I have software X and I like it. However, I want an extra feature that X doesn't provide. Or I want to run X on a different platform. How can I ask for an alternative to X?
A good recommendation question has precise requirements and a goal.
“Alternative to X” is not a precise requirement. You need to say which features of X matter. Otherwise the question is not clear enough, and you may get answers which propose an alternative that does not have the features you rely on most.
Furthermore, as usual on Stack Exchange, questions work because they define a problem to be solved, a hurdle to jump over. On this site, the problem to solve is a task to accomplish or a purpose to which to put some software. When the question is an alternative, the hurdle is generally that you know some software that meets most, but not all of your requirements. That is, if you're asking about “alternatives to X”, X should not be a valid answer, or at least not a good answer (“X works, but not very well, because…”). If you're looking for alternatives in an open-ended way, questions and answers aren't the right format — look for a comparison matrix instead.
Do note that people may know about the alternative you're after but not about what you're using now. For example, if you're looking for a Linux alternative to your favorite Windows software, the people who could answer you might not have heard of that Windows software.
So a good alternatives question goes:
I am looking for software to achieve this goal, with the following features:
- can do this
- can do that
I like X, but it fails in a critical way because …. What alternatives are there?
Don't use X as a tag, either. Your question is not about X. It's about software in the same broad category as X, but your question doesn't call for X, in fact it excludes X.
If your question got closed because it was asking for an alternative, please don't give up, your question can probably be transformed into a great question and reopened. Here is a sure way to get your question reopened:
- Read Gilles' answer, several times, until you understand all of the points made.
- Remove the product's name from your question's body/title/tags.
- Instead, write the type of software, and description of all of the features you need. For instance, remove
I want a GUI alternative to ImageMagick's Mogrify featureand write instead
I want a GUI image processor that can resize a picture.
- Read the other rules at http://meta.softwarerecs.stackexchange.com/questions/336/what-is-required-for-a-question-to-contain-enough-information and apply them.
Here is why
I want an alternative to ImageMagick's Mogrify feature is bad:
- Among the people who know great software that would satisfy you, 90% of them do not know ImageMagick, so they have no idea what you are talking about and will not even open your question. You are drastically reducing your chances of getting a satisfying answer.
- Among the people who use ImageMagick's Mogrify feature, 90% of them use it for colorization/clipping/composition and other things that are not what you want (resizing). That will make you unhappy with the answers, and waste the time of the answerers.
Note: Even if the body of your question is great, we WILL close your question if the title is not good. So please do not write titles such as
Alternatives to ImageMagick, instead please write a title such as
GUI image processor that can resize a picture. It is OK to write very long titles.
I think there are two types of OPs who are looking for alternatives:
- The architects
- The gardeners
The architects plan everything ahead, they have imagined everything about what sort of final product they want, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they're going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there's going to be. So, their question is going to be specific because they know exactly what they want.
However, the gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fat seed or hybrid seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don't know how many branches it's going to have, they find out as it grows. So their question is going to be broader or vague, whichever term you prefer.
AND All the high reputation contributors on this site seem to support the architect kinds only. And that is where I disagree with all of them.
The gardeners are also looking for an alternative recommendation, regardless of how broad or opinion based it is. And as the name of this website suggests, they have every right to do so. For such questions, Recommendations are also going to be much more opinion based and nothing is wrong with that. And once somebody posts an answer, the OP can start making conversation with him/her and hence the gardener will slowly be able to form a picture based upon that conversation.
In fact, I would argue that the gardeners should be more encouraged on this site than the architects. Because since the architects know exactly where they face problem, they can just post their questions on stack-overflow; they don't even need to look for software recommendation site. Its those gardeners who need more recommendations since all they have is a little bit of impression on what they want to do. And upon engaging with those with experiences on related fields they will be able to ask specific questions on stackoverflow.
So how should a gardener ask for alternative Y for X?
1. Post a scenario/link to where he got his impression of Y from.
2. Write a little bit about what part from above number 1 he expects Y software would do.
3. Write what he didn't like about X but not necessarily.
And THAT's IT.
The main motive of a gardener is to get to have conversation with somebody with experiences.
And if this website doesn't allow the gardeners, this website has no use at all because the architects are able to do ask specifically in stack-overflow itself. And the architects don't need to pose their question as a recommendation question, they can simply rephrase their question to a problem specific question. For example, if the architect doesn't know whether functionality f is available in software X or not, he can simply ask; how to do f in software X? or what is the best way to do f in X?
Its the gardeners that need this site more than architects.
And yes, the gardeners are looking for personal enlightenment, but that doesn't mean that it is going to be limited to themselves. There will probably be many other gardeners who have similar motivation.