Almost every site that I've seen on the SE network contends that Shopping Questions are taboo and off-topic.

Likely this is due to trying to prevent opinionated answers or lengthy discussions back and forth "This rocks!" "Meh, it sucks" "NO, it doesn't!" etc.

The About page on StackExchange.com states:

We welcome questions that are clear and specific, representing real problems that you face; Stack Exchange is not the place for conversation, opinions, or socializing.

The latest proposal here is for an IT Shopping centric site, which seems to go against the very nature of SE, and yet it could be warranted and welcomed by the masses. The latest valid request found here: https://meta.serverfault.com/questions/5744/questions-to-ask-the-se-staff-regarding-the-future-of-serverfault

Question #10 - Could there be a "Help me buy IT stuff" SE site, one place where we DO allow product recommendation questions - maybe even a degree of spam - so we can send that kind of question there without guilt - could/should(?) be cross site (SO/SF/SF)?

So, before the real possibility that this Area 51 proposal gets shot down completely, what say you? Is there room for such a site? Or is it simply so far off base from the intentions behind SE that it's never going to work here?

Proposal: IT Shopping Questions


The inherent issue I have with "shopping questions" is not their subjective nature -- there is value in Good Subjective as somequixotic mentioned -- but their ephemeral nature.

At least in the realm of technology, today's good answer might be tomorrow's bad advice. "You should run OpenSolaris - Sun is really committed to it and supports it well!" becomes "Oracle bought Sun. You're kinda out of luck now unless you fork over some cash money."

In order to stay relevant such a site would require aggressive expiration of questions/answers, and that's something the Stack Exchange platform simply doesn't do (nor is it designed to accommodate such a thing easily).

All that said, if we can come up with good criteria for expiring things and pruning the dead wood a "shopping recommendations" sub-site or affiliated sitewould certainly be interesting for Server Fault, and almost certainly Super User as well.

Android, Bicycles, Home Improvement, Photography, and a bunch of others could also probably benefit from something along these lines, and it could probably become a mini-profit-center for Stack Exchange Inc. if Amazon affiliate links were encouraged and Google AdWords leveraged -- assuming it's a direction they want to go in at all...

  • Profit by ads, etc. is fine, but hopefully prevent things like "Shopping.stackexchange.com - sponsored by IBM". One of the problems I see that would have to be overcome is the "dupe" questions due to time lapse. A question of "Which open source NAS should I run?" might garner a great response for today, but the same question shouldn't be "updated" two years from now, but rather asked anew so that current/relevant answers come into that question for "such a time as this". – TheCleaner Aug 26 '13 at 19:21
  • @TheCleaner Yeah - expiring questions after they've been inactive for a while is a "Must Have" for a site like this (close or lock) so that new discussions of today's options can happen. That's the "hard part" as far as I'm concerned. – voretaq7 Aug 26 '13 at 19:59

I think, if we could somehow reinforce a community discipline of having consistently good subjective answers, and heavily punish those who provide bad-subjective answers, it could work. Assuming that the SE employees are willing to open their minds and give us a chance at it, of course.

I mean, many of my highest-voted answers on SuperUser, which have been acclaimed to be genuinely useful to many people, are partially or entirely based on opinion.

I think saying "No opinions allowed on StackExchange - ever!" is extremely myopic and will ultimately end up being too selective, leading to an eventual exodus from the SE network by its userbase to places where opinions are allowed. That's why I get the distinct feeling that, at least, Spolsky and (ex-)Atwood are willing to accept some degree of subjectivity -- at least that is what I gleaned from their blog posts.

The challenge will be to police a community and a Q&A site which will be comprised almost entirely of questions that are:

  • Time-limited, meaning that the information will become outdated over time as prices fluctuate, product offerings come and go, and the industry moves from adopting a new technology, to using it, to then abandoning it in favor of the next thing;

  • Highly subjective, and experience-based, meaning that, while we can cite facts from specifications sheets and such, the site will probably not consist mainly of questions about "What does the spec sheet say about X?" -- I mean, come on, we can google that stuff; we don't need a Q&A site for that. So the few pieces of objective information that will be called for / cited on this site will be used as a part of subjective opinions. Opinions which may be rooted in facts as a point of reference for drawing the author's conclusion.

To accomplish this, the moderators (both diamond and otherwise!) will need to be very assertive towards people who answer subjective questions with short, pithy phrases like "Meh" or "It's really good" or "I hate it, I've had a bad experience with it".

What we are essentially looking for here is good-subjective. Good-subjective involves the author of the answer taking the following steps:

  • Gather information. This is super-important. You need to gather some facts that form the basis of your informed opinion.
  • State the relevant factual information which you gathered in your answer. It's often helpful to state the facts up front, and leave your argumentation/opinion for later.
  • Argue in a way that does not directly rebut, attack, cite, or refer to other answers or comments. You can argue against specific opinions that you might think are being expressed which you happen to disagree with, but saying something like "unlike @somequixotic, I think the Foobar Bazizzler is a really great device because ..." is out of bounds, while something like "It is often said that the Bazizzler has trouble mandiblating, but I found that a quick tweak to the positronic manifold can mitigate this to a large degree." is just fine.
  • Avoid comment wars. If you and some other poster are having a difference of opinion in comments, the best thing is to take a step back, take a 5-minute breather, then gather your facts and attempt to post a well-reasoned answer that follows the persuasive writing best practices, as well as, if you want, attempting to anticipate the possible objections to your opinion that the other guy might have (but without referring to him or his opinions directly!).

Those of us who've been through college, especially liberal arts majors or those who took a few liberal arts courses, might understand the process of persuasive writing that we are taught. I think that answers that call for an opinion on this site can still be extremely useful, on-topic and can even have a lasting appeal for the wisdom they espouse, if the answerer follows the persuasive writing process.

We'd have to really work hard to educate our community participants in these tenets, or the site would devolve into Yahoo Answers. I'm not saying it's impossible, and in fact I hope we get the chance to do it, but it's going to be a tough sell, because the SE employees tend to be fairly cynical about human behavior, and they might see this as "doomed to fail".


The problem with any site which seeks to "poll the community" for recommendations is that becomes really hard to begrudge anyone their answer. Any suggestion of a random favorite tool/application/tip/trick/etc fills in a an 'answer' — and the voting just becomes whatever you know and the top voted answers become a popularity contest.

Frankly, this isn't really what we do.

Everyone has their own criteria for why they vote, and no "community standard" is going to be able to fix "you're voting wrong."

  • 2
    Robert, I think all of us agree that it doesn't really fit the SE model. Yet, the hope is to figure out a way to keep it within SE and not create a separate site. Your comment is correct, however most people seeking advice can parse through that advice and find their own answer. There's no great system we can think of...but the need is there. Just look at random samples of closed questions on both SF and SU over the past year alone. A few of us have considered starting a sister site but that takes away from SE. – TheCleaner Sep 5 '13 at 12:55
  • area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/60887/… What's markedly different between these two proposals? – Tanner Faulkner Jan 7 '14 at 16:35

While SE generally opposes opinion based answers the truth is that most questions are at least partially based on opinion. There is value in these types of answers as long as they are answered properly. For example the following would be a good answer:

I prefer the model xxxx video card because of its support for three monitors while model xxxx only supports two.

The following would be a bad answer:

Model xxxx sucks because it only supports two monitors. Anyone with a cool PC uses three!

I think that a well presented opinion is valuable on this type of site.

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