BEFORE YOU ANSWER OR VOTE, I know it's long, but if you read the whole thing, you'll see where I'm coming from on this. It's not just a "let us having shopping questions!" post.

With the highly likely chance that the Software Recommendations beta site will become a normal part of SE, I'm curious if the SF community might consider allowing both software and hardware recommendations again. I say again because in the early days of the community it was quite common, even if it was discouraged.

I'm probably harping again...I know Tom and myself and others attempted the Area 51 beta that was quickly shot down...so maybe it'll just never fly.

Reasons to allow for IT hardware/software shopping questions:

  • All of us are smarter than one of us -- Amazon reviews as a case in point...the collective reasoning behind lots of consumers allows someone to make a wiser decision. Our sysadmins here have a wide range of real world experience with hardware/software that is beneficial to others when seeking out advice.
  • Why trust your VAR? - sure they are smart...but they often are selling whatever is either hot or is paying decent commission or sales bonuses at the moment, or whatever OEM is wooing them the most.
  • Why tell people "go away"? - do we really want to send decent IT sysadmins away to other SE sites or even 3rd party sites? Our "community" should look out for each other and help out our fellow sysadmins, not encourage them to make decisions without foreknowledge.

Allow me to play Devil's Advocate on the current "Shopping" close reason:

Questions seeking product, service, or learning material recommendations are off-topic because they tend to become obsolete quickly. Instead, describe your situation and the specific problem you're trying to solve.

I'll start at the end, with the last sentence above.

Instead, describe your situation and the specific problem you're trying to solve.

9 times out of 10, the OP is doing just that. Case in point from today: https://serverfault.com/questions/615163/smnp-monitor-cloud-service where the OP clearly states their specific problem and what they are trying to "solve".

It's very rare that a "Shopping" question has no specific problem, perhaps the old "what cmd line tools are good in a Windows server environment" is an example, but even that at least shows a specific situation that is easy enough for a sysadmin to key in on.

OK, that last question done...Let's get to the heart of it, the first sentence.

Questions seeking product, service, or learning material recommendations are off-topic because they tend to become obsolete quickly

This one's strength lies in "tend to become obsolete quickly" as well as the underlying "Shopping link" and it's text at that URL.

Here's the issue I have with this. Who cares? We are professional sysadmins. Let's say a shopping question allowed 4 years ago recommended Windows Server 2008. Does that mean if I looked at the same question today I'd go "oh...so don't use 2012 R2?...got it ServerFault, thanks!"

And "quickly" ??? Obsolescence is often based on many factors, but in the IT world even software/hardware that is obsolete to one is still used in production environments by another. But again, who really cares in the space of a Q&A site? People can sift through the material and decide at their discretion what is right/wrong.

Which leads me to the "issues" I see with shopping questions for hardware/software on this site:

  • duplicates, triplicates, oh my! -- Because tech does change, the answers given on a "which cloud monitoring to use?" in 2014 will be different vs. the same question in 2015. So there's bound to be people asking the same question over and over. But does that really matter?
  • Voting - I see nothing wrong with upvoting/downvoting answers in a shopping question, it helps set a "Amazon review" like scenario where mass opinion helps drive the OP to the right product. However, looking back at the same question a year or 2 later might cause someone to downvote an answer that was the best answer at the time of the question.
  • Selling/steering - while not that hard to detect, you will inevitably garner more attention from various VARs, OEMs, etc. that could simply be peddling their goods and not agnostic IT pros making recommendations based on experience.

I don't have great answers to the above issues, but I think that once the SoftwareRecs site does fully launch it would be silly to drive traffic AWAY from ServerFault.

Maybe we can find away to allow the "good" shopping questions and close the bad with a close reason such as: "IT Shopping questions should be clearly defined, time relevant, and applicable to the ServerFault community. Shopping questions not related to hardware or software used by professional sysadmins are considered off-topic."

Just some thoughts...I'll digress now...that's enough typing.

If the question gets a bunch of downvotes...I'll give up the "cause".

