Foreword added at +2/-1:

To make this clear: As far as I can tell (and I quote a diamond moderator below), this is already official moderation policy on this site. I just want to have this added explicitly to the FAQ. This is not a discussion about whether that policy actually is reasonable or useful.

If you oppose the stance of not allowing any questions asking for recommendations, having what is already current policy in diamond moderation added to the FAQ could even lead to increased support for you as visibility of this policy increases — users will actually be able to learn about this outside of the Meta archives and comments to users whose topics were closed based on this.

In the end, it's just not useful having the FAQ say something different than what is really being enforced. That's what this topic is about.

Please post your suggestions on what the FAQ should say on this issue. I'm especially looking forward to diamond contributions — it's time this issue is cleared up.

Original post below.


I think we should make it clear, that asking for recommendations of any kind is off-topic.

The current clause, initially introduced through this Meta topic reads:

and it is not about …

  • [...]
  • a shopping or buying recommendation

But we don't just consider shopping or buying recommendations off topic, but any kind of recommendation. Diago ♦ wrote an answer to my question here:

We've been very clear defining what is and isn't allowed, and any type of recommendation supposed to be off-topic. Hardware one's date quickly, but software one's also have issues with version upgrades, and requirements being specific to a scenario, so do we need one for every type of requirement each individual user has?

Emphasis mine

In a comment, he later wrote:

The key is recommendation, not the shopping part. If your asking to recommend something to perform a task, your stepping on dangerous ground. […] the policy is in place network wide, and I can't see it changing anytime soon.

Consider the whole quote emphasized (didn't look good though, so I skipped doing that)


I'm likely not the only user who missed this fact for a long time.

So let's put that into the FAQ to make it very clear:

and it is not about …

  • [...]
  • a shopping, buying, or product recommendation

I think we should keep shopping and buying to make it clear that we don't answer questions about what web shop's shipping policies are better.

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As I'm not a native speaker of English, I might have missed a non-commercial meaning of shopping. But since these sites cater to a worldwide audience, we should make it more explicit even if this were the case. –  Daniel Beck Oct 15 '11 at 17:03
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So, a question "how do I do task X" and the answer "You do it with software Y" is to become off topic on SU? I thought the issue is the subjectivity and commercial bias, lots of questions are essentially a product recommendation question in disguise, don't see anything wrong with it per se. –  haimg Oct 15 '11 at 17:18
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@haimg What I propose be added to the FAQ is already policy and enforced by the moderators. That's the entire reason I am for adding this to the FAQ. As should be clear from the other topic of mine I linked to, I was unaware of this policy through 800+ posts, and actually disagree with on some level. // Remember though, there's a difference between "How do I do X?" and "What is the best product that does X?" -- I like to think the former is accepted, while the latter is already what Diago calls "on dangerous ground". "What's the best software to do X" is clearly off-topic. –  Daniel Beck Oct 15 '11 at 17:28
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@haimg Also, this only applies to questions., as the FAQ already states. –  Daniel Beck Oct 15 '11 at 17:30
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Yes, please. Don't know why that would not be appropriate (as indicated by the downvote). If it's official policy, make it clear, that's what I was saying all the time (because I didn't know it either). –  slhck Oct 15 '11 at 19:39
    
+1 for the question even if I disagree. It needs discussing. –  Nifle Oct 15 '11 at 22:07
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I feel like half my MSU activity is posting this link, but it is once again relevant: How literally does SU take "not about a shopping or buying recommendation"? –  Pops Oct 17 '11 at 15:14
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@LordTorgamus Read Jeff Adwood's answer. The problem is exactly what he writes. We prohibit (most) questions asking for shopping recommendations just like we prohibit (most) questions asking for (non-shopping) product recommendations, but only the former is mentioned in the FAQ. Yet they're treated basically the same: In exceptional cases they're tolerated, but not as a general rule. So we should either mention both, or neither, in the FAQ. That's what this topic is about. –  Daniel Beck Oct 17 '11 at 17:38
    
@DanielBeck, yep, exactly! –  Pops Oct 17 '11 at 17:41
    
@LordTorgamus I somehow got the impression you disagreed with this topic. Sorry about that. –  Daniel Beck Oct 17 '11 at 17:42
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2 Answers 2

I don't agree that it should be added to the FAQ because I don't agree with the underlying assumption.

