Are questions about online backup services like:

  • Dropbox
  • Mozy
  • CrashPlan

on-topic for Super User?

  • 1
    Too bad, I still don't know whether I should pick Crashplan or Backblaze... :P
    – Ivo Flipse
    Dec 15, 2011 at 11:32
  • 1
    @IvoFlipse "Shopping recommendations are off-topic, but do you know Super User Chat?" :P
    – slhck
    Dec 15, 2011 at 11:34
  • +1 An interesting question. I'd split it into question and answer though, to better be able to judge responses. It's unlikely anyone else will post an agreeing answer.
    – Daniel Beck Mod
    Dec 15, 2011 at 15:55
  • @DanielBeck You're right, this makes more sense.
    – slhck
    Dec 15, 2011 at 19:26
  • I'm looking to find a more general way to describe our stance here. What is your opinion on software licensing issues, e.g. Allowed to run on virtual machine (not counting OSX here due to our need to keep out illegal stuff)? It's similarly only marginally relevant to actual software use.
    – Daniel Beck Mod
    Dec 15, 2011 at 20:39
  • @DanielBeck If the question is just about whether something is allowed, I don't consider it a real question in the sense of Super User. We're not here to interpret EULA. There should be a problem to be solved. The question should be How do I …, don't you think? For example, Windows licensing really matters when you're getting an activation prompt, so it would be fine to ask about what the practical consequences would be.
    – slhck
    Dec 15, 2011 at 20:49

2 Answers 2


As far as I'm concerned, I'd say no, they're off-topic, except for when the question is specifically about the software that comes with the service, such as, for example:

  • problems with the Dropbox client on Linux
  • installing the Mozy 2.0 client on Windows
  • symlinking files from Dropbox and the local hard drive
  • et cetera

This is the reason why I've voted to close Online backup that keeps locally deleted files forever, as it's a shopping recommendation and just about the services in general.

  • 2
    I agree with this interpretation - it's both a shopping question and off-topic. If the problem is with getting the software to work, that's great, but questions about the service itself seem out-of-scope to me.
    – nhinkle
    Dec 15, 2011 at 20:36

I don't think this topic is specifically about the question, so discussing any other shortcomings of the question would only skew the results. Therefore this answer completely ignored the software recommendation aspect of the question. That's a completely different problem diamonds refuse to address in any conclusive way, and has no relevance here:

Either these services are generally on topic, in which case the same restrictions to the recommendation aspect apply like for general software questions, or it isn't, and we don't care about the ambiguous recommendation aspect anyway.

In the specified example, the service is very tightly coupled to the software that enabled the service. There is no service without the software, it's not even conceivable that there might be a website implementation for it! In addition, there is no real substitute to the service when intending to use the software: There is no software without the service.

The question is about the capabilities of a class of software products. Due to the inherent tight coupling of the server side parts also accessible from a web site and the client that runs as a real, standalone software on a user's computer, it doesn't make sense to separate them.

Only very few programs have this kind of coupling: Only online backup/syncing services and laptop anti-theft software come to mind. Everything else consists of more loosely coupled parts, where the desktop clients are optional (e.g. Twitter clients, desktop blogging software, etc.) and could easily be replaced while keeping the "cloud" component.

Since it is obvious that some parts of the service – the client software – is on topic, we should keep all of it on-topic to reduce user confusion: It's a combined product with a a desktop software component that is:

  • essential, i.e. the service wouldn't even hypothetically be possible without it
  • exclusive, i.e. there's no alternative service to use the client with, and the client has no unrelated functionality.

Therefore these questions should be on topic.

By all of it I mean questions about the functionality of the software, something that'd be on topic if there was no hosted server component, independent from whether they're implemented locally or on the server.

Consider the following questions (I'm using Dropbox as an example, as I'm somewhat familiar with it), which I consider to be on topic, but which appear to be off topic if we accepted @slhck's suggestion:

How do I access files I synced to Dropbox from a different computer? You go to the service's web site.

Does Dropbox store older versions, or do I lose them as soon as I save a newer file? has nothing to do with the client.

How can others access the files in my Public folder? This is implemented via the web site and completely unrelated to the client.

How can I send a link to a file in the Public folder? Until recently, the OS X client of Dropbox didn't have Copy public link. So this was achieved through the service's web site and completely unrelated to the client software.

  • Interestingly, I didn't get a notification for this answer. Anyway: You do have a point. We can't expect the OP to always know whether the answer involves computer software (the client) at all. I don't think your answer is orthogonal to what I was suggesting, it's just more precise.
    – slhck
    Dec 16, 2011 at 11:29
  • 1
    Currently, iTunes question are on-topic and function similarly. I will assume Windows 8 questions regarding Skydrive will be ontopic as well.
    – surfasb
    Dec 19, 2011 at 23:51

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