Proposal: Software Recommendations

I believe that each answer should contain only one suggestion.

Why I believe this should be enforced very strictly:
Answers with several suggestions make StackExchange's ranking system worthless.
They appear artificially high (cumulating the votes of each contained suggestion), and are not useful: Nobody know whether answerA has been upvoted because of suggestionA1 or suggestionA2.

What policy when an answer contains several suggestions?

  • 3
    Probably the discussion Can we add a 'split answer' feature? should be revived on meta then?
    – cheffe
    Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 8:37
  • 1
    @cheffe I don't think Stackexchange is likely to develop this feature any time soon, as it would not be useful for 99% of the sites. I can be done manually pretty fast, so it is not a vital feature for us either. Commented Jan 9, 2014 at 8:51

5 Answers 5


This is the wrong place for this discussion, the meta site is where it needs to happen. That being said…

One of the main traps that a site dedicated to recommendations can fall into is to become a poll site.

Stack Exchange is not a good platform for polls. When people answer questions with items rather than with answers, the ranking of the items is a factor of (from most influential to less influential):

  1. who posted first;
  2. how popular the item is;
  3. how well the item answers the question.

This is bad: who posted first should not matter, and popularity is mostly irrelevant. #3 is how answers should be ranked, but that only has a chance of happening if the answers are actual answers, not poll items.

Hence it is vital that to accept answers like:

  • “In circumstances A and B you should use X because …. In circumstances C and D you should use Y because ….”
  • “Your fundamental premise is wrong, software cannot solve this problem, because ….”

I would flag such an answer accordingly.

Suggesting more than one alternatives that do the same thing is more confusing rather than helpful. Questions that allow multiple suggestions in a single answer, while not attempting to solve particular issue of the OP, and answers that provide equal and independent alternatives for the same thing are to me Off-Topic.

In a related spam-handling discussion I have posted a suggestion for flagging such answers, as well as question. According to that these questions would be categorized as "Off-Topic/Overly General"

Note: The linked discussion answer is mine. The purpose is not to promote it, but rather encourage its improvement and the flagging discussion in general.

Following the recent comments, I am updating with my personal suggestion on handling the flagged post. As I am not very familiar with the exact flow on flagged posts on StackOverflow (from where I acquired the idea), and in what aspects it is customizable, so I would expect the following behavior, which seems standard.

  1. The posts get flagged by the community and accumulate close votes
  2. Once a number of close votes is reached (not sure if votes weight based on voter's role) the question gets closed automatically, with the appropriate description (example):

    This question is closed as Off-Topic because it has been identified as Overly General by { list of users }.

  3. A moderator could have the privilege to immediately close a question if appropriate (maybe this should be further discussed).
  4. Once closed, only the OP and moderators can edit or remove the post. After editing, the OP should be given the opportunity to request reopening - if s/he has made edits that are suitable for the Q&A requirements.
  5. Questions requesting reopening will appear in a dedicated moderators queue and will be voted for approving the reopening or not. It will be fair if approval requires the same number of votes as closing does.
  6. If the question is not approved for reopening, we will return to step 4.

I understand the above sequence of steps does not include the possibility of removing a post, and allows for endless loop of approval attempts - rejection, which could practically keep the post alive for a long time. I am not familiar with how the StackExchange platform addresses this (I am sure it certainly does address this), but I'd suggest a policy for that matter, which I believe is used already (or at least a similar one):

  1. A restriction on the number of reopen attempts. If the user has exceeded the reopen attempts on a question, the question will be removed. I believe 2 or 3 is reasonable value for the number of allowed attempts per user.
  2. Lack of activity upon the closed post - no edit or reopen attempts for a while will cause the post to get automatically removed. Perhaps two weeks or 1 month will be a decent period.
  3. Manually removed by moderators upon casting remove votes. This implies that closed question can be further voted upon for removal. The rest is similar to close vote accumulation principle described above.

Note, that the removal does not apply to flagging of the type This question belongs to another stackexchange site., as the removal should be substituted with the migration, if applicable.

In the above flows I have expressed some uncertainty on what are the technical possibilities of the Stack Exchange platform, so I will try to clarify these on Meta and update accordingly. I will add comments to this post when I do so.

Here are some references from meta.stackoverflow.com regarding closing, which might be useful :

  • As you say, 1 suggestion can involve several apps. I reformulated my question to make the point clear: We need a policy for answers that contain several suggestions (that could be isolated in separate valid answers). Your proposed policy for this case (your third paragraph) is to flag as off-topic, right? Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 5:41
  • @NicolasRaoul, yes, I would definitely flag such responses. Probably off-topic would be suitable categorization, but as these also need to be sorted out, I have proposed a list of flagging options to another discussion: discuss.area51.stackexchange.com/questions/12886/…, which might be the right discussion for flagging. Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 7:28
  • 1
    So, your policy is "Flag as Overly General", right? Could you please edit your answer here to make it more prominent? In particular, it is my fault but your two first paragraphs are not relevant anymore now that I have fixed the question to reflect what I was really trying to ask. Thanks! Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 7:45
  • 1
    Done. I actually have "rewritten" my answer to be more on the point, and added the link to the other discussion. Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 7:54
  • 1
    Two things you should detail: 1) What happens after the flag? Is the answer quickly deleted by moderators? 2) Does the answerer get notified about the flag? If not, should a comment also be posted? They should receive some kind of feedback, otherwise they won't learn or even notice. Thanks! Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 4:24
  • @NicolasRaoul, I have expressed my vision on this in the updated answer. Please, let me know if I need to clarify something further. Thanks! Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 10:08
  • Added some meta.stackoverflow.com references in relation to handling closing/reopening . These could be useful to this discussion Commented Jan 31, 2014 at 10:42

I find it totally fine if an answer contains more than 1 recommendation.

