I have a vested interest in this issue, since I recently asked about Solutions for integrated management of L2TP/IPsec VPN clients and 802.1X wired & wireless clients and it was put on hold because it was perceived as a request for product recommendations. I know that product selection was part of the question, but it was part of the wider issue of building a solution for strong VPN & wifi authentication and certificate administration.

The issue that's repeated in response to questions about product recommendations seems to be that they become outdated. What I fail to understand is why this matters. Many questions become outdated very quickly as well, but it seems that because they're related to operations rather than to design and implementation, they're OK. For example, Resolving "php54w-common-5.4.24-1.w6.x86_64 conflicts php-common < 5.4.0" is a question I was able to help with; it will be not only out of date by the time PHP5.5 or CentOS 7 rolls around, but it's probably localised to a very small number of systems worldwide. Questions and answers have dates on them, and ServerFault readers can easily discern whether they are still relevant or not.

The answers to Where is an appropriate place to ask for server-oriented product recommendations? suggest that there is no place on SE to ask specifically for product recommendations, and if that's the policy then I guess that's your choice, but to rule out questions on solution design because they aren't 1. problem 2. solution style seems to fly in the face of ServerFault's aim to get professional sysadmins to share knowledge.

Maybe this is something that will never belong on on ServerFault, but surely there is (or should be) a place for people who build things to share questions and answers about why and how to build them. Does ServerFault not consider infrastructure design and implementation part of sysadmin?

EDIT: The cynic in me might point out Backup strategy for developer-focused Apple environments? (which is a strikingly similar type of question - if somewhat smaller) and wonder whether SF isn't a bit of an old boys club.

Some people consider infrastructure design beyond thescopr of Q&A and into the realms of $Consulting. Another issue with $product/$service recommendation questions is that they tend to attract more spam than other questions. If you want to do this sort of thing you may get somewhere with chat. –  Iain Feb 21 '14 at 9:30
In addition to Iain's comment, the other problem with your type of question is that it's just too big to fit well in the Q&A format SE has, IMO. Regarding the rest, whether we agree with it or not, the Stack Exchange policy has been no "shopping questions" for quite some time, so... well, is what it is. Not something we have any real control over. –  HopelessN00b Feb 21 '14 at 9:53

2 Answers 2

That close reason is really rather poorly worded. Going obsolete isn't the primary reason we close shopping questions; the real reason is that they attract poor quality answers: answers consisting primarily of opinion, rather than facts, references or specific expertise, and spam or purely promotional answers. While not every answer to such a question is necessarily poor quality, a large number of them are.

(I'm going to rewrite that close reason, but it may be a bit before it shows up, as it requires another moderator to concur with the change, and I also want to get community feedback on it. Look for another meta post soon.)

With respect to your particular question, "What products are out there?" is the classic shopping question. It's the sort of thing better served by Wikipedia's lists, targeted web searches, or even live chat.

Moreover, it's not really our place to do the shopping for you, as it were. We presume that you are as capable of reading and understanding a product description as any of us. Of course, when the product description is unclear, or you aren't sure whether a particular product can be used in a specific scenario, then it's time for a question to the sales rep, or perhaps us.

Also, our format is not well suited to this sort of question: You can see in the linked example of a classic shopping question that Nagios is the highest rated answer, despite the fact that everyone hates it. When something better comes along (and many people think that has already happened), that new product has almost no chance of being voted up far enough to be seen in a lengthy list like this.

That is the sort of obsolescence being referred to. Not that the products go out of date quickly, but the answers do. PHP 5.4 will always be PHP 5.4. But the best X for scenario Y changes over time.

All that said, a Stack Exchange site has been proposed for software recommendations, and it has just entered public beta. The experience seen there should help shape the future of such questions.

I guess our main point of difference is that I don't consider the overall question a shopping question. I consider it a design question. serverfault.com/questions/575357/… seems much more shopping-centric in comparison. Perhaps I just need to improve my wording. –  Paul Gear Feb 21 '14 at 23:49
@PaulGear The Apple backup solution question resulted from a glaring lack of guidance about this requirement and silence from Apple on how their software should be used in larger environments. My question was intended to solicit opinions and solutions devised by other people in my situation. It was not "what software should I buy?" is different than "How have you solved this problem?" –  ewwhite Feb 25 '14 at 22:32
"What is the best design for XYZ" versus "What design have people used to solve XYZ" I guess is the difference. "the best" is an opinion which does not work, "what solution have you use" is some data you can use to form your opinion. –  ETL Feb 25 '14 at 23:48
@ewwhite Which is precisely the type of question I asked. Or tried to - suggestions gratefully accepted for edits that would make this clearer. –  Paul Gear Feb 26 '14 at 23:12
@PaulGear (it probably shouldn't have been closed). I'm not a fan of hard closing of product questions. Sometimes people need what they need! –  ewwhite Feb 26 '14 at 23:20
@PaulGear I would start by not explicitly asking "What products are out there?" Instead, define the end state, what you want to accomplish, and then any constraints. And I'd personally lose the bullet list and rewrite any necessary parts of it in prose, but that's mainly style. –  Michael Hampton Feb 26 '14 at 23:22

I think that the major criteria for keeping a questions should be: are others going to benefit from having answers for this question?

All the other criteria should be less important, let's face it there is huge gray area and people should be discouraged from closing questions.

There is nothing wrong on asking about how to do something and in a big number of cases the answer is a tool/utility/product.

I had a really bad experience on SF due to this kind of activity (while I had a very good on other SE sites). I am starting to believe that there is a personality pattern on SF, and that's not necessarily the most willing to help kind of...

Lovely that you feel that way and all, but its both irrelevant and contrary to the Stack Exchange philosophy. If you want a place where questions are basically never closed, and no one cares about quality or signal-to-noise ratio, check out Yahoo! Answers. Not only can you find answers to questions about computer stuff, but you can even learn why your butt hurts after sex! –  HopelessN00b Mar 6 '14 at 21:07
@sorin has a point. There IS a gray area... I do think SF needs to slightly reconsider the stance because product recommendations are sometimes unavoidable. –  ewwhite Mar 6 '14 at 21:38
@sorin does indeed have a point, especially about the personality pattern. Sometimes when there's a nice clean "right" answer that's well-accepted in the industry, the person with the most in-your-face answer tends to get the most upvotes. However, questions with several right-ish answers don't tend to attract the same number of upvotes, even though they are often more helpful than seeing a single "Here's what you should do" type of answer. –  Paul Gear Mar 8 '14 at 10:36

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