  • meta.serverfault.com/a/6140/126632 Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 14:06
  • -1 I was going to upvote for the well written question and vaguely interesting discussion. But then "If the question gets a bunch of downvotes...I'll give up the 'cause'".
    – Chris S
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 14:12
  • :) @ChrisS - I can live with that. I wrote it with that possibility in mind...
    – TheCleaner
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 14:14
  • 2
    I'm not inclined to agree with allowing shopping questions without some way to prevent low quality and overly opinionated answers. Software Recommendations put a lot of work into this and you may want to review that. Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 14:39
  • 3
    SF is full of crap already - I can't see this making it any better.
    – user9517
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 16:51
  • 1
    Here's an example of a good shopping question. This is the way I'd like to see them presented. And here's a bad one. How do we get from here to there? Commented Jul 26, 2014 at 4:43
  • @MichaelHampton without some way to prevent low quality and overly opinionated answers I agree. We need to have a voting system in place for answers- or at least the ability to edit or flag them- before we let people do just whatever they want. As of right now, when someone posts a terrible answer, the most an SF user can legally do is leave a comment saying "I did not enjoy that post. It made my inner child sad." Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 15:05
  • 1
    @Iain - I've always been interested in the management of obsolete questions on SE, too, since any answer has the possibility of becoming obsolete. "Quickly" is a relative term, and my occasional frustration is when I come across answers I know to have been correct at the time but have since become obsolete and I want to encourage newer answers that may be more suitable. Commented Aug 4, 2014 at 3:54
  • 1
    I find the obsolescence argument to be poor also. It could be applied to a large proportion of all questions on ServerFault that are not shopping related. This is technology; it comes with the territory.
    – dbr
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 18:53

5 Answers 5


I'm not sure we should 'just say no' on this one. Crap questions are gonna be here. However, there is some really niche, hard to find software out there, that other sysadmins may have come across.

For example, I'll post part of a question I asked on Security.SE that could have been a software rec:

I don't need a list of software (I know shopping questions are off topic), but my google-fu is failing me at this. Basically looking for software that will scan a filesystem looking for files that may contain Protected Health Information. Target OS doesn't really matter right now, if someone has a search term I could use that would also help.

The questions got upvotes, and also some great answers. Yeah, it's essentially helping me with my googleFu, but at the same time, I was able to get some great software I needed to do my job in the process.

I think with a proper scope this could be beneficial to numerous sysadmins, who will just ask the question in chat anyway, then nobody gets magical internet points.

Welcoming this section for editing, some bullet points for getting this rolling would be

  • Poor questions are always off topic (Hopeless' example)

  • Requirements must be thoroughly outlined in the question, for example if someone is looking for a switch recommendation then what interface(s), speed, # of nodes, etc.

  • Restraints must be clearly outlined in the question as well, taking the same switch example then budget constraints, physical dimension requirements, whatever other constraints can be placed on switches, etc.

Often times sysadmins find themselves in situations where they have to engineer solutions, it would offer the same benefit that we have w/ asking troubleshooting and/or other 'professional' questions that we currently ask on the site.


No, it should not. We have enough crap questions on the site without opening up this can of worms.

Pls halp to server, I wanting to make emails. Which program is recommended?

  • 1
    Hence the close reason bolded at the bottom I recommend.
    – TheCleaner
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 14:02
  • @TheCleaner That's far from the only problem with this type of question, though. Someone else seems to want this problem, so by all means, let's let them have it. Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 14:04
  • If your last comment is the SF consensus, which is cool by me, then we should allow for a site migration close reason to that site once it actually comes out of beta.
    – TheCleaner
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 14:21
  • 3
    @TheCleaner I think people will be more annoyed to hear "we allow shopping questions" then see their question closed as (essentially) "except yours, it's crap" than they already are by the flat-out ban we have now
    – Rob Moir
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 15:21
  • @RobM - sorry, I meant if we choose to not allow any, then when the softwarerecs gets out of beta that should be either a migration choice or they should be mentioned in the current close reason as something like "...you might consider asking over on SoftwareRecs instead."
    – TheCleaner
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 15:33
  • 1
    We already get those now though. What's the difference?
    – Jacob
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 16:49
  • @TheCleaner sorry if I wasn't clear, I was posting in support of the 'no' from hopelessnoob. I'd have no problem with a close->migrate path to the new site should it take off, though given the pattern of bar-room lawyering we see from new posters who find their way to meta I do predict a bunch of "but I'm using open source (or whatever) so I'm too special to be migrated, you guys all suck because you don't want to pretend the world orbits around me" posts.
    – Rob Moir
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 18:21
  • I don't see any logic in the argument - crap questions are crap questions. What's that got to do with excluding shopping questions specifically? I think you need to explain why you're saying one has anything to do with the other.
    – dbr
    Commented Aug 6, 2014 at 21:09

