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I had brought up in chat that the Webots company is looking to transition some or all of their tech support to our site. This by itself doesn't really bother me - iRobot is doing it, ROS is doing it, etc.

What I see, though, is a Q&A like this one, where (at the time of me writing this) it's 3 hours old, has 10 views (including mine), and the question has 2 upvotes, and the answer has 3 upvotes. The question and answer both were written by a Webots employee, answer was edited by another Webots employee.

Again, not really such an issue for me that they're coordinating on the content here, but it looks like coordinated voting, which is bothering me.

I don't know if this is allowed or not, but it's rubbing me the wrong way so I wanted to publicly point out the behavior and get feedback from Robotics and/or Staff mods.

:EDIT:

Here's another one - Asked 5 hours ago by an employee, answered by an employee, question has +2 votes and the answer is accepted with +4 votes. It seems really rare for a question to get that many votes ever, let alone in 5 hours.

:EDIT EDIT:

To put into perspective how uncommon it is for answers on our site to get upvotes, I looked at all 48 questions on our homepage. Of them, the following had answers with more than 1 upvote:

Answers by Webots employees

Answers to Webots questions from users likely, but not clearly identified as Webots employees in their profile:

Answers to Webots questions from users unlikely to be Webots employees:

Answers to a question not related to Webots:

In summary, if you look at questions not related to Webots, only one question on the front page has an answer with a score >1, and that score is 2.

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It does appear that this is considered targetted voting, so I will pop some notices on posts pointing back here.

I would suggest that we ask all Webots employees to

  1. Explicitly mention their affiliation in each question and answer related to their products, not just mention it in their profiles.
  2. Add text to seed questions (those posted by Webots employees for the explicit purpose of being able to be answered by the same or other Webots employees) contain text explaining that this is what they are, even if they just start their post with say something "This is a question the Webots support teams are often asked".
  3. Not vote more than once for each question and answer. I would suggest that the answerer vote on the question and the questioner vote on the answer.

This should hopefully be sufficient to avoid Webots being considered a voting Ring, and all of their votes get removed.

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I am sorry for the trouble and the concern raised by our recent landing into robotics stackexchange.

I would like to explain what we are aiming at and try to understand what we are doing wrong.

Our intend was not to abuse the system, but to rely on stackexchange for supporting the users of Webots. We previously used Discord and GitHub as the main support tools but we believe now that stackexchange would provide a better service for this purpose. So we started to encourage the Webots users to post their questions on stackexchange and meanwhile, we also posted some of the most frequently asked questions to stackexchange and answered them, so that users will easily find the answers to their most common questions.

For the sake of transparency, all our employees have declared their affiliation on their profile page. I was told this is sufficient, but if it is not the case, we would be happy to mention it in each question and each answer.

Our employees are:

And yes, we are all located in Lausanne, Switzerland, except for Stefania who is working remotely from Ticino, Switzerland.

All other people asking and answering questions about Webots are users coming from all over the world.

We did up-voted, edited and posted some comments on the questions and answers of each other. Our goal was not to abuse the system, but to provide good questions and good answers with more weight, being reviewed and approved by Webots developers, and thus with more credibility or visibility for users.

I believe that stackexchange is a great platform for technical questions and we would be very happy to be able to continue to rely on it for providing support to the Webots community and also for encouraging users to help each others.

If anything is wrong in our behavior, we would be happy to learn what and why and how we should behave in the future, so that everybody is happy with our contributions to stackexchange.

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    $\begingroup$ I have no problems with Webots posting content on the site; ultimately I think this helps Webots and Robotics both grow their communities. Only issue is coordinated voting, which I think Mark covers nicely in his answer here: Not vote more than once for each question and answer. I would suggest that the answerer vote on the question and the questioner vote on the answer. You don't need/shouldn't have all the company reps on the site upvoting content, just accept the answer and move on. $\endgroup$
    – Chuck Mod
    Dec 13, 2022 at 17:26
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    $\begingroup$ Regarding disclosures, from How to Not Be a Spammer, "if you mention your product, website, etc. in your question or answer, you must disclose your affiliation in your post." (emphasis added). Needs to be a per-post disclosure, not just in your profile. Again, I think Mark's answer is great: disclosure in each question and answer, and some introductory text explaining why you're posting the content ("Users frequently have trouble with... ", etc.) $\endgroup$
    – Chuck Mod
    Dec 13, 2022 at 17:30
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    $\begingroup$ Important too to point out there's no harm or hard feelings here. I'm not longer a moderator and don't have a way to reach out to any of you or any community moderators directly, which is why I created the post here. Hopefully this sets everything straight and we work together nicely moving forward! :) $\endgroup$
    – Chuck Mod
    Dec 13, 2022 at 17:31
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    $\begingroup$ All right. Thank you for your feedback on this. From now on, we will follow the 3 recommendations of Mark and hopefully, this will resolve the issue. $\endgroup$ Dec 14, 2022 at 7:18
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks @OlivierMichel, I was happy to see you join us, and I was happy to see most of you include your affiliation in your profiles, but I'm sorry that I didn't make it clear that you should be following the full advice in How to Not Be a Spammer, Thanks for your understanding, and I look forward to Webots products, users and staff becoming a regular part of the Robotics stack exchange community. $\endgroup$
    – Mark Booth
    Dec 16, 2022 at 12:25
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I'm glad the Cyberbotics / Webots employees identify themselves in their profiles. But I wish they did a better job putting disclaimers in their questions and answers.

