I want to take discussion away from Daniel's previous post.

Here's my point: I've always been under the impression that software-recommendations were absolutely fine on Super User.* Now, obviously, this isn't the case anymore. Diago ♦ said:

To be honest, they [software-rec questions] should be closed, but we have not brought to ban hammer down hard, generally, because there are other more important duties to focus on. Good questions should stay, but we don't always apply policies retroactively.

The sheer number of over 1000 active questions makes me wonder when this policy was introduced and how it has been enforced so far. Now it seems that everyone is saying, "These are off-topic [and have always been]", while the reality looks very different.

In my time here, I've always been aware of the problem with , but not with software recommendations. Not at all.

Note that …

  • I am fine with whatever the community decides on. If the rules are like this, I'll accept it and move on.
  • My problem is not that I don't understand why you would say these are off-topic.
  • I see no value in "Recommend me a good software for XYZ".
  • I did see value in recommendations for software to perform specific tasks. We are there to solve problems, right?

My problem is …

  • 3
    I have to run to class, so I don't have time to elaborate, but it's similar to the nuances of hardware recommendations. Consider the difference between "what power supply should I buy?" and "how can one figure out what type of power supply they need?". The former is "give me teh products", the other is "how can I learn this". Likewise, we have a difference between "tell me a good ISO burner" and "how can I burn ISOs to DVDs on Windows 7?".
    – nhinkle
    Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 21:59
  • @nhinkle Good point, but not exactly what I'm asking. You probably wouldn't tag the latter software-rec.
    – slhck
    Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 22:07
  • 6
    I've always been fine with [software-rec] questions phrased in the form of: "How can I get this job done? What software (free or otherwise) is out there to help me do XYZ?". Anything else is, like @nhinkle said, "make the decision for me"...
    – studiohack
    Commented Sep 28, 2011 at 22:11

2 Answers 2

  • I see no value in "Recommend me a good software for XYZ".
  • I did see value in recommendations for software to perform specific tasks. We are there to solve problems, right?

The former are the problem. The latter should be rephrased to "How can I do XYZ?" Then it's a real problem, that can be defined purely in terms of the task and your requirements (performance or file formats or platform or whatever else), rather than requesting a subjective recommendation that often results in a list of crappy answers.

If it can't be rephrased to be a real problem, it's not a good question. All questions should be like this, not just recommendations.

I agree with consistent and strong enforcement, but I'm not a mod here ;)


I am going to address this in 3 parts.

We are acting like they were off-topic all the time, yet there are so many around and they are not closed by the community.

They have been. The problem is not what is in front of it, the problem is the part. Jeff covered this a while back on the blog with Q&A is hard, let's go shopping. These policies where put in place over time, some across all the sites, some specifically on Super User. The latter I was involved in heavily, since for some time in the beginning I was the only active moderator, before we added the team currently moderating the site. However, the quality of the question are more important. A lot of these are low quality and closed quickly.

If you want to enforce this rule, I'd mod-hammer it, otherwise you'll have people like me confused :P

No. Simple. I've said this before and say it again. Diamond moderators are exception handlers, not worker bees. We have other things to do, and we volunteer to become moderators because it should not take hours out of our day. Reading A Theory on Moderation should make that a bit clearer. We are not employed by SE nor do we get paid for our time. We do it because we want to, within reason.

If these closed votes aren't handle, the community has the power to highlight these to other high reputation users, who are actively willing to do it. The tools are available and can be used by these users.

The site is run with community moderators, and the community has the power to close these questions, without moderators getting involved. If we had to retroactively clean up the site ourselves, we would be busy for days, and honestly, some moderators might have the time, but not all of them do. These questions are closed when they appear on the front page, or are brought up on meta, and that makes it simpler and easier.

Lastly, if you spend a lot of time on SuperUser, and are above a 1000 reputation points, you should by know be fully aware of the FAQ, as well as the Meta site, and searching for the information is fairly easily available.

On a personal note. I have a reputation for closing questions on sight, because of me having been forced to in the past due to circumstances. One of the reason a spend as little time as possible moderating is to teach myself to let the community handle the bulk, and only deal with the flags that are raised

For example, are all of these off-topic now?

Out of the 3, 2 are valid, and I am not sure why they have the . They are asking to solve a particular problem, and the questions can stand on their own without the tag. As for the last one, to me that's a off topic shopping recommendation, since it is not trying to solve a problem the user has, however it can be rephrased to rectify that.

  • 3
    > you should by know be fully aware of the FAQ, as well as the Meta site, and searching for the information is fairly easily available – there's always the rules and what the community makes of them. I think this is just a case where the written rules aren't as clear. Take as an example, "how is asking for free software a buying recommendation?"
    – slhck
    Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 8:02
  • But I think I understand the main issue here. Maybe somebody wants to re-write the software-rec tag wiki to reflect that?
    – slhck
    Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 8:03
  • 1
    @slhck I repeat. Is it a recommendation?. Free, purchased, software, hardware, shopping, non of those matter. The issue is the latter part. Recommendations are biased, based on usage, and opinion. In example I hate beaTunes because it is Java based, but use it because it is the best Music Management tool I've found. Is my recommendation of it going to be biased? Yes. I hate Java apps on Mac. The latter however, is my personal choice, some people, don't care what it's written in. Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 8:41
  • 1
    I'm only paraphrasing comments like "But whyyy? It's not a shopping recommendation, I'm looking for free!!". I absolutely know what you're saying, I am absolutely on your side when it comes to that. All I'm probably asking is for the FAQ to be clear about it.
    – slhck
    Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 8:48
  • This is, for example, what I'm talking about.
    – slhck
    Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 9:05
  • @slhck I am reserving comment since I saw who the user was. But I agree with the closer, and honestly, we learn to deal with the comments. If there are valid arguments for re-opening, or the question is edited, we'll act. In this case. Silence is often better. Commented Sep 29, 2011 at 9:12

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