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We already have the following in the FAQ under "What kinds of questions should I not ask here":

  • every answer is equally valid: “What’s your favorite ____?”
  • your answer is provided along with the question, and you expect more answers: “I use ____ for ____, what do you use?”
  • there is no actual problem to be solved: “I’m curious if other people feel like I do.”
  • we are being asked an open-ended, hypothetical question: “What if ____ happened?”
  • it is a rant disguised as a question: “____ sucks, am I right?”

Can we add the following to the list, the higher-up the better?

  • you are asking for a product/tool recommendation, such as "Any recommendations for a ____" or "Can anyone suggest a ____ ?"

As I type this, I realize that recommendations could fall under the first bullet point, "Every answer is equally valid", but this tends to be overlooked a lot.

In that case, instead of a new bullet point, could we update the first bullet point to something along the lines of:

  • every answer is equally valid: “What’s your favorite ____?”, or “Can you suggest/recommend a ____?”

This way, recommendations and suggestions are explicitly called out as invalid.

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I agree when people go to the extreme asking open-ended recommendation questions like "Whats the best CMS?" The thing is usually these questions get closed pretty quickly and a link to Q&A is Hard, Let’s Go Shopping is often left in the comments. IMHO it would be a shame to see this as an official FAQ/SiteRule because many of these questions raise a lot of interest and have good value, eg: stackoverflow.com/questions/5928061/… –  Jeremy Thompson Dec 28 '12 at 5:59
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I also proposed something similar for SU: not about… Shopping or product recommendations. (That is, if we finally manage to update our FAQ after now almost 7 months.) –  slhck Jan 4 '13 at 21:03
    
@slhck - I guess I shouldn't hold my breath then :) –  LittleBobbyTables Jan 11 '13 at 13:56

4 Answers 4

To quote from my answer to the same question from Programmers:

I think there's a difference between Can anyone recommend a good framework for X and Can anyone recommend a good framework for using X with Y parameters

The reason why the first is usually closed is because the end result is simply a list of everyone's favorite X

The reason why the second should be left open, is because only a few X are actually valid for the situation, and that short list is helpful to anyone looking for X with Y parameters

For example, a question asking Can you recommend a good framework for Javascript should be closed, because there are no details involved and the end result is a not-constructive list of everyone's favorite javascript framework.

In contrast, a question which asks Can you recommend a good Javascript framework that uses databinding like what WPF/XAML uses should be left open because the specific parameters make the question become answerable and useful to future visitors with the same question. Perhaps the end result is a few different answers, however the list should be short, and the best answer will get voted to the top.

But that said, perhaps we could add a bullet point to the what this site is not about section that says something like "broad recommendations", and include a link to either a meta-faq post, or the Q&A is Hard, Lets go Shopping blog post

So I definitely support adding a bullet point to the FAQ saying this site is not for asking about broad recommendations, however I think we should be careful in how we phrase it because not all recommendation questions are off-topic.

If you are careful to supply specific details about what you're looking for in the recommendation, and what you should be judging the answers by (performance, ease of use, etc), then I think you are OK.

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I agree with your statement, but as long as people are closing both types of questions, the FAQ should outright ban both. I asked a question which, in my opinion, followed "what tool does X, Y, and Z". I didn't see anything in the FAQ forbidding that type of question, but then it got put on hold because of discussions in meta. –  Chance Aug 28 '13 at 17:26
    
I think recommendations are more appropriate for Programmers than StackOverflow. And what recommendations would be on topic for StackOverflow that wouldn't be on topic for Programmers? Shouldn't we just ban it on one of them, i.e. StackOverflow? –  Dukeling Sep 16 '13 at 0:31

Personally, I've gotten a lot of help on StackOverflow from these kinds of questions, which often do seem to have a fairly definitive answer. Just last week, for example, I was looking for some of "the best" Java 3D graphics libraries, and I found that answer here.

It certainly adds value to the site, both for regular users and passerby. At least for questions which, while they may be subjective, have definitively "best" answers based on the fact that we share a common frame of reference.

To explain that better, I can ask a general question like, "Is murder a good thing?" This is by definition a subjective question. However, because (I hope) we share a common frame of reference, it can be answered definitively and so still adds value.

In the same way, I believe most everyone here shares the same general criteria for what makes a library or application "good", and so I would hate to see all of those questions disappear when they're so useful!

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This is a good idea. I think there is a distinction between subjective questions and shopping list questions, although the two may certainly overlap. The first item on the list seems to only be identifying subjective questions.

I think this should be bundled with a bit of information on the right way to go about this, which is to instead describe the problem you are trying to solve. Instead of asking "What libraries can do ABC in XYZ?", people should be asking, "What is the easiest way to do ABC in XYZ? I am open to library suggestions."

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If you can't imagine the new text fitting on a road sign and people reading it as they drive by, it's probably too long. –  Robert Harvey Dec 20 '12 at 15:36
    
@Asad, What the point to change the format of question, if the meaning is the same? Should site concentrate on quality of answers, but not on linguistic games? –  Michael Freidgeim May 18 '13 at 13:22
    
@MichaelFreidgeim The meaning of the questions isn't the same, since the solution space is now unrestricted. A user can post code that solves the problem, describe a general approach to solving the problem, or mention a library that solves the problem. –  Asad May 20 '13 at 22:56

I don't think you should try to put an unconditional ban on all recommendation questions.

While generic 'which library is best' questions always end in flamewars about personal lovechilds, there's no denying the concept of 'right tool for the right job', or the merit of a well-argumented recommendation for a specific tool in a specific situation. I myself often question the world's focus on jQuery as the one size fits all JS lib while I think Mootools is better suited to generic JS programming. You don't hammer a screw in the wall if someone with experience told you to use a screwdriver.

So I vote against a generic ban, but do ensure the question is geared towards a specific unique situation. And answers that provide valid arguments towards a given option automatically invalidate the 'all answers are equally valid' comparison.

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