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Though inspired by this question, this tends to come up more often in relation to CLC Workbench. On occasion, people using commercial closed-source packages will post questions about using said tools or analysing their results. 99% of the time these products already have official support channels that the posters will have already payed for but either aren't using or have just hoped that we will respond faster (therefore performing the role of the company for free).

I personally am very much against answering such questions, since it has the perverse incentive of promoting companies not providing support for their products. Over on biostars we generally post something of the form, "This is a commercial product, you're already paying for support, ask the company". I would be in favor of a similar strategy here. Thoughts?

Note: The question that inspired this is not a great example, since the product in question is a wrapper around standard open-source packages. Nonetheless the site will inevitably face other examples in the future.

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    $\begingroup$ Personally I don't think we should restrict asking questions related to commercial products if the questions/answers could be useful to the community. However, practically speaking providing good answers may often not be possible if the products are black boxes without open-source code etc. $\endgroup$ – Chris_Rands Jun 9 '17 at 9:52
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    $\begingroup$ I think it is OK to ask such questions, users of productX might be here and have a quick answer. Or the support team of the productX might be here, too. Better to have answers here public, rather than buried in productX members only forums. $\endgroup$ – zx8754 Jun 9 '17 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ Here is the Help Center guidance about supporting your product on this site. $\endgroup$ – Robert Cartaino Jun 12 '17 at 14:18
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Even though I'm a supporter of free software, I do not see a problem in answering those questions.

  • It is hard to define the boundaries. Proprietary software can be only a part of the pipeline (e.g. Affymetrix, Ofxord Nanopore), or can be a somewhat standard tool (e.g. PAUP, many pop.gen tools, etc).
  • Stackexchange doesn't have any policy against commercial software or libraries; see here.
  • I do not see a problem if a commercial company will answer questions write here. This will be helpful.

Having said this, it is also ok to point out to the person, that he or she can contact their support.

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I would actually encourage bioinfo companies to use this SE as a Q&A platform. IMHO, this will benefit both the companies and the users, no matter whether they are using their products or not. Stackoverflow has sponsored tags and welcomes companies (to bring money :-). I don't know if SE has a similar feature.

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    $\begingroup$ If they actually came to the site to answer questions then I'd be all for it. Experience dictates that they won't, unfortunately. $\endgroup$ – Devon Ryan Jun 9 '17 at 16:52
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    $\begingroup$ @DevonR I would give it a try. The better tagging system here might change something. Some companies seem to be using SO often. In addition, we could encourage companies to reply here, which may help. Well, wishful thinking? $\endgroup$ – user172818 Jun 9 '17 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ Better hopeless optimism than the opposite :) $\endgroup$ – Devon Ryan Jun 9 '17 at 17:18
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MinION users have official support channels and a community forum, but I'd much rather that users asked questions about MinION data analysis in a public forum. ONT has done about 3 community forum backend changes in the last 4 years, and haven't been all that interested in preserving the past history on the new forums. When the question can only be answered properly by communication with the company, I encourage the asker to contact ONT support (e.g. see this question about basecalling in the field).

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