This question is one that I suspect most computer users have from time to time

What is the best app that does X

Now best is one of the word we dislike here on SU but the question can easily be rewritten to a more general form

Is there an app that does X?
If you have a recommendation please tell me why you chose that application over any other applications you have tried.

It is up to us regulars to educate other users (via edits and comments) how to ask these kinds of questions without being OT, NC or TL.

Edit:

Added from a comment:

And if answers don't follow the If you have a recommendation please tell me why you chose that application over any other applications you have tried advice we convert them to comments.

I'm aware that as times go the applications recommended will fade and cease to be useful but the turnover is much slower than for hardware.

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This is probably not the place (question) to discuss the underlying issue though. This is merely about adding it to the FAQ or not. We've had plenty of discussions about this topic before and the line seemed very straightforward. Still, see my answer here. (continued) –  slhck Oct 15 '11 at 22:16
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I have given up trying to understand how here on Meta the "software recommendation" can be frowned upon while on the site, it is omnipresent and not often closed by the community. Yes, there are plain "BEST XYZ" questions, but there are also questions that can be rewritten to "How do I solve this?". Putting it in the FAQ would just make it clear that the former is not wanted. –  slhck Oct 15 '11 at 22:17
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@slhck - But I want those questions. It's just that we have to use some tough love on the questions that don't fit. And if answers don't follow the If you have a recommendation please tell me why you chose that application over any other applications you have tried advice we convert them to comments. –  Nifle Oct 15 '11 at 22:26
    
@slhck - (clarification) I'm aware that I'm not arguing against your position –  Nifle Oct 15 '11 at 22:27
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Looking at some statistics my feeling with this regard is that updating the FAQ and discussing it is simply just causing a needle in a haystack problem. Why?

There are at the time of writing this answer 98110 questions on Super User. Of that there are 1265 tagged . At the moment only 156 of these are closed.

We are talking about less then 2% of all questions asked on Super User after 2 years of existence. Apart from the once in a while Meta post about a question being closed and asking why, in general, we spend less then 0.02% of your time having to deal with these question, closed or not.

As already pointed out, if the question is well asked, is about How to do something that involves a software recommendation and is not asking to compare features or find out what is the best software, these question are acceptable as long as they solve an actual problem.

In cases where they are not, they will be closed, either by the community moderators, or the diamond moderators if flagged.

The problem with recommendation that are the best of or comparing features with regards to software is the following:

  • They are asked by drive-by users that will never come back
  • They are asked by users that want to have a debate about it.
  • They are legitimate questions to solve a problem, asked the wrong way.

The latter, as already pointed out, can be fixed.

In short, to be honest, I don't see the problem. Looking at the bigger picture the amount of time spent on the issue doesn't quantity the amount of questions it will affect.

Beyond that, it is already covered in the FAQ, and since each SE has a different topic, each site has it's own interpretation defined in each child meta.

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I think we all understand why these questions are problematic, yet the problem is: > it is already covered in the FAQ – it is not. At least not as clear as it could be. I think it wouldn't hurt to just add this. –  slhck Oct 16 '11 at 9:21
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What you're misinterpreting is that just because > At the moment only 156 of these are closed, this does not mean that the major part of those could (or should) still be closed. They weren't closed yet because it is not clear to the community that these are off-topic. This is like saying: "The police gives only 10 tickets a year to pedestrians who walk over a red light, so it's no big deal", while in reality, a lot of pedestrians do it, and all of those pedestrians should probably get a ticket, but nobody knows that it's really something you can get a ticket for. –  slhck Oct 16 '11 at 9:23
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The problem is that it is not covered in the FAQ. If I'm looking for a (free) web browser, email client, multi-protocol IM client I'm not looking for a shopping or buying recommendation as I don't want to or am required to pay for it. That's what I referred to in my comment to the question. I might be missing a particular meaning of these terms, but unless there's a (virtual) shopping cart and checkout, I'm neither buying nor shopping. See also our comments (one of yours is quoted above) to your answer in the linked topic. –  Daniel Beck Oct 16 '11 at 9:29
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