Recently, one of my questions got closed by the moderator Kortuk. This is the question

In summary, it's basically "where can I buy a certain kind of LED?" Kortuk closed this as "shopping advice does not belong here".

So here I am appealing to the meta community. Notably because many other questions like this are open with votes. So am I wrong and those questions should also be closed? Or is there some kind of difference between my question and the ones that are open?

To be fair, I don't think my question was subjective. It had multiple answers or "ways to do something" but it was not really just "the only good answer is what I prefer". Basically, how does this question hurt the Electronics.SE community?

Also, I wasn't asking a question in the usual form of a shopping question "which IR LED is the best". Instead, my question was very specific, and should continue to be useful years from now, unless companies in the answers go out of business.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "off-topic" is the wrong description, the issue (as mentioned below) is that it's too localized (in place and time) and can have multiple "correct" answers (leading to subjectivity). \$\endgroup\$ – Nick T Mar 22 '11 at 14:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ I did not close it as off topic, I closed it as @NickT pointed out as subjective. If 15 people had written different answers with different suppliers whom would you have chosen? Whom was more right? \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Mar 22 '11 at 15:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk: If there are 3 different ways to solve a programming problem, should it be forbidden to ask about it on Stack Overflow? \$\endgroup\$ – endolith May 25 '11 at 13:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @endolith, often when you have multiple solutions one solution will be "better" by performance or some other metric. If there are second answers with the exact same result and same code it is just a duplicate, even if they use a lightly different order, with no difference why would they answer? How do you judge the difference between 40 different here is a supplier that sells this? \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk May 25 '11 at 14:55

You linked to a search for all questions containing the word "Buy", and made the claim that those questions were like yours. That is incorrect. There is a difference between your question and the ones that are open.

As the blog post says, there are two types of shopping questions: Those that can be answered with a link, and those that can be answered in a lesson. The "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day, but teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime" parable has a similar theme. I tried to answer the recent RGB LED question with a lesson. Using the information contained in the answer, the user should then be able to navigate the parametric search features of his or her favorite distributor, find a part in a catalog, or converse intelligently with a sales rep. With a good lesson on low-light photography (for the blog post) or photometry (for the LED question), a reader can go to any store or website, at any location around the globe, at any time in the reasonably near future, and make an intelligent decision. That is a question that we want to have here!

With a link to, say, this surface-mount, 120 degree viewing angle, low-power, 26-cents in single quantities IR LED, you could get your problem solved. Unfortunately, the time it took me to find that answer would be a waste for everyone except you, because it would do little good for future readers of the question. I'm a nice guy, but I don't have the time to be a personal search engine for random people on the internet.

On the other hand, with the information that:

  • According to IEC 60050-845, LEDs do not include infrared emitters. IR LEDs are usually called "IR Emitters" or infrared emitting diodes [IREDs], and they're usually used for communication. The term "IR LED" is therefore a misnomer to the professional community, and you won't find IR emitters in the LED section of a good catalog. Instead, you need to look here on Digikey or here on Mouser.
  • A round package like a T1 or T1 3/4 usually has a viewing angle under 30 degrees, so you need an straw-hat LED or SMD LED to give the gloves a reasonably constant viewing angle.
  • The warning "Type 1 Laser Product" that you see on low-power laser pointers also applies to IR emitters (It's based on IEC 60825-1). No emitters sold as such are able to exceed this rating. However, an array of emitters could do so, and burn your eyes without activating your blink reflex. Therefore, if you want to put several emitters on your glove, you'll need to space them out well (so they don't focus on your retina in a tight spot) and choose the lowest power emitters that will do the job.

...you could find it yourself without much trouble, and so could someone with different requirements.

  • \$\begingroup\$ The blog post is about Super User, and people asking for questions about which computer hardware to buy. I agree that those are bad questions. But Electronics is different from Super User. Finding the right component is a fundamental part of the job, and the group of answers that such a question gets is useful to a large audience of people buying similar parts. The localization aspect is very different. No one's buying them from the Best Buy down the street. LM393s aren't going to become obsolete next month when the new iPhone comes out. \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Mar 29 '11 at 14:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @endolith, if you ask in detail about an application and if there are any available ICs for what you need that is considered acceptable. Telling us the IC you have selected and asking how much cheaper others can find it for is not a good question. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Mar 29 '11 at 14:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @endolith - No, the LM393 isn't going to be obsolete, but any pricing data will be, and there may be other, better chips on the market by that time. The geographic locality is only a small part of the localization aspect. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Mar 29 '11 at 15:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kevin: Yes, there is localization in time, too. But that brings up another issue: Aren't questions and answers editable? There's no time limit on when you can vote on a question, and it's possible to change a vote if the answer is edited (though not otherwise :( ) But are questions on Stack Exchange sites meant to evolve with time, or are they meant to stay more or less unchanged over time, and become obsolete as the world changes? \$\endgroup\$ – endolith May 25 '11 at 13:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @endolith, people do not go back and constantly update all of their answers for changes in time. A question that is just getting a price quote is inherently localized in time. History has shown that outdated answers will not be updated. If price is the focus it is both a non-technical question and very localized in time. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk May 25 '11 at 14:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk: Agreed about a question focusing on getting the best price. I was just asking if questions and answers are meant to be constantly-evolving over time, or if new questions should be asked about similar topics if the old question has become obsolete. A wiki would be more like the former, while a discussion forum would be more like the latter. Stack Exchange is kind of a hybrid of both. \$\endgroup\$ – endolith May 25 '11 at 20:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @endolith, for the most part we should try to stick to theory that is timeless as much as possible. But if you are talking, maybe a major change and a new chip that can do ADC at 10Gsps for 50 cents comes out then new questions would get very different answers. Updating the old questions is not reasonable. Overtime they would get new answers or just become very dormant. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk May 25 '11 at 21:06

