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I have a couple of old, very popular questions asking for recommendations on tools. I wasn't asking for best tool, but rather whether a tool meeting my requirements even existed.

Update: Here's another example that was just asked by someone else.

While both of these questions have been closed, people are still finding the answers useful. Is it possible to rephrase these questions (and others like them) to better fit the Q&A format?

share|improve this question
I think the question of "How do you test sending email?" is a valid one, especially since you were fairly specific about your setup and what sort of tests you wanted to run. Perhaps all the first one needs is a title change. – Rachel Apr 18 '13 at 15:38
As for the 2nd, I'm not really sure because once again, you were fairly specific about what system you're running on and what specifics you were looking for, and a quick glance through the answer is only showing a handful of products. Perhaps change it to something like "How can I work with MSSQLServer from Mac OS X using a GUI?", and make sure your specific requirements (color coding, result set grid, etc) stand out a bit more, such as putting them in bullet points? – Rachel Apr 18 '13 at 15:42
I guess I should post this stuff in an answer... – Rachel Apr 18 '13 at 15:42
Funny that every answer here has a negative score... O.o – Gaffi Apr 18 '13 at 16:03
@PatrickMcElhaney I've posted them in an answer below, and expanded on them a bit as to why I think the change would help :) – Rachel Apr 18 '13 at 16:10
up vote 1 down vote accepted

In many cases tool/library recommendation questions can be rephrased to focus on the actual problem being solved instead of being focused on getting a bunch of names/links to tools/libraries.

By asking for a tool/library, you are likely to only get answers containing the name and a link to the product, with very few other details, however by asking about the problem you are trying to solve, you can get a full solution to your problem, which may or may not be accompanied by an existing tool or library link.

It should also be noted that product requests which are detailed and specific enough to elicit the product for the solution are OK. In these cases, enough details have to be provided that the community can easily judge a "correct" answer, instead of only having the votes based on what is popular.

But in regards to your two specific questions:

Dummy SMTP Server for testing apps that send email

I think this question just needs a title change from "Dummy SMTP Server for testing apps that send email" to "How do you test sending email?".

The current title is asking for a product recommendation, which encourages users with any product or library that meets your criteria in an answer. The 2nd title focuses on your actual problem, which encourages people to post a solution to the problem instead of just a link to a product or library.

The change in title will also make the 2nd highest voted answer correct, since it is pointing out a setting in web.config that you can modify instead of giving you the name of a product you could use for testing emails.

The rest seems OK, since you're fairly specific about your setup and what sort of tests you want to run, although you might want to change the question at the end from "But surely such a tool already exists?" to be a statement instead of a question, such as "Perhaps a tool already exists for this".

SQL Client for Mac OS X that works with MS SQL Server

For this one, I'd suggest the same thing: change your title to focus on the problem you're trying to solve instead of asking for a product, such as "How can I work with MSSQLServer from Mac OS X using a GUI?"

It might also help to make sure your specific requirements (color coding, result set grid, etc) stand out a bit more, such as putting them in bullet points, so users know you're looking for those specific features in the answers, and can judge them accordingly.

Other than that I can't think of much else since you were fairly specific about what system you're running on and what specifics you were looking for, and a quick glance through the answers is only showing a handful of answers highly voted.

I've voted to reopen both questions, as I think they are good ones (the dummy SMTP one has helped me in the past), but I'd still encourage you to edit them slightly so they focus on the problem you're trying to solve instead of asking for a product recommendation, as that will help get more reopen votes and help prevent them from getting re-closed in the future.

share|improve this answer
Clearly the questions should not be open as they stand. If and when they are edited into questions that should be reopened, then voting to reopen would be appropriate. Voting to reopen because they might possibly, maybe be edited into something better in the future is not proper. Additionally, even if the edits you describe were made they will introduce more problems. First off, you need to deal with all of the existing (mostly low quality) answers. Next, while the new question would cease to be a shopping question, it would still be of very low quality. – Servy Apr 18 '13 at 16:00
@Servy Perhaps I wasn't clear in my final bit: I voted to reopen both questions because I think they are good ones as they stand now. They contain enough detail to provide a good metric to judge answers by, and to elicit the product to use for the specific problem being addressed. A quick glance through the list shows only a couple of highly voted answers, while the rest are more obscure products, personal libraries, or duplicates of other answers. Editing the titles will help prevent more of these bad answers, and will help prevent the question from being a bad example to future users – Rachel Apr 18 '13 at 16:06
It's very clear that, based on the site's guidelines, these questions are "Not Constructive". Even if you think they're good questions, you know that they should be closed based on the site's current standards. Accordingly, you shouldn't be knowingly voting to reopen the question in violation of those standards. – Servy Apr 18 '13 at 16:13
@Servy Sorry, but I've seen plenty of MSO posts that clearly indicate that if a recommendation request is accompanied by enough specific details to elicit the solution to the problem, then it is fine. And the reason behind the no-lists guideline (not rule) is that they usually result in a huge list of answers voted by popularity, not correctness, which is not-constructive towards SE's goal of high-quality, reliable answers. I don't see that happening with these questions since they provide enough detail to only have 1-2 products fit the criteria. – Rachel Apr 18 '13 at 16:17
Really, because all I see is lists of link only answers, or answers with virtually nothing more thank links in them, that are voted on based on popularity, not merit. The questions are also asking for nothing more than a tool to do X, there is no additional information requested, no metric for which you could determine a best answer, etc. It's a textbook not constructive recommendation question, not a particularly good one. – Servy Apr 18 '13 at 16:19
Thank you. I edited the title on the SMTP question. I couldn't find a way to improve the SQL question and I'm frankly surprised so many people have found it useful. – gitignore Apr 18 '13 at 19:39

Not really, no. By the sound of it the intended goal is a list of product recommendations. List questions are fundamentally at odds with the Q/A format. You'd need to modify the question such that it wouldn't be generating a list. Doing that would also invalidate all/most of the existing answers, which would be a problem. If you could find a related question that would be appropriate it would need to be a new question to avoid invalidating all of those answers.

