This is a wide-reaching question not just about Software Recommendations (SR herein) but also about the future of sites you would hope will feed into it (the sites like Stack Overflow, Super User, Ask Ubuntu and Think Different).
I am not experienced here but I have tried my best to look around at the existing definition and beta questions and answers. Tim Post's "ground rules" post seems to share some of my concerns but I don't see nearly enough solutions to the problems I'll outline below.
Please be patient with me, even if that means spelling out what should be obvious.
As a moderator on Ask Ubuntu and an fairly experienced user elsewhere on SE I can see that it's always going to be natural for people to ask for suggestions. What laptop should I use? What speakers go best with my amp? What database engine should I use? What cars should I consider? What detergent should I use? The list is near-infinite. People want answers and they're going to ask them.
So I can see why somebody thought SR was a good idea —there is certainly existing demand on the SE network for this type of question— but my first question is, as an Ubuntu user, why is it more logical or better to come here over Ask Ubuntu to get recommendations? As somebody looking for answers for Ubuntu, why would I come here?
On Ask Ubuntu, we have classed the
software-recommendation tag as an occasionally necessary evil. It's meta and not the "bad tag"-misnomer-meta but the actual "it describes the type of question"-meta. By extension, isn't SR a meta site? An entire site dedicated to a type of question with only the vaguest idea of "software" as the glue. This seems like a pretty weak raison d'être.
Conversely, why just software? Why not handle all recommendations? We get plenty of people asking what hardware they should buy for Ubuntu and I know Bicycles.SE gets a fair amount of shopping-related traffic, I'm sure other sites have other types of recommendation. I don't understand the reason for the arbitrary scope.
How are the existing criticisms about recommendation questions mitigated here? The "SE Format" has oft been used as an excuse for closing recommendations on other sites (infinite lists, opinions, rot, etc). I see a lot of fanfare about quality and scoping but these are not the things in the minds of the masses who will be asking the questions after beta. They simply want answers and all the quality in the world doesn't help with some of the issues:
- How do you combat older answers outranking newer, better answers?
- How do people vote objectively for a subjective topic? What wins between a well furnished recommendation for crappy software versus an awful one-liner for the best choice? Should somebody try every solution before they vote?
- How do you handle near-duplicates? There seems to be a focus on making questions having a pin-point scope (with an aim to combat infinte-list-of-X syndrome) but doesn't that just mean there'll be an amorphous blob of nigh-on-identical questions? How do you deal with that? Just keep handling them?
- How do you handle exact duplicates with "... but none of those work for me" addendums? Bounties only go so far.
- And what about exact duplicates where there has been significant rot, either in the question or its answers?
- An entire site of this seems like the most ripe target for astroturfing and illicit product placement. Can you do anything to protect against that?
- With such exacting rules for questions, how do you handle people who don't meet them? What about when people want multi-purpose or deliberately open-ended software?
And finally, drawing on both ends of this little investigation, if we can mitigate these issues here, why can't we just do that on Ask Ubuntu, Super User, Server Fault and Programmers.SE (to name a few)?
While I can see that asking these questions here is a bit like wrapping myself in bacon and running into a lions' den, I'm honestly not trying to crash your party.
I want to know how SR is going to fix the very real problem that affects most SE sites. At the moment, this just seems to be more of a shift than a solution. The same old problems as using the
software-recommendation meta-tags apply, but now they're inexplicably in one place, caked in extra rules that people aren't going to read before they ask.
Given the enthusiasm for it, it seems likely I'm missing something. Could somebody be a dear and poke me in the right direction?