45

If we were to make a SE on Hardware Recommendations, most of the questions which would end up here will get outdated very quickly. It's possible to also encounter questions such as:

  • Gaming Computer Configuration under $1000?
  • MacBook Pro graphics card suggestion?

I think we should find a way to prevent such questions where we can discuss the jist of a question rather than pointing out a product which the person can buy.

Proposal: Hardware Recommendations

  • What about restricting to certain categories of high-knowledge questions? – user2284570 Jun 13 '14 at 21:40
  • @user2284570 Can you extrapolate? – Aditya Somani Jun 14 '14 at 8:20
  • Just look at one of the questions I wrote. – user2284570 Jun 14 '14 at 9:31
  • @user2284570 I think that would make it too specific and baseless. People who have that much knowledge about what they want won't be looking for answers. Half of what questions you'll get on this SE would be Mac vs. PC or less complicated things, and we need that in order to create traffic and usability not just fulfill curiosity. – Aditya Somani Jun 14 '14 at 15:35
  • A case in point: A question on SuperUser about KVMs, which was put on hold for being off topic, led me to this Hardware Recommendations proposal. These are the sort of genuine requests for help that I would see being posted here. – Greenonline Feb 9 '15 at 23:56
  • What about cancelling this proposal? – Jason C May 19 '15 at 5:23
  • I agree that questions would get outdated quickly. The Stack Exchange home page says, "We build libraries of high-quality questions and answers, focused on each community's area of expertise." Recommendations only benefit the asker, not anyone else who views it in the future. – Nick B. May 29 '15 at 22:59
  • "outdation" is not a word. I suggest replacing this with "How to prevent questions from quickly becoming outdated?". Thanks to tchrist in the ELL chatroom for the suggestion. – Faheem Mitha Jul 17 '15 at 13:20
  • @FaheemMitha Fixed. Cheers! – Aditya Somani Jul 17 '15 at 13:25
  • Thanks, Aditya. – Faheem Mitha Jul 17 '15 at 13:40
33

This sort of problem has been mentioned on many SE sites before, and generally the response is "it can't be helped, but the answer was right for the person who asked the question, so it doesn't matter".

  • On StackOverflow, answers may be invalidated by deprecating/removing/changing functions
  • On TV & Movies, "What was the most x on TV?" questions will probably be wrong after a year
  • Software Recommendation may be invalidated by newer or better programs

Frankly, unless the site is about something which has happened in the past and will never change again (I dunno, Chess maybe?), it's just something we'll have to live with.

  • 5
    This seems to argue against creating the site as an SE site all together. If the answer is only right for the person who asked the question then what value do the questions and answers hold for the future? – Joshua Drake Aug 21 '14 at 21:13
  • @JoshuaDrake As I said, the problem isn't unique to Hardware Recommendations, if it's an argument against this, it's an argument against all attempts to gain knowledge. – MrLore Aug 21 '14 at 21:30
  • 1
    Not against all attempts to gain knowledge, just outside the SE attempt to build libraries of high-quality questions and answers. – Joshua Drake Aug 21 '14 at 21:36
  • 1
    @JoshuaDrake Why would outdated questions on this site be a problem but not the existing sites? – MrLore Aug 21 '14 at 21:43
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    As mentioned in How to prevent quick outdation of questions? there is often a significant chunk of continuity between versions of software. If I ask for the best valued video card at $100 there will likely be a different answer in 3 months, whereas if I ask for the best $100 photo editing software I'm likely to still find value in the answer a year later. I know nothing is forever, but this seems like a poorer candidate due to the high churn in computer hardware. – Joshua Drake Aug 22 '14 at 13:15
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    @JoshuaDrake I'd argue that software has higher churn. Take Chrome browser as an example. You don't see that stopping someone from asking questions about software do you? In many ways, hardware is more apt as a community due to innovation occurring at a slower pace than digital products such as software. – Sun Oct 3 '14 at 22:36
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    @JoshuaDrake we can definitely expect questions like "best video card < $100", but those are bad, or not particularly good, questions. A better question would be "video card < $100 for 1080p HD video on Windows" and I think it's perfectly fine if the top-voted question eventually becomes "Any video card; this is 2160, all video cards more than $1 can do 3D holographic video on 400K monitors already". – Kenny Evitt May 19 '15 at 14:13
  • @sunk818 software has higher churn but software churn is not as disruptive so answers are more stable and not as aggressively obsoleted. A year's changes to Google's web browser don't necessarily result in a materially different product. By contrast, a year's changes to Motorola's phones (for example) result in completely different products from one year to the next, making many classes of hardware recommendations ephemeral. And nobody asks for the "best" version of Chrome; instead, one asks which old version supports some no-longer-maintained extension--for which the answers won't change. – rob Jun 8 '15 at 5:54
  • Even at chess.stackexchange, questions become invalidated: chess.stackexchange.com/a/4118/2715 ;-) – chaosflaws Jun 13 '15 at 9:28
7

