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We don't like shopping request questions on Stack Exchange.

As has been pointed out to me on UX.SE, Stack Overflow, Programmers and Super User all have custom close reasons for when shopping request questions come in. On UX.SE we also close these questions off usually with a combination of 'Too Broad' or 'Primarily Opinion Based' and with a suitable comment left against the post, such as:

Sorry, but questions requesting recommendations for books / software / apps / papers etc. would fall into the shopping request category and aren't really suitable to a Q&A website. The reason for this is that there is no one correct answer, and such recommended items would soon be updated and replaced with newer / better versions making the best answers redundant. Therefore you're better off visiting our Chat site for such discussions, they're not really suitable for this main site I'm afraid.

Now ideally we would add this to one of the custom close reasons we have set up, but we're only allowed three of these so that means one of the existing custom close reasons would have to be removed. This isn't an ideal situation as those close reasons don't really fit with the Too Broad / Opinion Based close reasons (hence the reason for having custom reasons in the first place).

Also, I'm not really convinced that Shopping Requests are actually off-topic - "What is the best language to use for X", or "What book will tell me about Y" aren't exactly Off Topic for the sites as they are usually requesting something around the general topic of the site itself. But they are certainly not suitable questions for a Q&A site.

So, if most (maybe even all?) of Stack Exchange sites don't allow Shopping Request questions should this not be set as a default close reason in its own right for all sites to use?

Not only would this send a message to all users that Stack Exchange isn't the place to ask for recommendations for a particular product, but would also free up one of the custom reasons on sites that already have this set up as a reason, allowing them to specify something specific to that individual site.

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Firstly, not all sites disallow recommendations. Mathematics, TeX, Mathematica, and Reverse Engineering are some sites that I know of that allow a controlled form of recommendations (I think). Physics is also on its way to allow a subset of resource recommendation questions.

That aside, each site has a different type of recommendation question that is common to them. Stack Overflow has library and book recommendations. Security.SE has broad "strategy" recommendations, along with best practices questions and some product recommendations. Super User has product recommendations. Physics has book/website recommendations. Chemistry has book and software recommendations. The old Astronomy.SE used to have physical tool recommendations (telescopes, lenses, etc). Scifi has "what should I watch next". Bitcoin has software recommendations. Electronics has hardware recommendations and where-should-I-buy-this questions. English has word recommendations.

While each of these has the same underlying theme to them, they're different. When the close system was put in, most, if not all, sites were given the following close reason:

Questions seeking product recommendations are off-topic as they become obsolete quickly. Instead, describe your situation and the specific problem you're trying to solve.

But this one is pretty short and not ideal (in fact, it doesn't even make sense on some sites where the recommendations are not "product" recommendations). Sites should identify what type of recommendation is common for them, and tailor the close reason to the type of question they get.

For example, Stack Overflow has:

Questions asking us to recommend or find a tool, library or favorite off-site resource are off-topic for Stack Overflow as they tend to attract opinionated answers and spam. Instead, describe the problem and what has been done so far to solve it.

Super User has:

Questions seeking product, service, or learning material recommendations are off-topic because they tend to become obsolete quickly. Instead, describe your situation and the specific problem you're trying to solve. Here are a few suggestions on how to properly ask this type of question.

Electronics:

Questions seeking recommendations for specific products or places to purchase them are off-topic as they are rarely useful to others and quickly obsolete. Instead, describe your situation and the specific problem you're trying to solve.

English:

Questions on choosing an ideal word or phrase must include information on how it will be used in order to be answered. For help writing a good word or phrase request, see: About single word requests

Scifi:

Requests for lists of works or recommendations are off-topic as they do not fit our questions and answers format. Feel free to ask about people's favorites in chat.

One can see that they all vary, and these specific reasons are much better than the original catch-all.


Some sites don't have that large a problem with recommendation questions, so they don't even have a close reason for it. Instead, they close them as "primarily opinion based" or they use the freeform off topic close reason when these questions come in. Physics has bigger problems with homework and non mainstream posts, so we don't have a close reason for recommendations. Skeptics has a whitelist of the types of allowed questions, instead of using the usual blacklisting system -- only questions asking about the veracity of a notable claim are allowed, and that pretty much excludes the other types of bad questions like lists (they only have one close reason, and that's all they really need). Christianity doesn't seem to get many recommendation-type questions. There probably are more like this.

So the importance of the recommendation close varies from site to site, as well as the type of question it actually targets.


What sites are encouraged to do is to take a look at the recently closed questions, and determine the types of commonly closed questions. The community team has some queries that can help greatly with this. First, identify is recommendation questions are really a problem for you. If that is the case, then identify the type of recommendation question you get, and propose a custom off topic close reason for it. The number of slots can be increased from 3 if you can demonstrate a need.

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    You're quite right here I think. While one of my concerns was about imposing the recommendation close-reason onto sites that actually allow them, I didn't actually consider that we would end up imposing this close reason onto sites that don't actually have a problem with recommendations in the first place. Perhaps yes, it is more sensible to add a new close reason to sites that need it rather than a blanket addition to everywhere - thereby creating too much choice for closing, which isn't really a good thing. – JonW Nov 11 '13 at 11:34
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There is already a close reason for shopping recommendations:

primarily opinion-based

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.

Not only would making “shopping recommendation” a separate close reason be redundant, it would also be extremely confusing. Normal people — basically, almost anyone who isn't a Super User regulars — understands “shopping recommendation” to mean “recommendation as to which product to buy”. Using “shopping recommendation” to mean other things, such as “recommendation as to which free product to use” or “recommendation as to which book to read” (even if the book is to be bought) is highly confusing.

Some sites may elect to have close reasons that are specific to a kind of issue that they encounter frequently and that doesn't completely and obviously fall under the heading “primarily opinion-based”. For example, Security has the close reason

Questions seeking product recommendations are off-topic as they become obsolete quickly. Instead, describe your situation and the specific problem you're trying to solve.

(slightly more general than “shopping recommendation”, as it covers all product recommendations even when no shopping is involved) while Science Fiction & Fantasy has the close reason

Requests for lists of works or recommendations are off-topic as they do not fit our questions and answers format. Feel free to ask about people's favorites in chat.

(again, it's about recommendations but not about shopping). The more academic site Cryptography has the custom close reason

Requests for reference recommendations are off-topic here. For details, see: Do we want “literature recommendations” and similar “list/subjective questions”?

— again, nothing to do with shopping: there literature recommendations are a common issue but shopping hardly ever comes up.

So it's up to you on UX to analyze what kind of unsuitable question comes up often enough to warrant a specific close reason. And please don't use the expression “shopping recommendation” if no actual shopping is going on.

Also, yes, such questions can be unsuitable but on-topic — but that's a separate problem.

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