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Questions that solicit product recommendations are off-topic on Server Fault. However, there are legitimate cases where a good answer may include a product recommendation.

What details about the product must be provided by an answer that includes a product recommendation? What expectations does the Server Fault community have? The help center doesn't seem to provide any guidance on this.


Note: This question has attracted answers which debate the pros & cons of including product recommendations in answers. However, this question assumes it's possible cases exist where such recommendations are allowed, and is asking what minimum information the community expects from posters in these cases.


Here's an example from Meta Super User's answer to this same question:

  • Title of the the product with a link to the download/main page
  • Give a brief overview of HOW to use the product OR in cases where it's too long, link to the product's manual pages
  • Give any personalized information to the OP regarding how the recommendation solves his/her question.
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First, like on most SE sites, asking for product recommendations is off-topic here, so giving a product recommendation as the core of your answer should be avoided. Naturally, naming a product or tool in context isn't forbidden and sometimes quite helpful.

That aside, I believe that the SU guidelines are the optimal case, but I would hold our audience (professional IT personnel) to a higher standard and fully expect them to be able to follow a link (or use a search engine) and learn about a tool or product that might help them. Again, context matters and answering a quite specific question with a generic anwer is often not very helpful. Anyway, in the end answers should help you to help yourself, not spoon feed you.

  • I agree with this. However, my question is for the cases where naming a product or tool in context [is]...sometimes quite helpful. What is the community's expectations for the recommendation? A link only? More than that? This is what I want to know. – Twisty Impersonator Jul 8 '17 at 18:09
  • Just enough to enable you to help yourself. In some cases, a simple product name might be enough, but in others a short explanation how a complex product is supposed to help would be necessary. (Not so good ) examples: Q: Want to sync dir tree. A: Use rsync would be OK, but I want central auth for my Windows clients would require more, e.g Use Windows server. It has a component called Active Directory that is meant to do this. – Sven Jul 8 '17 at 18:23
  • This is more helpful. I've edited the question to make it perfectly clear it was never meant to debate the cases when product recommendations are acceptable, but rather when they are made, what information must be included. – Twisty Impersonator Jul 8 '17 at 18:28
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Jeff's blog post provides good advice on this topic. Not just for questions, but also for answers.

Let’s say the question asker provided all that information. Fat chance, I know, but let’s pretend for a moment they did — 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 will be utterly obsolete within a year!

The bold emphasis is not mine, but very much applicable here. Product recommendation answers are a snapshot in time, and usually do not age well. My derived approach is two step:

  1. As a preference, provide the logic for identifying a solution, rather than selecting a the solution for someone. This should almost always be possible, unless we're talking about a vendor specific solution, in which case sometimes you simply have no choice but to steer someone toward a specific product.

  2. In cases where a strong forerunner does exist that -- cases where I feel strongly that a specific solution eclipses alternatives to the point where I'd be remiss not to mention it -- it's best provide it as an example of having applied the logic for selecting a solution. A simple test is whether or not the answer stands well enough on its own if the product recommendation was removed.

In the second case I'm guilty of having made a product recommendation, but the answer provides value beyond a lazy product suggestion. Even if the recommended solution becomes abandoned or obsolete, sufficient detail is still present to identify a better choice.

Will a few copy pasta admins still use the recommendation I made even if it's stale and terrible in twenty years? Probably, but those people are going to be terrible no matter what I do. At least there's still something of value for those who want to learn and improve.

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    To be honest if I'm searching for something I'd rather find a (maybe) obsolete product recommendation than nothing at all. The product recommendation, even obsolete may allow me to find a more current solution simply by searching <product name> alternative. – André Borie Jun 6 '17 at 11:37

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