While the original idea: Modifying the faq, shopping edition was a great one and duly implemented...I think that the existing link to http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/11/qa-is-hard-lets-go-shopping/ simply isn't conveying the message properly here on ServerFault.

Even now, when I read the Q&A is hard Let's go Shopping link, it isn't very reader friendly.

For an SF question, it reads more like "you can't ask which server to buy, but you could ask what to look for in a server for a particular scenario."

Yet, we tend to close both of those questions MOST of the time.

The reason I bring this up, is we see a LOT of: "Which tool/software should I use for (X)?" or "monitoring recommendations" or "I want to have my server do (X), is there software that will do that?", etc.

So, let's be VERY generous and say that these folks HAVE read the FAQ and HAVE clicked the link and skimmed over the "Shopping" link. Perhaps they are simply seeing it and misreading it or feel it doesn't apply to ServerFault at all and is just an outdated link?

I just think it couldn't hurt to create our own version of the Q&A is Hard Let's Go Shopping link. Something specific to ServerFault and its audience. I'd be happy to help construct one if others feel the same.

To the people that will state "they still won't read it and follow it"...I'm with you in that boat, but it can do no worse than the existing link.

  • Only thing I'd ask would be what's wrong with the one we have now? (Yes, that blog post). It's an important question to ask if we want to construct something "better." Given that the "not about… Product, service, or learning material recommendations" bit has been added to the FAQ, and is linked (making it stand out), I'm not sure that we'd be making a significant improvement by writing a custom version of "Q&A is hard, let's go shopping!" Commented Feb 13, 2014 at 5:08
  • 1
    @HopelessN00b - my thought process here is that the entire "Q&A is hard" page doesn't fit SF. But since there's not an overwhelming flood of answers here I'm guessing most either think it's a waste of time to alter or that the rightful cynic in them knows the changes will still not be heeded by the people that should be reading it regardless.
    – TheCleaner
    Commented Feb 13, 2014 at 13:54
  • For an SF question, it reads more like "you can't ask which server to buy, but you could ask what to look for in a server for a particular scenario." - Someone start composing? Once it is done lets get it posted on blog.serverfault.com?
    – Zoredache
    Commented Feb 13, 2014 at 17:43

1 Answer 1



Should I deploy Windows Server or RHEL?
What’s the best hardware firewall on the market?
Which monitoring solution should I deploy?
What cabling should I go with?
Which CLI tool is best for this?
Which hosting provider is the cheapest for my VMs?

Shopping Confusion Photograph: Image Source/Corbis

These questions may seem tolerable at first glance. Isn't it our mandate to help our fellow users? Consider the voluminous amount of information you need to even begin properly answering a shopping question:

What is your budget?
Where do you live/work?
What are your preferences?
Which alternatives will you consider?
When do you want to buy?
Is there existing infrastructure it has to coincide with?
Does your company lean more toward one OEM or VAR over the other?
Are you the decision maker or just an influencer?

Let’s say the person asking the question provided all of that information and we were able to provide the perfect, ideal shopping recommendation to them. Even if that was the case, technology moves so rapidly that the best shopping recommendations can quickly become obsolete, even in the sysadmin world. Plus, the recommendation is often based on the information the OP gave at the time. If someone else asked a question that was 90% the same but the budget differed by $10k, the answers would differ drastically between the two questions. What’s the point of a bunch of labor intensive questions that provide only temporary benefit to a limited (some might say Too Localized) audience? There isn’t any. That’s what we concluded, and we explicitly disallowed shopping questions in the ServerFault Help.

Another key reason that most Shopping questions are considered Off-Topic can be summarized via the blog post Gorilla vs. Shark where Jeff illustrates what often happens with shopping questions. They simply aren't precise enough to only have a definitive answer.

So are ALL shopping questions Off-Topic on ServerFault?

The short answer is MOST LIKELY.

The long answer is...you have to redefine your question...moving from a "Shopping" question to a question where you are focused on what to look for in a product/service a sysadmin would utilize in their job.

Let's take an example of a classic sysadmin shopping question:

Q: What firewall do you recommend for a small business?

This would get closed...quick.

However, a possible way to reword the question so that it possibly stays open (I say this because ServerFault users can still be fickle about what stays and what goes) would be:

Q: What should someone responsible for a small network with under 50 employees look for in a firewall? Are there specific features that are universally appealing? Are there existing requirements that have to be met on a network before implementing a firewall?

The former question is simply a "let the most voted answer win!", popularity is the name of the game.

Popularity contest

While this MIGHT be what the asker is looking for...a sort of Amazon Reviews consensus from other sysadmins...where the most votes is "good enough" and the OP walks away with something akin to "nobody got fired for buying Cisco". The problem is that it is very time constrained and localized (budget/country/etc.) and it also is very subjective. An answer from a member with 70k rep might get more upvotes on their answer vs. the member with 500 rep, simply because the high rep user is who they are.

The latter question may take some thinking, but its answer will be valid forever … or at least until firewall technology somehow shifts beyond as we know it today. Thus, when it comes to shopping questions, don’t ask us what you should buy — ask us what you need to know to make an informed decision on your own or with your VAR.

The tell-tale jean pile Photo: Alamy

  • What kind of switch is that woman holding? (Amazon link, plz.) Commented Jan 11, 2023 at 14:20

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