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We are currently having a poll about whether to keep identifying questions or not.

Currently it is going in the direction, that we do keep them.

In the comments, @passerby stated the following:

the questions are unlikely to be useful to other/future users that was removed as a requirement over a year ago. No more "too localized" close reason, and stack overflow management made it clear that questions that help even one person, OP, are welcomed.

and

To paraphrase Tim Post's community post in the last year or so: Stack exchange is about helping people, even if it's just ONE person, the OP. A question doesn't need to help others, and that's why too localized was removed as a close reason. Identification questions help people. Period.

That made me (and others) wonder if this has any implications about shopping questions being treated as off topic. Under the premise that even helping a singular person is okay, shopping questions should be considered on topic.

What is your take on this?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Shopping questions are still highly discouraged by stack exchange, across the entire network. \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby Sep 5 '18 at 12:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ Anybody not familiar with the subject of shopping should probably read this: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/158809/… \$\endgroup\$ – laptop2d Sep 5 '18 at 15:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or this stackoverflow.blog/2010/11/23/qa-is-hard-lets-go-shopping \$\endgroup\$ – laptop2d Sep 5 '18 at 15:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @laptop2d those posts are over 6 years old. And the network evolves. I am not saying that the arguments of those posts aren't valid anymore. But given that the network evolves, I think revisiting rules on a more or less regular basis, even if the result stays the same is not a bad thing (I do not think your comments are implying that). \$\endgroup\$ – Arsenal Sep 5 '18 at 16:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't matter how old it is, the policy is still in force (and most likely will be for all time) as any new shopping questions are bad for the site, the generate useless discussion (they always require comments to clean up the question and figure out what the OP is asking) and are only good for one person. They detract from the site. \$\endgroup\$ – laptop2d Sep 5 '18 at 17:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ So do identification questions. Is your take on those the same? (Haven't seen you comment there) \$\endgroup\$ – Arsenal Sep 5 '18 at 18:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Fundamental difference in the questions "What's the best x"/"where do I buy x"/"whats the cheapest place to get x" and "What is this?" The shopping ones are subjective and change. The id ones are always mostly objective, factual, and the answer does not change over time. \$\endgroup\$ – Passerby Sep 5 '18 at 23:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Passerby good point. \$\endgroup\$ – Arsenal Sep 6 '18 at 6:57
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No, we are not going to suddenly allow product recommendations.

The original list of reasons why shopping questions aren't allowed is a good resource.

The reasons that come to mind first (not an exhaustive list):

  • Recommendations quickly become obsolete
  • Often they have incomplete information
  • Product recommendations can have a significant opinion-based component
  • It starts to bring more financial interest to questions and answers

The whole concept is to get answers to "How do I select a (widget)?" instead of "Which (widget) should I get?". The subtle difference results in better questions, and better answers.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Fair point. Just to clarify, in my answer, I was just mentioning the particular example would be one I personally would find ok. I am not saying let's allow shopping questions. I suppose the particular circumstance in my question could also be turned into a "How to select a (widget)?" question. \$\endgroup\$ – MCG Sep 6 '18 at 7:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Another point specifically for an international site: product availability. We might end up with hundreds of basically the same question, just for different countries or slightly different requirements. \$\endgroup\$ – PlasmaHH Sep 13 '18 at 8:15
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There could only be one reason I might consider a 'shopping' question OK to ask. And that would be a question along the lines of this:

I am designing a product/circuit that performs 'X' function. It needs to be able to function to these specifications -clarify specs-. I have tried x/y/z components, and have tested by doing this -clarify tests- but they don't seem to be good enough for the job. Does anyone know of a component that could possibly do the job? If there is such a component, why did my solutions not work?

In my opinion, someone who can provide enough information about what they are designing, and have clearly researched and tried different components/methods should be allowed to ask for a product recommendation. The question should be able to attract answers that not only recommend a particular component (or 2), but also be able to explain why it is the component of choice, and why it is better than previous methods.

Any question that asks "I want to make a circuit that does 'x' does anyone know a component that can do it?" would need an immediate downvote.