Basically, how does this question hurt the Electronics.SE community?

The problem is, the right answer for you won't neccessarily be the right answer for someone else. We're an international site, so the best answer would often be "talk to your local sales rep".

Shopping questions get closed on the basis that they're too localized, they're only specific to people in the same time and space as the questioner.

Most of the questions you linked to are closed too. The unclosed ones are mostly old questions or ones which have slipped through the net.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree that "Too localized" is a far better reason to close a bad shopping question than "subjective/argumentative" or "Not a real question". Looking through the list, the unclosed questions also include good shopping questions. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Mar 22 '11 at 17:20

Looking at the number of up votes endolith's comments have got on this question, it seems to me that 50% of people think that shopping questions are on topic, and 50% think they're off topic.

So, as a compromise, why don't we agree to tag all non-localised shopping questions with a tag, and anybody who thinks such questions should be off topic can add to their Ignored Tags list.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree with this. I mean...maybe OP was looking for "good" reputable known brand by the community. I mean thats why were here after all right? \$\endgroup\$ – user3073 Mar 30 '11 at 18:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @BG100 - Can you give some examples of good shopping questions which you'd apply the shopping tag to? Good shopping questions shouldn't really need the shopping tag; they're much more about evaluation parameters, education, and nomenclature than supply chains or pricing. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Mar 30 '11 at 19:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @remmrevnivek: The question I linked is an example. They shouldn't need the tag, but it's a suggestion for a way to help those adverse to shopping questions ignore them. \$\endgroup\$ – BG100 Mar 30 '11 at 19:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BG100 - The question is currently a search for information on what components are used to build a Geiger counter, and shouldn't get the shopping tag. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Mar 31 '11 at 14:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @reemrevnivek: I know... It was Leon who thinks it was! So yes I was wrong, that is not an example! \$\endgroup\$ – BG100 Mar 31 '11 at 14:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ That's more of a cop-out than a solution. :/ Really, the prohibition should be against "too localized" questions, not "shopping questions", and the line about "a shopping or buying recommendation" should be taken out of the FAQ and replaced with something less likely to be abused. \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Apr 14 '11 at 1:53

This is something that is not cut and dry.

In the past we have been lax on shopping advice, and too lax as your link of questions points out. First, a good reference is the link that has been thrown around relating to when they first launched superuser.

Now, Joby has made the basic points of why shopping advice is not a good match for SE. Markrages has made good points about why he feels like ED is different from SO(these issues did not arise until they got SU by the way). In the past the moderators have been very lax because it is often a case that when you have a technical issue knowing if there is a part you can buy that does it for you is important. It is also common that when engineering a product cost is a major component, but simple shopping questions like some of the links you provide are not this.

When someone has a product that costs X and they want it for price Y which happens to be less then X by as much as possible it is simply asking the community to contact sales reps and look at retailers for them. This is not a technical problem, this is a human-based search engine for the best deal, also normally resulting in issues with location.

What can we do about it?

When someone comes with a really good shopping question, I think it can be let to slide, because then they are giving us a technical problem and asking if a part exists, but if you find a solution and want us to see how great of a deal we can find, then we have an issue.

When someone comes to the site and asks if a part that meets a technical requirement exists, they are asking us a technical question is the long and the short of it.

In general to keep the site clean we need to err on the side of closing too many, holding any questions that could be construed as shopping to high standards will result in a great database of questions and answers.

