So, this site already has some ground rules

What say we improve on them and convert them into an entry for the help center?

Please post drafts as community wiki answers.

  • 2
    I think Tim did a good job wording his post and most of it can just be pasted in.
    – Seth
    Feb 4, 2014 at 22:03
  • Not opposed to it, was planning on it, but I want to see how this community comes together doing it in practice before I codify it.
    – Tim Post
    Feb 5, 2014 at 8:38
  • Did you have a new page in mind, or is this for /help/on-topic? We currently have about the same thing in /help/on-topic as in /about, for the few old-timers who know that page exist. Mar 7, 2014 at 12:17
  • @Gilles it was for the editable mod pages, though I suspect that it would be rather useful. Mar 7, 2014 at 12:58
  • I'm marking this status-completed since we do have custom content in /help/on-topic and nobody's complained about the content so far. Apr 6, 2014 at 17:53

1 Answer 1


SOURCE: https://area51.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/13031/laying-some-ground-rules-for-software-recommendations

We're going to let this site go ahead, and see what you all can do with it. While we discussed the topic, we had to take some time to identify our chief concerns with recommendation & shopping type questions. The number one problem that we agreed upon was pretty simple:

They tend to overrun a site.

This entire site is dedicated to this type of question, so this is obviously a moot concern. With that said, the second chief concern was quality - so we do want to lay down some ground rules when it comes to asking and answering this type of question - and then close with something everyone might want to think about. We're honestly excited to see where this goes, and will support you to the best of our ability.

Asking recommendation questions

It's important to keep your questions as narrowly-scoped and specific as possible, because this is what's going to steer the types of answers that you receive. This is best illustrated by example, starting with titles:

What's the best IDE for Python?

This will be closed immediately, as it does not:

  • Explain in detail what you hope to get out of an IDE in terms of features, license or cost
  • List any applicable frameworks that you might be using, or other possible compatibility quirks with your workflow
  • Indicate any that you had previously tried, and why you didn't like them
  • Do anything else to encourage answers to be as specific as possible
  • Obviously, 'best' without context is never going to work - in fact please try to just avoid the word in titles. If you ask about an IDE for Python on Linux that has (features), we're pretty certain people aren't going to recommend the worst.

What Python IDEs support Django?

This is a much better question, as you've really narrowed the possible answers with some additional criteria. If you can add more criteria in the question body, then you've got the makings of something that is useful, and very unlikely to receive a bunch of mostly link answers.

What Windows Python IDE supports Django and ships with a pink color theme?

... I think you get the point, more specifics means a better question. Ideally, questions will on average have only 5 or so answers that actually address the question constraints to the best of their ability.

You must also be prepared for answers that simply inform you that no single thing meets your needs, but goes on to recommend things that cover what you've identified to be the most important. Hence, make sure you're clear about what you must have out of something, and what would simply be nice to have but not absolutely essential.

Good questions describe specific needs, contain bullet lists of constraints and inform anyone that cares to answer as to which constraints are the most important.

When it comes to libraries, show your ideal use of a prospective library. What features should it provide? What kind of interface would you like in ideal circumstances? Does it need to be able to compile even under certain compiler settings, or platforms? Do you have a size limit in lines of code, allocated memory, or both? Just like in the IDE example above, it's very helpful when you indicate how important these constraints are.

Answering recommendation questions

We need to put just as much work into answering these questions as folks put into asking them. Answers that contain little more than a link will be deleted without question, comment or other ceremony. Additionally, our policy on excessive self-promotion will be even more heavily enforced on the site. If you're asked to stop promoting a product that you're affiliated with by a moderator or community manager - you need to stop, or you'll likely be asked to leave the site. Spam filters will be adjusted accordingly - so be careful.

If you work on a product, be it free, gratis or proprietary - it's fine to recommend it to people opportunistically provided that you include full disclosure of your involvement with the product. If more than a small percentage of your posts mentions your product, we're probably going to need to have a talk.

Good answers on this site will be in the form of honest testimonials that share first hand experience with something and why it meets the needs of the asker.

You should answer questions when you have first hand knowledge of things that satisfies at least most of the constraints given in the question. You should be ready to talk about your experience with it, what you liked about it, what features it does (or perhaps doesn't) have, within the context of the question. You should also talk about any potential quirks that you can think of, and even things that you found to be a down side of the product. In short, share your experience with something, not simply your knowledge that it exists.

Answers that do not even come close to meeting the constraints described in the question should be flagged as not an answer, and will be removed quickly.

Something to think about - what if this works?

We wouldn't be supporting this proposal if we didn't think it had a chance of working. Looking at the users involved so far, and some of the better example questions, we think if any community has a shot at making this work it's this community. However ...

What if it works? What if you finally get these types of questions down to a science? If Stack Overflow decides to relax just a little when it comes to these types of questions, well - you get the drift, and need to keep it in mind. The ultimate form of success for this community might ultimately be rejoining larger, established sites.

It's way too early to say, and I've probably portrayed this as much more complicated than it actually needs to be. Just focus on the quality, favor depth over breadth during your private beta and get active asap on your meta site once it becomes available. We will be watching, we will be helping to the best of our ability with advice and guidance, and we're going to make sure you get a fair shot.

SOURCE: https://area51.meta.stackexchange.com/a/13034/15887

This has probably already been stated, but I would like to make it clear that this site should not be questions in the form of:

What do you think about software package XYZ?

Folks that want that can simply go to product review sites.

To me, this site is about people who know the features or concepts they are looking for but don't know the names of existing products or don't have the technology-specific vocabulary to get there. It helps ease someone into a new technology genre, not provide analysis of a software package they have already chosen.

Note that this does not preclude questions in the form of:

I am looking at software package ABC to do items:

  1. some task
  2. some other task
  3. some other task again

Does software package ABC perform these tasks?

SOURCE: https://area51.meta.stackexchange.com/a/13248/15887

The rule I have noticed is:

Askers who don't know if what they need exists are asking good questions (=seeking to expand an empty set of good solutions). Answers who are trying to choose between multiple products they know are asking bad questions (=seeking to make a choice from a set of multiple good solutions).

Technically, these two categories of askers tend to sort themselves into the categories mentioned in the "question" post. The ones who don't know if a product out there satisfies their needs already know their specific needs and list them in a question. The ones who are overwhelmed by a choice are the ones who ask "which is better, A or B" (Insert ATI vs Nvidia, Emacs vs Vi, etc.)


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