I'd agree with the posters who have suggested a time-based tagging system - in particular for answers, not just the questions. This will give future readers a reference point. Also, searching should be able to filter out old questions.

As stated, this problem is not unique to hardware recommendations. I've routinely searched for advice on many SE sites and found old answers that are irrelevant, even though the question passes the "no requests for opinions" test.

One thing that should probably be required is that the poster demonstrate a clear understanding of the hardware they're interested in. In other words, they should be specific when making the request. So for example:

I want a good computer to play games on. What should I buy?

...would not be an appropriate question. This type of question would incite a huge debate from the gamer community. :-)

On the other hand, if a user can name specific hardware requirements, this could be a very useful resource. Since most search engines tend to be advertising-dominated, and results are definitely skewed by who's paying the big bucks, searching for hardware devices, especially when requirements are very specific, on search engines can be challenging at best. You often may find yourself drowned in advertising for products that do either way more or way less than you need.

Here's an example of what I feel would be a good question for such a site:

I am looking for a single-board router solution. The hardware must be an x86 processor, include at least 1GB of RAM, be able to boot from either SD or mSATA, and have at least three independent hardware gigabit Ethernet ports. I plan to run Linux as the operating system on this device, and it will operate headless while in operation. While not essential, low power is preferable (e.g. USB or 12V powered).

Some people may argue that specifying the purpose of the hardware should be done rather than asking about specific hardware requirements. In terms of asking for hardware, however, I don't think this is quite as appropriate in all cases. Most notably, a person may be asking for specific hardware because they need it to interoperate with something else. Or, perhaps they're most familiar with software that can run on the given hardware, or they're even trying to roll their own solution based on their existing knowledge. For example, an inappropriate answer to the above question (in my opinion) would be something like:

Forget x86, forget lots of RAM, and forget off the shelf Linux. Buy a cheap WRT54G, load OpenWRT, and then buy a NAS device and mount it on the OpenWRT device. Problem solved.

Requiring only the intended purpose of hardware could result in answers like that, which may not help the user at all.

What do you guys think?

2

Honestly, I think this is the least of the likely problems with this site – mainly because the most likely and most imposing problems will be those that afflict every other SE site, e.g. completely off-topic questions, extremely low-quality questions.

And frankly, both of your examples are far too broad to be good questions – primarily because there are too many good answers even at a single moment in time. But, personally, I think it could still be awesome if questions like that had lots of high-quality answers, and voting could handle the depreciation of answers over time.

Maybe we could adopt some kind of convention on tagging questions, e.g. 2014-Q4 or 2014, so that questions and answers could be readily identified in their appropriate context.

And keep in mind that all of the other sites suffer this exact same problem – the time scales are just different. Lots of once-good answers on Stack Overflow and Server Fault and Super User are no longer relevant today.

