So as I slug my way through /review/close and /review/first-posts I'm finding an alarming number of what I'm calling "Serverfault is a search engine" posts -- people asking us to find software for them.

A couple of examples:

What do you all think of these questions? Allowable? Off-topic? Grounds for decapitation?

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6 Answers 6

Questions like these are problematic.

  • The person asking doesn't know the correct generic term, so they can't search Google, or find the correct wikipedia list.
  • They don't know the what they are really asking for well enough to actually evaluate the list once they get it.

If a questioner is really interested in something like this, they should re-form their question to ask what thing they should be searching for, and how to evaluate and filter the various results.

There are also cases where I don't think the suggest a product for me is bad, if it is contained within a multi-part question, and the rest of the question would be perfectly acceptable aside from that request for product suggestions.

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Indeed. Much like ewwhite's question from this morning. –  Magellan Nov 15 '12 at 20:24
    
I think this is actually a separate-but-equally-problematic class of questions ("Suggest a bunch of products that do [X] for me") -- those can indeed be good questions, though I think it's better if we send these users away too ("Go search Google for useful search phrase, look at the results, and come back if you have questions of the form I'm looking at doing [X] and trying to decide between products [Y] and [Z] - what are some advantages/disadvantages of each?") -- these are more ignorance than laziness and that's a more tolerable excuse :) –  voretaq7 Nov 15 '12 at 20:40

My general view is that these are "list of things" questions that are better answered by Google.
I attribute them showing up here to ignorance (people don't know about Google), Laziness (ServerFault as a glorified LMGTFY), or a lack of professionalism (not meeting the minimum barrier to entry or the site -- typing your question into Google).

Accordingly I think the right thing to do is explain why this kind of question is a lousy fit for Server Fault, and redirect the user to Google (which I do with varying levels of niceness depending on how many of these questions I've already crushed in a given day).

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The Apache download question is completely inappropriate because it has nothing to do with system administration, which can only start after he gets the installation file. It should have been posted on an Apache specific site somewhere.

The second question is unacceptable for the same reason and, as you state in a comment, we are not here to do their searching for them.

I should note however that there are definitely cases where someone needs help locating a specific version of a product, often to support legacy applications, that I wouldn't even consider closing. Those questions are usually much better written and provide details that make it clear that the poster has in fact made a serious effort to help him/her self.

How many times have we seen these types of questions and when we Google for the same information the answer is within the first few results? That simply shouldn't happen, at least not unless the thing being searched for is really poorly defined. Sure, we all suffer from Google failure at times but the rest of the question should still indicate that we have put in some real effort.

I believe that a fundamental part of being an IT professional, or any professional for that matter, is that we each show due diligence and make a serious attempt to do our own research before posting a question. In the vast majority of cases those posting the "find [some product] for me" questions have failed do display that professionalism. Obviously there are and always will be exceptions but they appear to be few and far between.

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I think that there are two cases to consider with things like this:

  1. Where do I download x.exe?

  2. I have <specific problem> and I'm not sure what tools are available to solve it. What is the best way to handle <specific scenario> given all available tools?

I think that 1. is clearly off-topic and falls under the definition of Too Localized and 2. is on-topic as long as 2. is effectively scoped and defined.

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I don't consider (2) to be a case of "find [some software product] for me" -- I'm only talking about the cases where someone is clearly asking us to find a specific product for them (or explain why they can't find it, where it went, etc.); (2) is certainly on topic as long as the question itself is clearly defined/scoped like you said. –  voretaq7 Nov 15 '12 at 20:20
    
Ok, well in that case, I yield all of my upvotes to the gentleman from New York. –  MDMarra Nov 15 '12 at 20:21
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there are no gentlemen in New York. (There are even fewer in York.) –  voretaq7 Nov 15 '12 at 20:22

Are “Find [some software product] for me” questions off-topic?

Yes.

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It's not quite as clear-cut as that. –  John Gardeniers Nov 16 '12 at 1:27

I think some of the answers here are based on the two examples. And who went to read the two examples? There are probably a lot more questions of the same type, but of better quality, that never showed up on the radar.

I found that both referenced questions lack substance and quality. So for these questions I would reply with: No, these questions are not allowed.

Question 1 is based on pure laziness. I found that the author could have put more effort into finding the Windows MSI file. I found the files by clicking on Other Files on the Apache Web Site and following the FTP file structure.

Question 2 is not based on laziness, but is a shout for help. Is this a topic for discussion? Probably not.

My 2 cents

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The implication in your first paragraph in that the rest of us didn't other to read the two cited questions. Had you bothered to read the other answers you would have known that you're not the only one who read the questions. If I've misinterpreted that paragraph perhaps you need to be more careful in how you word things. –  John Gardeniers Nov 19 '12 at 22:47
    
Hello @JohnGardeniers. Strange. And I nearly had the impression from your comment, that you were implying that I don't read all the answers and comments, which I always do. I wanted to rather bring up the fact that there are probably a lot more questions around that are of better quality and are still based on "Which [software product] is best for me". Sorry if you were offended by my wording. I will edit my answer. –  hot2use Nov 20 '12 at 7:25
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Most of the people who answered this question have significant reputations and are long term contributors. I suspect their answers are based upon their experience rather than the two questions cited. –  Iain Nov 20 '12 at 9:32

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