  • \$\begingroup\$ On this note, if the OP starts turning down for price and such it normally falls under "Not a real question." for reasons "It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form." \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Mar 22 '11 at 15:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't think the non-closure of these questions demonstrates "being lax about the rules". I think it demonstrates that these questions are in fact useful, and the rule isn't as applicable here. Some of the top-voted questions are "shopping questions". Just because a rule works well on another site doesn't mean we have to unthinkingly enforce it on ours. \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Mar 29 '11 at 14:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @endolith, I think they are some of the top voted because it takes 0 technical knowledge to tell if someone found you a good deal. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Mar 29 '11 at 14:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @endolith, there is a reason they titled it, "QA is hard, lets go shopping." It is just like the most basic questions have the highest votes, only shopping gets less technical. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Mar 29 '11 at 14:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk: I don't understand what you mean. I'm talking about highly-voted questions, not answers. The questions are voted to the top because they're useful, no? The highest-ranked question is about which electronics components to buy. Two of the highest-viewed questions are about which scope and logic analyzer to buy. \$\endgroup\$ – endolith Mar 29 '11 at 14:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @endolith, yes, that is probably a very common google option. I am not saying we need to be 100% stopping all shopping. It would make sense to have some of these very very common questions setup as community wiki so that we have a source for them. These should be done sparingly though. I updated the question that you linked to match what he was asking for, if he is asking just for cheap purchase of the product I will close it again. If he needs a list of options that is a perfect fit. I am surprised none of the users helping him did this to rectify the situation. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Mar 29 '11 at 14:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk: That's why the "shopping question bad" meme needs to die. Questions about buying things are not inherently bad. They're only bad when they are too localized to benefit a large number of people. Focus on whether a question is too localized, not on whether it happens to involve purchasing things. \$\endgroup\$ – endolith May 25 '11 at 13:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @endolith, it is not just too localized, it can also be subjective, not a real question or off topic. These are all items a shopping question can be closed by. Bad shopping questions are just that, inherently bad. That is why I call them bad shopping questions. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk May 25 '11 at 14:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kortuk: Yes, they could be any of those things, or none of them. I'd rather people stop saying "shopping question" altogether and just stick with "too localized", "subjective", "not a real question", or "off topic". \$\endgroup\$ – endolith May 25 '11 at 20:28

I think shopping questions should be allowed here. Electronics is different from programming. An electronics design is a collection of hundreds of parts, all acting together to make the circuit work.

In the original blog post about shopping questions, notice that the questions are about classes of components: A computer is still a computer, whether it has Nvidia or ATI graphics card. It will solve the same problems and run the same programs in the same way.

But in electronics, the situation is different. A catalog distributor has millions of components, and only one or two of them will solve my electronics problem. It seems totally reasonable and valid to ask more experienced people for help. Parametric search will only get you so far. (Especially when the data entry folks don't understand the difference between micro-, and milli-, but I digress.)

Another kind of shopping question that should be allowed is "where can I buy Signetics 25120 in quantities of 10?" Again, an electronics design has hundreds of fairly unique parts. And parts availability is a problem and concern and something to seek advice about. Maybe this is another evidence of the site being tilted towards hobbyists. (Hobbyist: "This Maxim part is free!", Professional: "This Maxim part cannot be purchased in the next six months for any amount of money!")

As the saying goes, electronics engineering is about 70% shopping. This EEVblog ep captures it pretty well: http://www.eevblog.com/2011/01/17/eevblog-139-lets-select-a-dc-dc-boost-converter/ (Although Dave should have spent five minutes with a calculator before spending that hour in DigiKey.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this is the critical part to the blog post: Q: What’s the best low light point-and-shoot camera? A: Canon S90 and Lumix LX3. Here’s another way to ask: Q: How do I tell which point-and-shoot cameras take good low light photos? A: I strongly recommend looking for something with a fast lens (2.0 at least) reasonable ISO handling (at least 400, but preferably 800) the biggest sensor available The sum of these factors are really critical for low light situations. \$\endgroup\$ – Kellenjb Mar 22 '11 at 3:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ To apply it to us, if someone wants to know how to determine the best RGB LED ( electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/11790/… ), then that is a great question, but if someone asks "Where can I find a good RGB LED" or "What is the best RGB LED" then those aren't so good. \$\endgroup\$ – Kellenjb Mar 22 '11 at 3:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ And one last comment, as far as your comment about the difference between the hobbyist wanting to get a part versus the professional wanting to get a part, this is a perfect example of why questions like this shouldn't be allowed. \$\endgroup\$ – Kellenjb Mar 22 '11 at 3:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I will admit, questions like "what is the best multimeter/soldering iron/vector network analyzer for less than $20" seem pointless and off topic. But if the shopping question is about electronics and not tools used with electronics, then I think it should be allowed. \$\endgroup\$ – markrages Mar 22 '11 at 3:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @markrages, I think @kellenjb is spot on here. It is important to distinguish, I think the question I closed pretty clearly fell under a shopping advice question. \$\endgroup\$ – Kortuk Mar 22 '11 at 15:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mark - I don't think there's a significant difference between shopping for electronics and shopping for tools used with electronics. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Mar 22 '11 at 16:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @reemrevnivek Sure there is. One of those is electronics design, one isn't. \$\endgroup\$ – markrages Mar 22 '11 at 16:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Mark - It's reasonable and valid to ask just about any question. However, I'm not sure that it's reasonable and valid to expect others to answer questions that only help one person. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer Mar 22 '11 at 17:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kevin: So if a shopping question is helpful to a lot of people, it's fine. Right? \$\endgroup\$ – endolith May 25 '11 at 13:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @endolith - Wrong - Not because we don't want to help people, but because it's impossible to determine which questions will be helpful. Bad shopping questions cause more harm than good. \$\endgroup\$ – Kevin Vermeer May 25 '11 at 18:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kevin: It's impossible to tell whether a question is helpful to more than one person? \$\endgroup\$ – endolith May 25 '11 at 20:26

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