I noticed that there is a tag that people use for hardware recommendations with over 200 questions. Earlier today I answered one that got a couple "shopping recommendations are off topic" comments.

What is the difference between – presumably allowed because it was left in existence long enough to get 200 questions and shopping recommendations – defined as the off topic question in the FAQ? If there isn't (my guess) we should either ban the tag or allow recommendations.

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There is a subtle difference between a shopping recommendation and a hardware recommendation:

  • A shopping recommendation can be a hardware recommendation, but is typically just somebody asking "what kind of widget should I buy to do foo?" or "which is better, the bar or the baz?". These types of questions are not helpful for a variety of reasons. For one, they become obsolete very quickly. For two, they're only really useful to that one person, because hardware is so specific to the individual's needs. Shopping recommendations like this are off topic.

  • A hardware recommendation can be a shopping recommendation, but can also ask about how to find hardware. This distinction is outlined in this Stack Exchange Blog post. It suggests that questions looking for hardware be presented in more of a "how can I figure out for myself which widget will fit my needs" manner. This type of answer takes more work, but instead of dumping a list of products which will soon be obsolete, provides much more valuable information about how to figure that out for yourself. These types of hardware discussions are permitted.

Now, let's take a look at the tag: of 202 questions...

  • 140 are open and undeleted
  • 62 are closed and undeleted
  • 433 have been deleted

Obviously, we aren't allowing all hardware recommendations. Of the 160 open, undeleted questions, quite a few are very old, and were probably asked before we explicitly made shopping recommendations off-topic. A few are valid discussions in the how to choose rather than choose for me category, some also fall in the category of "hardware discussion" but aren't a shopping request, and a lot of them probably ought to be closed.

The tag is indeed a problem, since most questions tagged with it should not exist. I'm not going to take any action on it quite yet, since I'd like to hear feedback from the community and other moderators, but removing and banning the tag is one option. I will also be manually going through the questions in that tag and removing ones which are shopping recommendations. If anyone would like to boost their flag weight, feel free to go through them yourself and flag any that should be deleted.

Thanks for bringing up this issue. We'll keep this post updated on what the fates of the tag and its questions are.

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Thanks. That was the best kind of answer, just slightly more than the asker ever wanted to know. :) Since I brought it up, I might as well do the flagging. –  Yitzchak Jul 27 '11 at 1:38
    
This is something I commented to gronostaj question: Well, that's some mixed signals you are sending to users. While for one side there's the help page/FAQ (that nobody reads) that says that soft/hw rec is off-topic, you have a tag (that they read and see) that if there are also other questions like that then they can ask. This is elemental my dear Watson, tags tell people what is on-topic to people. If you have the tags, people assumes that you allow those kind of questions. –  Braiam Dec 8 '13 at 11:05
    
@Braiam the tag description for hardware-rec very specifically says "Hardware recommendation posts should discuss how to make hardware decisions for oneself. Direct shopping recommendations are off-topic and will be closed, so be very careful posting hardware recommendations." –  nhinkle Dec 8 '13 at 18:40

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