of the about page:

Lobsters is focused pretty narrowly on computing; tags like art don’t imply every piece of art is on-topic. Some rules of thumb for great stories to submit: Will this improve the reader’s next program? Will it deepen their understanding of their last program? Will it be more interesting in five or ten years?

Some things that are off-topic here but popular on larger, similar sites: entrepreneurship, management, news about companies that employ a lot of programmers, investing, world events, anthropology, self-help, personal productivity systems, last-resort customer service requests via public shaming, “I wanted to see what this site’s amazing users think about this off-topic thing”, and defining the single morally correct economic and political system for the entire world when we can’t even settle tabs vs. spaces.

That seems to leave some wiggle room for commercial product releases that are otherwise topical. But then this language in the ranking section casts some doubt:

For stories, these are: “Off-topic” for stories that are not about computing; “Already Posted” for duplicate submissions and links that elaborate on or responses to a thread that’s less than a week old (see merging); and “Broken Link” for links that 404, 500, or present a paywall; “Spam” for links that promote a commercial service.

Does submitting a link to an article about the commercial software written by someone who doesn’t work there make it topical/not-spam?

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    Just a gut feeling from a random user: Usually off-topic, unless it’s interesting

    Even ignoring the commercial/open source distinction, here are a few examples that would very probably (and rightfully) be flagged as off-topic: New version of Visual Studio Code (oh, great, has it been 2 weeks), security patch release for Oracle 12 (whaat percentage of people here would be using that? 1% ? 5%?)

    And then there’s some groundbreaking stuff that would probably be post-worthy: New Windows release, someone wrote a 100% drop-in replacement for emacs in JavaScript and hit 1.0,

    And then some where I am not sure: new FreeBSD major version going stable (every… 2 years?)

    I think my personal measurement would be: Do I either think it’s absolutely groundbreaking or would at least 20% of the users be moderately interested? Then yes, otherwise no. Exceptions would actually be 1.0 releases of any new programming language (or runtime) or maybe even a major version, but maybe I’m erring on the non-spammy side here.

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      Will this improve the reader’s next program? Will it deepen their understanding of their last program?

      This is the big one for me. With open source projects, there’s at least a chance I could look at the code, or if it’s a library actually use it in my next project. If it’s closed source, all I “learn” is that there’s another thing out there that I could buy.

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        Though notably, even for FOSS projects, posting every single release here can IMO be considered spammy. One interesting case study is andyc’s blog posts about Oil shell; they are much more than just “releases”, they tend to provide interesting insights every time, I love reading each of them with highest attention - yet apparently a notable portion of lobster.rs readers still started getting tired even of them at some point, and I think the current (unspoken?) compromise is more or less that Andy mostly refrains from submitting his own articles, but others occasionally do and that is seen as OK.

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          If it’s closed source, all I “learn” is that there’s another thing out there that I could buy.

          Or about the models people use for computation.

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          You can filter out the release tag if you don’t want to see these posts.

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            The rationale for commercial releases being off-topic

            There are totally neat commercial packages (PVS Studio for example). These do get releases, and theoretically that would make them a good release submission. In a good and just world, this would just be an okay thing.

            What tends to happen in the real world, where capitalism has to grind away everything into atoms in pursuit of shareholder value (good or not, this is just how it is), what tends to happen is that if a community allows submissions of commercial content then it becomes attractive to the market as an advertising channel. We’ve had plenty of bad actors who have taken advantage of this over the years prior to getting the ban hammer.

            Some folks will say “okay they’re generally bad, but sometimes they’re interesting”. The problem there is that you have growth hackers and interns whose sole job is to infiltrate communities like ours and find ways of creating deal flow. This is not a theoretical attack. They’ll just take the “interesting” thing as another constraint in how to design their growth campaigns.

            On a slow-moving site like ours front-page real-estate is worth a lot (think north of 5 figures for access to our target demo)–and letting people advertise and peddle their products without getting anything back is a raw deal for us. Even back when Lobsters was hosted on prgmr, that good actor refrained from self-promotion–and that was for a service being provided at some expense for free. That’s the bar for selfless community participation, and a bar most near any commercial product releases don’t clear.

            There’s this nasty secondary effect of letting commercial releases effectively advertise here (and frankly, this applies to anybody building their brand as well): the community norms get distorted in ways that suit those people. Content and discussion begins to get nudged, purposefully or not, in ways that make a friendlier environment for advertising and marketing. This continues until the site becomes yet another string of blinking ads and seo hacks.

            The community thus destroyed, the corps move on. They don’t care.

            On submitting links to commercial software made by somebody else you don’t work for

            Why should we encourage simping for companies?

            Bezos doesn’t need your free coverage. Cloudflare has people they pay for marketing. Facebook and Google and Apple, given the option, would be more than happy to paywall our site and collect an eyeball tax.

            From a purely practical perspective, there is no difference in harms to the community between first-party submissions of advertising/releases and “organic’ third-party of same. In fact, there is a whole industry, again, revolving around crowdwashing these sorts of things to make it look like spontaneous viral growth.

            Better just to make the whole practice verboten.