Keep in mind that closed is very different from deleted. The questions aren't deleted, nor do I see any reason for them to be deleted. The information will still be available to others; it simply won't be possible to add new answers.

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By that logic, is a programming problem with several possible solutions a "list" question? The goal of these questions was not to create a list of things, but to find one thing that works. – gitignore Apr 18 '13 at 15:24
@PatrickMcElhaney No, it's not. The difference is this question requires a list to fully answer it, as opposed to any other question in which it only needs a single answer, even if multiple answers exist. Other problems with this category of question are: 1) There is no means of evaluating different answers; there is no way of determining which answer is "best". 2) It encourages nothing but link only answers; which are very low quality content. We want to encourage explanation, discussion, examples, etc. 3) The information is highly localized. New tools are added, old ones die, etc. – Servy Apr 18 '13 at 15:28
Point number 1 is solved by point number 2 and vice versa. :P – gitignore Apr 18 '13 at 15:31
@PatrickMcElhaney What? The questions are full of almost nothing but link only answers... – Servy Apr 18 '13 at 15:32
The SMTP one has mostly link-only answers. The answers to the SQL client question tend to provide more context. – gitignore Apr 18 '13 at 15:37
@PatrickMcElhaney Those answers are at least complete sentences and not bare links, but the additional content isn't really explaining anything (or at least not much). The value of those answers doesn't seem to extend beyond the links. – Servy Apr 18 '13 at 15:40
It's pointing people in the right direction, and helping them get to solutions faster than if the question hadn't existed. Still, is it possible to improve the question to encourage better answers so future vistors arrive at solutions even faster? – gitignore Apr 18 '13 at 15:43
@PatrickMcElhaney SO has made a point of not being as site that just points people elsewhere, an important goal is to actually have the answer here, on the site, right with the question, rather than just being a place that refers people elsewhere. Also note that the site isn't meant to handle every possible programming question. The site has determined that it can't properly handler certain types of questions, even if they're not bad, and so it chooses to place them out of the site's scope. – Servy Apr 18 '13 at 15:46
@PatrickMcElhaney: Shopping questions are discouraged. That means all of them, even yours. – Won't Apr 18 '13 at 16:40
@Won't It has nothing to do with being mine. I asked the question after noticing how many people found them useful in the comments. It's not about "Why won't you treat my shopping question differently?" It's about "How can I fix this so it's not a shopping question?" – gitignore Apr 18 '13 at 16:47
See @Rachel's answer. She's the only one who seems to get it. – gitignore Apr 18 '13 at 16:48
@PatrickMcElhaney You mean she's the one who's telling you what you want to hear. You may not like my answer, but it's the correct one. Any change you might make to the question to make it appropriate would invalidate the answers to the question. Virtually all of the answers are of low quality; SO is designed to generate high quality answers. An appropriate question would demand high quality answers, instead of the current question that encourages low quality answers. Rather than invalidating all of those answers, you should ask a new question if you can come up with a good one. – Servy Apr 18 '13 at 16:53
@Servy Fine, then help me understand how to write better questions in the future. That would be helpful. What's not helpful is "This looks like a shopping question. Anything that looks like a shopping question is definitely a shopping question and therefore inherently bad and cannot be improved. You did a bad job and you should feel bad." – gitignore Apr 18 '13 at 17:06
@PatrickMcElhaney I didn't say any of that. This doesn't just look like a shopping question, it is a shopping question. I did not say shopping questions are inherently bad; I said that this site has chosen not to allow shopping questions because it is not designed in a manor that can properly support them. Attempts to allow them have resulted in poor quality content on this site. While the question may not be bad, it doesn't belong on this site, and so should remain closed. That's okay; there's nothing wrong with that; having a question closed is not the end of the world. Have a cookie. – Servy Apr 18 '13 at 17:13
@PatrickMcElhaney Oh, and I didn't say it couldn't be improved, I said changing the question such that it would be acceptable would be such a radical change that you would be better of asking it as a new question, rather than editing the current question so radically, as you would invalidate all of the answers in the process. – Servy Apr 18 '13 at 17:14

Whilst many people would disagree that they should be on the site. It seems to contradict what it says in the FAQ for asking questions:

Stack Overflow is for professional and enthusiast programmers, people who write code because they love it. We feel the best Stack Overflow questions have a bit of source code in them, but if your question generally covers …

  • a specific programming problem
  • a software algorithm
  • software tools commonly used by programmers
  • practical, answerable problems that are unique to the programming profession

I'd say your questions are perfectly valid for bullet point 3.

But as noted, that's just poor wording on the FAQ, maybe it should say:

  • using/improving/debugging software tools commonly used by programmers
share|improve this answer
The FAQ is stating that asking a question about a specific programming tool is acceptable. Asking which programming tool should be used is not acceptable. See this recent discussion for more info. – Servy Apr 18 '13 at 15:25
@Servy Maybe the FAQ is misleading then and the wording should be changed. – mattytommo Apr 18 '13 at 15:27
I fail to see the ambiguity in it, but apparently lots of people fail to comprehend it, so it seems to indicate it needs to be changed, yes. Keep in mind that those four points are not saying that anything even slightly related to any of those is a valid question. By that logic the fact that the first point says, "a specific programming problem" would mean that any programming problem would be a valid question. That's not true. It must be one of these four things to be valid, but being one of these four things doesn't make it valid. Apparently this is only confusing with point #3 though. – Servy Apr 18 '13 at 15:31

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