I see that

Keyboard / mouse to use for a HTPC dedicated to the TV?

was closed.

While I don't totally disagree -- it is superficially similar to a shopping recommendation -- I think this question should be allowed, with some caveats. Here is why:

  1. It's a question targetted specifically to people who build their own home theater PCs: . This is a niche, and a clear "power user" niche. The very definition of Super User.

  2. This is no mere garden variety shopping question. It's very, very difficult to find good wireless keyboard / mouse combinations for home theater PCs that don't have some kind of major shortcoming in practice. These tend to be uncommon, rare and specialized. Exactly the kind of obscure item you need expert assistance sourcing from your peers.

  3. I scoured the web looking for good recommendation threads on this and found maybe three credible links, and most of those were already out of date! There simply isn't any good information on this on the internet, which means it passes all the Are Some Questions Too Simple tests with flying colors.

In a nutshell:

"what's the best video card for me?" -- should be closed, with extreme prejudice, of course.

"how do I find obscure hardware item that only the hardest of hard-core computer nuts would care about or even have experience with?" -- probably should be left open, but curated for quality, of course.

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So we define obscure with a Google test? Because we often get a ton of router questions as well :\ –  Ivo Flipse Apr 2 '11 at 7:14
    
@IvoFlipse: I guess borders for obscurity will develop over time, just like borders for how subjective something could be formed at Programmers.SE. When SOIS decided to put up the six guidelines for good subjective questions, it was very subjective for a share of the questions whether they matched enough of those guidelines... The close vote covers this and lets multiple people decide, as a lot of people don't know about the exception rule at first we start out by closing the most obscure things at first and then it will get a bit softer over time and we will naturally get to a border. –  Tom Wijsman Apr 4 '11 at 22:41
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6 Answers 6

I agree with you Jeff, however I feel this might sound a little hypocritical to an outsider. I think we need a very clear definition of obscure before we start allowing certain shopping recommendations.

As of now it is easy since we take a hard line with shopping recommendations but once we start making exceptions we need to clearly define those exceptions so we can continue to take a hard line against the "every day shopping questions".

Also what defines obscure? Google? yourself? the mods? I think we should probably visit the definition of obscure as well. For example if you can find it in the first page of a Google search does it count as obscure? Or does the lack of usage by the general public count as obscure? I'm not trying to pick nits but these are questions we will probably see raised by people trying to get a question reopened.

Edit

Now I am just confused with the whole "niche hardware question" thing. this question got closed as off topic. Generally I can tell the difference between what Jeff and the mods deem "bad" and "good" shopping question, in fact I believe I share a similar view on shopping recommendations. However the above question is exactly why we need a definitive line on this. What if some one shows up next week/month/year and asks the same question and it isn't closed? Because technically it is Niche hardware question TPM chips aren't something you see as a standard option on PC's. Generally it is something sought after for a specific use just like a remote for a HTPC. I don't want to argue this and I 100% stand behind Studiohacks decision to close, he always has the sites best interest in mind. I just want to give an example of what I am talking about when I say we need a clear definition...

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The exception is pretty clearly outlined in blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/02/are-some-questions-too-simple -- the existing info on Google for HTPC integrated keyboard / mouse options is terrible and largely out of date. Partly this is because it is such an incredibly narrow niche. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 3 '11 at 2:49
    
I edited the post to make it more amenable to "teach me how to evaluate.." which I ultimately do agree with. I just think the form of the answers will be largely narrow products with some explanation. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 15 '11 at 23:27
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@Kyle: Just checking out the laptops of your favorite brands should suffice, perhaps walking into a good computer store and reading the specifications or asking. A quick search to all our suppliers yields that it's even used in the description itself and some brands even allow you to install a TPM module. It would result in a long list post of a set of laptops that are favored by up-votes (for the laptop, not for it having a TPM chip or not), which is not the type of shopping recommendations we are looking for. –  Tom Wijsman Apr 28 '11 at 14:30
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Such laptops have specification right on the site of the brand and reviews available, I bet there might even me small lists of laptops that have TPM but they really don't matter if you rather spent the effort into looking at the brand sites. And furthermore, the learning value is also low... –  Tom Wijsman Apr 28 '11 at 14:32
    
@Tom Wijsman Your point about the long list makes sense maybe that wasn't such a good example.. I'll keep looking. –  Kyle Apr 29 '11 at 17:38
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I agree with Tom's points about TPM with laptops. However, the question pointed to (mine) is about desktops with a TPM chip. Something that isn't usually listed in the specs on the side. –  Raymond May 3 '11 at 0:52
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So, the rule on shopping recommendations needs to be revised, as there are exceptions which we can allow.


For example, Recommended gigabit 802.11n routers that work with DD-WRT is another one where expertise in our niche is required, why is this so? You can easily check out reviews around the web that help you choose a Gigabit 802.11n router which you could buy, almost none of these reviews tell you whether DD-WRT is properly supported and this is where our expertise is required...

