After seeing this meta question about this shopping question and this blog post I wonder: do we do product recommendations on Bicycles SE?

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Not that almost 5% of our questions are tagged product-rec, so obviously we do currently go shopping. A very few of those are "what should I look for", but most are just looking for a list of products. –  freiheit Feb 27 '11 at 20:38
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I'm not a fan of shopping questions, but so far it's seemed that the consensus is to leave them open (usually nobody votes to close them, nobody flags them, nobody edits them into more general questions).

A big part of the problem with shopping questions isn't that they're inherently bad, it's simply that the Stack Exchange Platform isn't designed to handle them. The voting system doesn't work right. It would be too easy to get a shopping question with page of answers with the highest voted answers being the popular choices (and earlier written choices) instead of the best solutions or best-written answers. Nobody's going to read a long list of undifferentiated answers; they don't really help anybody.

I would encourage people to ignore the phrasing of the question and pretend instead that the person asked the question we wish they'd asked. In other words, when you see "Which jacket should I buy?", pretend they're asking how to pick a jacket for their particular needs and provide that type of information. Maybe include a few specific product recommendations with the reasons for them related to the general reasons. Even bad questions are likely to be left open if they have an awesome answer.

Even better, edit the question into the better question that we wish they had asked. Make sure it will still lead to answers that will help the original questioner out, and try not to invalidate any existing answers. Edits that improve questions or answers are always welcome!

Notice on that shopping question that the upvoted answers are the ones that tell you how to find a jacket or are specific about why a given choice is good, and that the actual straight product recommendations never got any votes... But that's really because we have a good community of good answerers with a natural inclination towards awesomeness, not because the original question was very good (or good for this platform).


Some of the comments on Q&A is Hard, Let’s Go Shopping! are pretty interesting:

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/11/qa-is-hard-lets-go-shopping/#comment-52119

Don’t just recommend X. Explain why you recommend X. That is:

  • share your personal experiences using X
  • what characteristics of X make it better than the alternatives?
  • what other things like X have you tried?
  • what is X best at? What is X worst at?

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/11/qa-is-hard-lets-go-shopping/#comment-52087

The problem with some of the shopping recommendations is that it is often not possible to figure out which product is better based only on data published by the manufacturer.

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/11/qa-is-hard-lets-go-shopping/#comment-52092

“Shopping” or “recommendation” questions are a pox on almost every Q&A community; on Gaming and RPG, it’s game-rec. On Android and Apple and Webapps, it’s app-rec. On Programmers and Stack Overflow, it’s lang-rec and framework-rec. On Photography it’s cam-rec. Those questions swamp the site and add basically NO value because the amount to 100% unverifiable opinion. Either you agree or you disagree, but no answer is ever truly right or wrong.
[...]
We had our own version of the “recommendations” questions on Seasoned Advice (cooking.SE) – recipes. We banned them right off the bat, and we are SO much better for it. Because it turns out that, even though it’s a little more effort and sometimes still kind of subjective, there ARE ways to ask those same questions without turning them into mindless polls. Of course, not surprisingly, there was that tiny minority of members who fought bitterly to allow them, but fortunately in our case, common sense prevailed and we ended up with a site that gets interesting questions that enrich our lives, at least in the kitchen.


See Also:

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I agree with almost everything other than "I would encourage people to ignore the phrasing of the question." I think the site would be truly better if such questions were edited. –  amcnabb Jun 1 '12 at 14:43
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@amcnabb: Good point! I edited my answer to reflect that. –  freiheit Jun 1 '12 at 18:44
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I agree, let's leave shopping questions open but try to explain why we're recommending solution [foo] for a given problem.

These kinds of questions is that they tend to get out of date very quickly. I'll use a fictitious company and product:

Perhaps I'd recommend the BlahBikes Greatbike! as a great tourer/commuter, but in a few months, BlahBikes has decided to no longer make the Greatbike! and the answer now recommends a hard-to-find product. If I had said in my answer why I'm making the recommendation I had and simply used the Greatbike! as an example of a bike that has all these features I suggest looking for, then the answer is still useful to the site.

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it's the same thing I said in the blog post: if you are teaching people to fish "how do I use the available information to decide which is better -- teach me how to tell the differences" then it's fine. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 27 '11 at 22:59
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When I asked because I wanted to shop, people told me what to look for using common nouns and adjectives (not using proper nouns / brand names).

The LBS sales person then suggested specific items / brands; people's answers had helped me learn what components+characteristics to look for: which is just what Jeff's blog post recommended.

I'm not saying that you mustn't recommend a specific brand; maybe sometimes it's more useful if you do (perhaps, I don't know, especially, if it's a hard-to-find or one-of-a-kind or pretty-unique...); but it's, sometimes, more useful if you don't.

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