I think if you do that, you're just setting the site up for the marketing & sales departments of various vendors.

  • 1
    Probably...but they also run the risk of getting boo'd in public. The voting system and comments would allow others to say "yeah, your product rocks" or "your stuff sucks...downvote!" But yes, I concede that even if we try and prevent those users from "anonymously" recommending their own product, it would happen.
    – TheCleaner
    Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 15:34
  • 1
    A smart vendor would use shill accounts and not be so obvious. Commented Jul 29, 2014 at 16:17
  • @Bill On the other hand, I doubt that doesn't already happen. There are plenty of non-product-recommendation questions where it would be appropriate to say something along the lines of "I use X with Y, and have it configured so Z. Since Z is what you seem to want to make happen, X might be what you're looking for". You can already subtly advertise your product on SE if that's really what you want to do. Or you can ask leading questions, like questions about your product. Ask enough such questions, you can make a tag for your product, a bunch of people see your product as popular. Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 15:11
  • @Bill You underestimate the complexity of the thought process, and the lack of concern for fair play, behind viral marketing tactics. Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 15:13
  • @Bill For example, if I were doing marketing at Microsoft, since they seem to be circling the drain, I'd up the number of IE, C#, VB, and Office questions and answers on the SE sites using sockpuppets and mechanical turks so that people would see those as trending or "hot" technologies they should learn and use. And when it does catch on... yay! Market share. Of course, I'd also fund "think tanks" to come out with "research" disparaging Linux- which they've already done. That's on the public record. Marketing is not an ethical profession. Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 15:16
  • ...In other words... You're right. Smart vendors are probably already using shills and not being so obvious. Commented Aug 1, 2014 at 15:19

I havne't thought this point of view through, it's just a preliminary idea...

I think there can be good shopping questions, just like there can be good subjective questions. I'd be quite happy to have some good shopping questions, answered by the people on here that I know have lots of experience.

But not only is the ban on shopping questions almost network-wide, on the sites I know of where they were accepted, they're not any more - people have found them to be problematic.

But would this work?

  1. Post a questions here: "what would make a good shopping question?" and let's define what we'd consider to be a good one.
  2. If someone does post a good shopping question, someone make a comment: "I think this is a good shopping question as per meta.SF post 666, please consider not voting to close if you agree.

We still have official close reason which can be applied to the vast majority of crappy shopping questions, but we also have a loophole to leave a few good ones open. If anyone whines about "that other shopping question was left open, so mine should be too," the answer is, yours doesn't meet the standards defined in the meta question.


No we should not. It's not just serverfault but Stack Exchange in general that does not allow product recommendations.

  • 1
    Also, the beta product recommendation site will take care of this, won't it?
    – MichelZ
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 14:06
  • 3
    This is not true. Sites can allow or disallow shopping questions at their discretion. Unix & Linux allows them, for instance. Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 14:07
  • 2
    I still think it would be better to send them off to software recomendations. Otherwise we will also need to revise capacity planning as well I think? Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 14:09
  • 4
    It was supposed to be a network-wide ban on shopping questions, but sites that came after that ban have picked what parts of it they want to enforce...
    – Chris S
    Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 14:11
  • @ChrisS As far as I ever knew, it applied to the trilogy, and later sites picked it up if they wanted it. Commented Jul 24, 2014 at 14:42

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