The same applies to our HTPC question, the reviews don't tell us whether they fits in a HTPC context. As Jeff mentioned there isn't any other useful general refence that fits the purpose well enough. So, this is why it is useful to the general world-wide audience to have such a question, as they do learn you things about the products that the internet doesn't provide as there is a lack of information on the subject.


Looking at the question here: The niche requirement adds value. The two other requirements are indeed mostly on the same line as the above two paragraphs. As for the stereotype question mentioned below, I don't feel that it describes the problem the right way as it is mentioning obscure items and thus might not be useful without the explanation above that...

Trying to work towards an exception rule I skimmed through the two examples and highlighted things in bold.


So, I would propose that: Shopping and buying recommendations are disallowed; unless no reviews or other general references provide you with useful up-to-date information, which require you to learn about the product from expert experience in a specific niche.


I tried to keep the above paragraph short so that it could easily fit within the FAQ. A last check:

  • For the router question has no reviews mentioning DD-WRT, the general reference (that Jeff Atwood) provided wasn't that easy to find without searching through the DD-WRT wiki. And thus it requires the OP to learn from the experience of experts in the DD-WRT niche...

  • For the HTPC question reviews that mention which keyboards / mouses fit well in a HTPC context are hard to find, there aren't much up-to-date general references that helps you with this either. And thus it requires the OP to learn from the experience of experts in the HTPC niche...

I have a feeling that the requirement for experts or for a specific niche are too strong and that the exception rule could still fare well without part of these extra restrictions, but...

I'm merely suggesting this so feel free to work this out further if you like the idea... :)

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I think the key distinction is that it's shopping, but NARROWLY FOCUSED and genuinely of specific, specialized interest to that community in some unique way. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 4 '11 at 23:12
    
+1 Yes, it's probably better to leave these narrowing restrictions in as it's the intention that we have, it's better than having shopping questions that are too broad which fall into the list question problem. :) –  Tom Wijsman Apr 5 '11 at 0:03
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I edited the post to make it more amenable to "teach me how to evaluate.." which I ultimately do agree with. I just think the form of the answers will be largely narrow products with some explanation. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 15 '11 at 23:27
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Looking for peripherals that are hard to come by, or not widely known, still doesn't shy away from the fact that it is still a shopping question.

In its current form, that cited question is less

help me understand/teach me how to make a better purchase

and more

what's out there for me?

typical of the questions closed off topic for their shopping angle. Same face, different freckles.

A product's niche constraint shouldn't give a question a free pass. It should still hit the same quality level we're expecting for Super User.

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In this case, your options are so limited that "what's out there" is LITERALLY THE SAME as saying "teach me how to make a better purchase". Particularly since specific criticisms were left for each of the limited options. Step 1 of teaching you how to make a better purchase is learning the limited and obscure options you have, in this case. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 3 '11 at 2:51
    
I edited the post to make it more amenable to "teach me how to evaluate.." which I ultimately do agree with. I just think the form of the answers will be largely narrow products with some explanation. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 15 '11 at 23:28
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Two things really It should work pretty well as a attribute centric question - 'what would you look for in a keyboard/mouse...' - which of course should end up as a community wiki - its a subjective question in any case.

Alternately if its a REALLY good question, it'll stand - the question on old (iirc) 8 inch disks, while heavily localised (which i can't find) was an extremely niche subject, ended up with recommendations on services that could read them, but was educational enough that (i think) it wasn't closed.

In this case, i think it does actually serve a purpose - in terms of documenting an option a superuser might have to fit a specific, under-documented role - its working as both.

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I edited the post to make it more amenable to "teach me how to evaluate.." which I ultimately do agree with. I just think the form of the answers will be largely narrow products with some explanation. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 15 '11 at 23:28
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I tend to agree: some “what's out there” questions are valuable, even if the answers often have a short shelf life. But beware of the slippery slope. On Science Fiction & Fantasy, we've had many “list questions” where the asker thought what they were asking for might not even exist, and yet the questions had many answers pouring in. While the subjects are pretty different, I'm afraid that here also askers will be bad at realizing their pet requirement isn't so unique after all.

And if you find a workable policy for hard-enough-to-meet requirements, please let us know!

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How about opening a separate community for "subjective" questions? I mean that seriously.

As I find the stackexchange communities really superior, I'd of course welcome to see it done here.

edit I found the Web Applications community, never mind...

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Tried and failed... –  Ivo Flipse Apr 2 '11 at 16:30
    
Please what? Your comment didn't even try. –  grunwald2.0 Apr 2 '11 at 16:39
    
You haven't tried either: On a site-per-site basis good subjective questions are allowed to an extent. The try @IvoFlipse is referring to is Programmer.SE back in the beta days; which is mentioned by that blog article too, it came as a solution to pruning all those bad subjective questions. As "good subjective" questions are already allowed, it would be useless to open a separate community for "bad subjective" questions. –  Tom Wijsman Apr 2 '11 at 23:41
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As they would be filled with list questions, no experience, arguments, polls, and so on... –  Tom Wijsman Apr 2 '11 at 23:42
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