I am expecting this to be an unpopular opinion, but I think if managed properly, there could be some uses for it

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I actually think there could be other, additional example of acceptable shopping questions, and I would be relatively relaxed on the rules. I started writing a full answer, but I am not yet completely clear on how to wrap this up so my proposition doesn't get burnt into flames the second it is posted... \$\endgroup\$ – dim Sep 5 '18 at 13:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dim yeah, I know what you mean. It took me a while to write this as I was unsure how to word it. This was the best way I could think of to get the point across that there could be ways of asking acceptable shopping questions. I would be interested to read your full answer if you finish writing it \$\endgroup\$ – MCG Sep 5 '18 at 13:50
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I do not have strong feelings on this.

I sometimes struggle to find the right part for the job, so it itches to ask here, but I know the rules we currently have.

On the other hand, I think, that teaching people what they should be looking for (which specs are important, what does that spec mean) is more important than a simple part suggestion.

I guess it could get quite messy and the overall quality of EE knowledge will not rise.

Still I guess it helps people, and that is the main scope of SE. As these question tend to be only helpful for a handful of people, we could do a monthly cleanup of shopping questions older than a year (exceptional question and answers should be kept (protected)).

So my verdict: I have a neutral stance, if they get on topic, I'm happy with that, if they stay off topic, I'm okay with that as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So you want to have a discussion, but you don't care about the result? I'm having difficulty identifying your motivations here. \$\endgroup\$ – W5VO Sep 5 '18 at 18:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ @W5VO well others asked but no discussion popped up on meta, instead of filling the poll with unrelated things, I thought it would be a better idea to have a new discussion round. Even if, after thinking about it, my position is neutral on that topic. \$\endgroup\$ – Arsenal Sep 5 '18 at 20:36
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Something I would really like to add over here, coming from a developing country and being quite a beginner, I am tempted a lots of time to ask a shopping question because instruments don't come cheap to me and I can't take a risk to buy an instrument that wouldn't serve my purpose. I mean a good simple Digital multimeter is 1/10th of what I make a month and a simple soldering iron feels heavy on my budget too. My point is not about asking those instruments but some instruments/material/boards/components leave us practically confused and we have to take an opinion.

Plus the place where I come from, I don't have real good experts whose opinion I can blindly trust.

For sure, internet is a great source but again, can we trust them? So I feel shopping questions should be allowed because he is the place where we get unbiased answers.

Though it could bring a lot of garbage so in my opinion, it should be allowed but strictly monitored.

Just my opinion!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sounds like you need a localized forum, for example a facebook group or reddit whatever-reddit-calls-them. Those are designed to be far more dynamic and better for things that are localized in place and time. I've seen too many "I can't buy that in my village" comments on valid answers to think that this is a good idea on Stack Exchange. \$\endgroup\$ – pipe Sep 6 '18 at 9:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Nope. I disagree with asking questions such as "Which is the best multimeter?" and you come and tell me "Fluke" and I comment , "I can't buy that". The question should be more like "I have these two products and this particular technical thing is the difference between them, and i dont understand how big difference it is gonna make/ or how I could utilize it." Don't take the 2nd question word by word because I am not yet clear as to how to format it but replied so that conversation further by anyone doesn't extend your comment. \$\endgroup\$ – MaNyYaCk Sep 6 '18 at 9:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ That example isn't even close to a shopping question though. Asking about a specific parameter and how it affects the outcome would be a good on-topic question. \$\endgroup\$ – pipe Sep 6 '18 at 9:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ I know, but sometimes people mess up the wordings when asking a question and end up putting "Which one should I go for?" at the end. That makes a whole good question into a shopping one and the OP feels the heat. \$\endgroup\$ – MaNyYaCk Sep 6 '18 at 9:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ If shopping questions are only the question when someone just felt like he should buy/get something , doesn't even look at what all products fall into his requirement and comes here and ask for other people to do it for him, That is not good. Not at all. \$\endgroup\$ – MaNyYaCk Sep 6 '18 at 9:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ But if someone has looked through and it narrowed down his search onto few specifics and knows what he's talking about but comes her to be reassured if what he down onto is the thing that will help him. Good enough? \$\endgroup\$ – MaNyYaCk Sep 6 '18 at 9:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I think I'm beginning to see what you're looking for here, and I think I agree that it would be a nice question. If OP has already picked a few options and tells what they are to be used for, that would technically be a shopping question but I also think it could be useful, answerable, and won't be out of date. \$\endgroup\$ – pipe Sep 6 '18 at 11:31

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