This question has been asked before, including this one not that long ago: Is asking about search engines ( startpage.com + duckduckgo.com) On Topic on superuser?. Search engines are generally web apps, and have been off-topic on that basis.

Starting fairly recently, many of the major browsers require "installing" search engines that will work from the search window. You can still use search engines like a web app (go to its URL), but the ones installed in the browser's search engine list and selectable from the search box pull-down are more like add-ons in that they function like an integrated feature of the browser.

Knowledgeable users may understand that behind the scenes, the search engine still operates like a web app. But to the people asking questions, it appears to be an integrated feature of the browser. We can just have a rule that search engines are off-topic, so it's clear for reviewers. But we may end up having to explain how browsers work to a lot of questioners so they understand why their question is off-topic, but a seemingly similar one about an add-on isn't.

Should we reconsider treating search engines like add-ons, installed add-ons being on topic?

  • 1
    I think it's still primarily a webapp. Even when integrated into the browser it does nothing more than redirect to the site's url when you search. Unless the question is specifically about "installing" the search engine to your browser--that would still be on-topic. That's just my initial feeling about the matter but I'm not married to this position. I'm sure there are some decent counter arguments to be made to that. – n8te Nov 23 at 2:06
  • @n8te, you're probably right that behind the scenes, they still operate like a web app. One of my concerns is that the nitty gritty of how it operates is now masked. They've been integrated to work seamlessly with the browser. So we're likely to get more and more questions where the OPs can't understand the distinction. We may spend more time explaining the inner working of the browser and why it's off-topic than just answering the questions. :-) – fixer1234 Nov 23 at 2:21
  • Yeah, I understand. There are some gray area subjects like this that are basically impossible for newer users to know whether they're on-topic or not by just reading the help center. But I figured I would make a halfass attempt to defend my position since you called me to the fold in a comment on this question. (being that I was the lone close voter, which I've now retracted). :-) – n8te Nov 23 at 2:32
  • @n8te, LOL. That was the question that triggered this. You could well turn out to be right; unless longstanding policy changes, the close vote will turn out to have been correct, and now you can't revote on it. I almost VTC'ed, myself. If discussion here confirms that it's still off-topic, I'll replace your close vote (it's the least I can do). – fixer1234 Nov 23 at 2:41
  • Does a browser do anything other than https://www.google.com/search?q=<searchstring> for google or https://duckduckgo.com/?q=<searchstring>&ia=web for duckduckgo and passing those URLs on to the search engine? – Nordlys Jeger Nov 23 at 2:42
  • @NordlysJeger, that's kinda the question n8te and I were just hashing. When you get down to it, much of what is done in a GUI gets translated to a command line and handed to something else. A lot of add-ons actually create command lines and send them to a web service. My concern is that the line between browser and web service has become very murky. Programmers can recognize and understand the difference. But the appearance is that the functionality is an integrated part of the browser. So the people asking the questions are likely not to understand the distinction. – fixer1234 Nov 23 at 2:52
  • ah, thanks. I got a bit confused. – Nordlys Jeger Nov 23 at 2:55

Depends on what the question is asking.

If they want to configure or update settings of a webapp or web service, when on that service itself, then it's better for Web Apps .

If they actually are installed against the browser, and it requires/asks about changing browser settings, like shortcut keys, icon, or keywords used to trigger, then that is when it is on topic for Super User.

The example about Startpage/DuckDuckGo is about the search engine, less so than tinkering with the browser itself.

  • That's solid logic to apply to the current rules. Where I was going with the question is that parsing the rules that finely is becoming a matter of separating fly shit from pepper. To most of the people answering or reviewing the questions, if they think it through to that degree, the logic makes sense. But I don't think even most reviewers parse it that finely. To the people asking the questions, it's become virtually indistinguishable. They're in their browser and plug a search term in the browser's search window. A page of results appears in the browser. (cont'd) – fixer1234 Nov 23 at 3:56
  • If they want to change a setting for the search, there's an icon on that page. To them, they're still in their browser. Regardless of how the results get to them behind the scenes, its just an integrated feature of the browser. The page has search engine identification on it, but that's like sponsor stickers on a racing car. Search engines are qualitatively different from apps that aren't integrated into the browser, like say Google Office. My suggestion is to consider moving the bar so that integrated functionality, that behaves like a browser feature, is treated as on-topic. – fixer1234 Nov 23 at 3:56
  • If it's integrated, then yes, it's more likely on-topic as a browser feature. But the example given didn't read like that and felt more with the current state of things. Not everyone has the bother to split the hairs. For those that do, that's why we have other sites to consider – random Nov 23 at 4:01
  • I picked that example mainly because of the answer. But the idea is to not have to split hairs. Search engines may be web apps under the hood, but they are now predominantly integrated into the browser, like a browser feature. So rather than applying complex rules, we would just treat most search engine questions as if they're a browser feature (so generally on-topic). – fixer1234 Nov 23 at 5:12

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