Pointing users to this site for support is one thing, but it is a little fishy when Webots employees are the ones asking the questions, up-voting, and also answering them. And in many cases self-answering.

I know self-answering is allowed, and even encouraged if you do eventually figure it out on your own. And we did a bunch of self-answering when boot-strapping the site on Area51. But this seems different. Why would Webots employees be asking questions here? Are they using this site as a FAQ? Are these support questions that came into the company through another channel and they are copying them here?

My own disclaimer: When I was at iRobot, I was the one to suggest using this site as our forums for support on the Create2 because we didn't have the bandwidth to do our own at the time. And when I was unable to answer a question, I poked my coworkers to answer it, and I certainly up-voted it. But that was about it. We didn't have multiple employees all up-voting each other.

Conclusion: I wish Webots employees didn't post their own questions and up-vote each other so much. I'm not sure it is raising to the level of disciplinary action yet. But I'd be curious to hear what the community moderators think.

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    $\begingroup$ If possible, could you please reach out to @Catja, JNat, or someone similar in the super-mod position? I can't see who cast the votes, and I don't think you can either, but maybe they've got that power. I'm not looking for suspensions or anything, but if someone could confirm vote stacking then someone could reach out to them with a warning, and then suspend/ban if it continues after the warning. And again, 100% on-board with external vendors using Robotics for Q&A, just not coordinated upvoting of their own content. $\endgroup$
    – Chuck Mod
    Dec 11, 2022 at 22:25
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I do not understand the reason why I have been flagged as part of a voting ring. It is my first question that I answer in the Webots related forum, with the intention of helping to solve it. I am passionate about robotics and I like to share what I have learned, only. I'm not sure if the content of my answer meets the forum guidelines, if it doesn't I apologize and have no problem with my answer being removed.

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  • $\begingroup$ That would be my fault, and I am sorry if you're not a Webots employee. I noticed a series of Webots questions with suspect voting activity. Your answer had 4 upvotes at the time, which is (1) unusual for this site, especially for such a "fresh" answer, and (2) is exactly the same number of upvotes that other questions received that were answered by other Webots employees. Complicating things for me is that I don't think all the employees are identifying themselves, certainly not on the Q&A and maybe not in their profiles. $\endgroup$
    – Chuck Mod
    Dec 13, 2022 at 7:35
  • $\begingroup$ The Webots CEO's profile tags to Lausanne, which might be a large city for Switzerland, but it's only about 140k residents. I'm near Roanoke, VA, which has about 100k residents, and I'd be shocked to find anyone in the same city as me. But, when I looked at the suspicious activity, one other user also involved had a profile tag from Lausanne, Switzerland. I thought then that they were a Webots employees, then thought that the employees weren't consistently identifying them, and again am sorry I wrongly identified you as being involved. $\endgroup$
    – Chuck Mod
    Dec 13, 2022 at 7:39
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to Robotics DrakerDG, sorry if my message was concerning, I've now deleted it. Chuck may have raised this, but I was the one who pinged you, so I apologise for mistaking you for someone related to this issue. Since the answer was accepted, looks useful, and the Webots votes have been removed, I've upvoted it for you. We appreciate all good answers, especially detailed and enthusiastic ones, so I hope that you won't hold this against us, and stick around in our community. $\endgroup$
    – Mark Booth
    Dec 16, 2022 at 12:19
  • $\begingroup$ Hello! @MarkBooth no problem, thanks for the clarification, I appreciate it $\endgroup$
    – DrakerDG
    Dec 17, 2022 at 8:10

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