  • This isn't really similar to other SE sites. This is similar to Software Recommendations, which is awful. The difference between this sites and other sites are other sites try to fight it, while this site is specifically designed to received such questions. It's not comparable. – Jason C May 19 '15 at 5:26
  • @JasonC really? Software changes more slowly than hardware? Programming languages, libraries, and best practices all change, often rapidly. Maybe there's a significant difference in degree in how fast questions expire among different SE sites, but so what? – Kenny Evitt May 19 '15 at 13:38
  • "But so what?" What...? How fast questions expire is precisely the topic of this discussion. I think you must be missing something somewhere. – Jason C May 19 '15 at 13:59
  • @JasonC the question is how to prevent them from expiring and my answer is that that's not worth worrying about. And I'm basing that on my experience with Software Recommendations – good questions aren't expiring particularly quickly because good answers are relevant for years. How much longer do you think answers should apply? – Kenny Evitt May 19 '15 at 14:07
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    For clarity, it's only the final paragraph I take issue with. The rest of your answer seems solid to me at least. – Jason C May 19 '15 at 14:09
  • "and voting could handle the depreciation of answers over time" - So giving the an answer quickly could lead to lower reputation? – Joshua Drake May 19 '15 at 20:18
  • @JoshuaDrake I was thinking more that newer questions would be upvoted, not that older questions are downvoted, but ... an automatic 'decay' in the weighted votes for old answers (and questions) would be nice. – Kenny Evitt May 19 '15 at 20:43
  • I disagree that obsoletion of answers won't be a significant problem. It may not be at first, but as time passes it will potentially become a huge problem. At first I thought your solution seemed pretty reasonable, but upon further reflection I realize it's only a band-aid and it seems to me that it will unfortunately complicate searching and finding relevant related questions. – rob Jun 8 '15 at 7:39
1

This is the same problem that we have in Ask Ubuntu. We have two new Ubuntu release every year and lots of questions need to be updated according to the newest versions.

For example:
How can I configure Unity?
What is the correct way to install proprietary ATI Catalyst Video Drivers (fglrx) directly from AMD?

Usually the recommendation for writing answers is that they should be as generic as possible. Using generic descriptions and pictures that are still specific enough, can bridge the changes between versions in a way that still solves the problem. If this is not an option, then a new answer for a new version/year is created and the question will have a table of contents.

  • The advantage that you have over at Ask Ubuntu is that an answer's usefulness for a given release does not necessarily change as time passes. In most cases, a solution for Ubuntu 15.04 yesterday will still be just as valuable for Ubuntu 15.04 two years from now. In the case of hardware recommendations, a given piece of hardware might be a great recommendation today, but two years down the road it might be a terrible recommendation for multiple reasons (pathetic performance compared to hardware 2 years in the future, may be difficult to find the older hardware and/or replacement parts, etc.). – rob Jun 8 '15 at 7:54
1

This is the biggest problem of such forums.

  • Gaming Computer Configuration under $1000?
  • MacBook Pro graphics card suggestion?

Such questions get outdated quickly, and there's no way to prevent it.
So we can only think about how to get rid of old questions/answers.
There can be some workarounds, I guess this one can help a lot.


For such questions, add a feature named Answers expires in, so the answers of that question get deleted/archived after specified amount of time.
Example: Click on "Answers expires in" -> select amount of time from menu "Half year/1 year/.../Infinite/Specified time". And answers of that question get archived after (for example) a year.
It can be a button placed near the "flag" button.

The same feature can be added for answers, so that the specified answer gets archived.
There can also be default value for this option, such as 2-3 years for hardware recomendations.

It would be a great feature to add; the posts will get updated easily,
the site will always be up to date and always useful !)


This is not the only forum where the problem exists, it exists in many other forums.
Really, people need these site very much; everyday a lot of people buy hard (and soft) and really a lot of people want to get recomendations from experienced experts. (Just count out how many questions were closed in SO and SU, which were about recomendations, it's the bare minimum!)