What if you used 2 different software solutions in the past, both with their pros and cons and both fulfill the needs defined in the question?

A fine answer mentions the strength of both solutions and leaves the rest to the OP which one fits better.

  • 3
    Let's say I ask "How to remove red eyes from a pic?". At the same time, A1 suggests "EyesCutPro", and A2 suggests "MsPaint & Gimp & EyesCutPro" as valid alternatives. A2 will receive more upvotes, because it adds up votes for MsPaint AND Gimp AND EyesCutPro. Readers first see A2, which first mentions MsPaint, so they will think MsPaint is the best-voted solution. Conclusion: If an answer that contains 2 suggestions, readers can't tell which suggestion has been upvoted. This defeats the purpose of this site. Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 2:32
  • 1
    If the purpose of the site is to use upvotes to vote on the best software, instead of the most helpful answer, that reinforces the belief that this site will never work in SE's Q&A format, if you ask me.
    – Wooble
    Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 17:31
  • @NicolasRaoul a) that's rather poor example, b) yes, obviously you can generate examples that are against that. Similarly, in case of single solution per answer, votes will be highly biased towards first three or so answers. If someone answered with clearly poor alternatives, downvote and add your own with only a single solution.
    – Olli
    Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 8:58

StackExchange is community-driven, so it is up to the community to handle this. In the first place I would leave a comment for the answerer, with an explanation (or link to the FAQ), explaining why this is undesirable. (Of course this can be accompanied by a downvote, but that does not seem right if the suggestions are good.)

It is then up to the original answerer to split his answer into two separate answers, by editing the original and creating a new one. If the answerer is gone, high reputation users should take the initiative to edit out the latter suggestions and add answers for those (possibly community wiki for not getting the reputation?)

  • "it is up to the community to handle this" <- That's what we are doing here :-) It is a very important aspect of this site, so better discuss it as soon as possible. Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 2:24

Whenever an answer contains 2 apps:

  1. If the answer has a positive score, then downvote it back to zero (or even -1).
  2. Post 2 new answers, one for each of the apps (except for the ones you think are really bad apps)
  3. Leave a comment linking to this policy

Note: Downvote is not meant as a punishment, rather to let people focus on the answers that conform to the policy of 1suggestion=1answer.

  • 2
    Why downvote? If Q were one with really only two viable possible answers, would it not be a good idea for an A to spell out the relative advantages and disadvantages of each? Otherwise As might end up being little more than a poll of how many users prefer one rather than the other – and volume does not equate to quality.
    – pnuts
    Commented Jan 10, 2014 at 21:06
  • @pnuts: I think we must not tolerate an answer that is in fact 2 answers. I you know 2 alternatives X and Y, post an answer X can do this task, and it has these advantages over Y: .... and another answer Y can do this task, and it has these advantages over X: ..... Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 3:38
  • I don't think it is poll vs. quality. Look at this question: unix.stackexchange.com/questions/11305 Answers propose sed, awl, head. They are all valid solution, and people upvote the one they find the best, so yes it is a kind of poll, a poll of what tool is the most appropriate for the task. It is also an opportunity to learn about new software, if other answers sound more interesting than the tool you have been using for this task so far. Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 3:49
  • Say three answers: 1] X, 2] Y and 3] X can do this task, and it has these advantages over Y, on the other hand, Y can do this that and the other that X cannot. It is 3] that looks best to me, though perhaps would be better with ‘because you have this requirement, I recommend ? for you`.
    – pnuts
    Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 3:51
  • If there are no alternatives or I don't know any possibles then a single A would suit me (eg my Q here). But if I am aware of the existence of X and Y then I'd expect to value a recommendation from someone who shows experience of both well above that from someone who has experience of one only. I fear splitting the A's as you suggest would mean that votes would go to X or to Y rather than to the person answering.
    – pnuts
    Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 4:06
  • I believe you should write X can do this task, and it has these advantages over Y that I have use for 2 years: .... and it has these advantages over Z that I have just tried now: ..... Anyway, you have interesting ideas so I think you should post a new answer detailing the policy you think would work best :-) Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 4:09
  • Rather than -1, might be more consistent just to deem it an invalid answer, perhaps? (eg as link-only ones are on SO)
    – pnuts
    Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 4:24
  • What do you mean concretely, "deem it an invalid answer" ? Flagging as not an answer is a bit extreme. Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 4:37
  • I agree (but hopefully people answering would soon adjust!) Eg I recall a link-only A on SO that was fascinating, exactly answered a very exotic Q that seemed to me an impossible requirement, and included pages of detail and images. A real shame to lose it, but deleted it was anyway. Only in the most extreme cases are votes used for rule breaches and I think risky to mix rep with sanctions.
    – pnuts
    Commented Jan 11, 2014 at 4:44
  • 1
    @NicolasRaoul Sometimes it happens that different answers use different tools, but that's not a goal in itself. On the contrary, the best answers don't just say “here's an awk solution, here's a sed solution” but also here's why you would choose one or the other. Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 13:05

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