So, a few times already I've found myself really wanting to drop the name of a commercial program or company that I use. I've specifically avoided doing so because I didn't want to endorse a particular company here on SE.
Example: just a few minutes ago I was looking at a question where my answer could have been improved by a link to a particular supplier. It would have provided a range of options that would have worked as inspiration for the person do build themselves or a place to purchase.
It's probably better to err on the side of caution and not name companies, but it's a little awkward knowing that I could probably a person a lot of time and effort if I did.
I'm aware that this seems related to the finding stuff meta question. I'd like to clarify that I'm not talking about blatant "where can I buy X" situations, but ones were mention of commercial website etc. appears appropriate in the course of answering a valid question.
So, to break this down in to direct qustions:
- Would it be appropriate to link to technical info at a commercial website? This may include general info on a topic (e.g. bearing function/sizing, welding materials methods etc.), white papers, how-to guides...
- If yes to (1) should the answer change if an otherwise useful source does include a direct plug (obvious reference to specific products or even purchasing)?
- Is there any "safe" way to make it possible to directly name suppliers in SE? Min reputation, 3rd party oversight prior to answers going public, requirement to list multiple sources etc.
The last one is the most messy (practically and ethically) but I've been in more than a few situations where my life became so much easier in an instant because a colleague gave me the name of a company that actually made/sold exactly what I needed. The reality of engineering is that sometimes getting the job done boils down to knowing where to buy a widget. I just wouldn't want to risk opening the floodgates to a bunch of ads or personal bias.