But outdation is probably the only reason while such highly required sites have few visits, so adding such feature can have very good impact on sites.

  • 1
    You probably want to post this feature request on MSE; it won't be seen here. – Jason C May 19 '15 at 5:27
  • 1
    I disagree that this is a problem with Software Recommendations. Answers to good questions don't expire very quickly. Can you provide some example questions with answers that have already expired? I've asked several and answered other questions that don't seem likely to expire anytime soon. – Kenny Evitt May 19 '15 at 14:07
  • Yes, I agree that it's not so critical for SoftwareRecs as software recs can get outdated e.g. in 5 years (so now it's not so obvious bcs SoftwareRecs is about 1.5yrs old; wait for some years to see oudated questions). But in case of hardware it can change every year. "Recomendation" usually is about "best for right now", and we can't predict the future, so "recomendation" itself usually has risk to expire. – Jet May 19 '15 at 16:16
0

I think what you really mean to ask is, "How do we prevent people from asking questions whose answers will be quickly made obsolete?"

The answer to this question is, don't even try. Instead, embrace this class of question on the condition that it will be treated in a way that is compatible with one of the most important principles behind the Stack Exchange format--specifically, the notion that a "good" answer is one that provides value to future visitors of the site.

Before I suggest a simple yet somewhat radical solution, let me present one likely future for this site: a year after launch, nobody will care what the best unlocked Verizon LTE smartphone was today. After 2 years, people will start to become annoyed at the site because it's a cluttered mess. Even before that happens, people will start to systematically duplicate every question whose answers have been rendered obsolete, for the guaranteed rep boosts. Allowing dozens or hundreds of practically duplicate sets questions over time, most of which have obsolete answers, will only serve to clutter up the site and bury any current information, making the "related" sidebars and simple searches on the site practically useless. If we follow one of the other suggested solutions for this problem, it will be impossible to find certain types of current hardware recommendations without specifying an appropriate date tag. After 5 years, the site will be about just as worthless for finding current hardware recommendations as the forums of yesteryear. The problem is not with the questions, and not with the answers; but rather, the fact that (a) many answers effectively have expiration dates after which they will have no value to future visitors, and (b) the failure to deal with this fact appropriately.

I mentioned earlier that I have a simple but somewhat radical solution. Brace yourself, because here's the radical part: Any answer with a known or unknown expiration date has no value future visitors after that date, and should be deleted once it is rendered obsolete.

"But wait!!!!!" you say, "If you delete all those answers, that's going to wreak havoc on everyone's reps on this site!" And that brings me to the simple part: don't give them the rep in the first place...nothing gained, so nothing to lose.

That said, if nobody is a fan of converting to a CW immediately, no problem. Just wait until after the first review to convert to a CW, or don't convert it. Rep for any "worthwhile" post (score of 3 or greater and visible for at least 60 days) is preserved even after deletion, including rep gained from a question or its answers prior to that question's conversion to a community wiki.

So the 2-part solution is this: for any question whose answers are guaranteed to be ephemeral, require that the question be made a community wiki. Cull obsolete answers periodically.

The process would go more or less as follows:

  1. Mod sees an otherwise acceptable question, but realizes its answers will be obsolete within a short period of time (e.g., 6-12 months).
  2. Mod tags the question with the year and month at which it should be next reviewed (e.g., review-2015-12 for "review again in December 2015") and optionally converts the question to a community wiki.
  3. Each month, mods and high-rep users review the questions that were tagged with that month.
  4. If there is a new answer which now makes an older answer obsolete, the old answer is deleted.
  5. The old "next review" tag is deleted and a new one is added for some point in the future.

Because the question is a community wiki, all answers are automatically community wikis. Again, after the question is converted, no rep is gained for an upvoted answer, and no rep is lost when the obsolete answers are deleted.

(Note: see meta for clarification on what happens to rep if an answer was posted and upvoted before the question--and consequently answer--was converted to a community wiki.)

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