Obviously the following constitutes a "shopping" question:

What is the best directory server? (eg. FreeIPA, AD, etc.)

But, what about the following question, does it constitute a "shopping" question?

I am looking for something to allow me to centralize logins across workstations and servers? Any ideas?

3 Answers 3


I have found that if you turn these questions about sixty degrees thataway, you can get an answerable question:

When looking for something to allow me to centralize logins across workstations an servers, what sort of features should I be looking for?

This gets it away from any odor of product-recommendation, and instead delivers a feature-list that can be checked against independently researched products.

The big problem we at ServerFault have with anything that even smells of recommendations is that there is almost never one true answer. Secondly these questions attract long-tail answers months/years after the original post that look like this:

You might want to take a look at $myproduct. It does that kind of thing and just might help!

Which is spam we then have to smite.

  • Lists do run the risk of becoming Not Constructive though.
    – user9517
    Jul 6, 2012 at 6:18
  • 2
    Teaching how to evaluate stuff is always a good thing.
    – ChrisF
    Jul 6, 2012 at 8:15
  • 2
    Interesting. We used to close questions such as your example as 'too subjective'. I often use the 'not constructive' vote on them because even when worded that way they still seldom have a correct answer and have a strong tendency to turn into lengthy discussions. Jul 6, 2012 at 9:01

Any question that asks, or implies, that you're looking for software or a service (ie hosted services) is a "shopping" question. There's a whole blog article on the topic however, with more detail.


I personally think there should be a stack exchange area for "shopping". It's nice to have a one stop shop (isn't that what SE's mission is?) for IT related questions.

At times I've had questions like:

"What 3rd party software would you recommend to provide HA and DR for Exchange"

"What online learning sites do you recommend for learning how to create a heterogeneous environment of Windows and Linux?"

"What best practices for network security are currently being implemented in your company?"

These are very subjective...I get that...but it'd be nice to have a place to pose these questions. While I'd love to do my own research and come up with my own conclusions, it's still nice to get a "groupthink" answer with upvotes, etc. That's what Amazon reviews, etc. do for people as well...allow them to see something and say "hmmm...if 95% of people like it...there's got to be some reasoning behind that."

While I can rely on industry mags, Gartner, etc. to make recommendations...I'd rather hear it from people that actually do it for a paycheck.

  • I've previously suggested, several times, that I'd like to see a discussion area where we could ask all those questions, including shopping ones, relevant to our jobs but which are off topic on SF. Jul 21, 2012 at 12:13
  • The problem with all of those questions is that there is no single "you" to answer that question.
    – womble Mod
    Jul 22, 2012 at 6:14
  • @womble, that's why it's "caveat emptor". Same as any retail online site with reviews. It's up to the author to weigh the choices based on recommendations and upvotes. For instance: serverfault.com/questions/44/… (while I see the comments about it being off-topic) shows as a good example of how it would work. It's clear the community recommends Nagios and others...and the OP would be wise to examine those vs. something like Verax NMS that received 0 votes
    – TheCleaner
    Jul 23, 2012 at 13:09

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