In the context of How to leverage reputation systems of other communities to encourage participation in your own, related to this meta question: Should this site cater to those trying to build community platforms?

The question listed above I closed a few days ago as off topic because of the technology element. We have always discouraged technology based questions. I will admit that this question does seem a bit different than all of the other questions closed for technology reasons, but I still am not sure how this isn't primarily technology based? Am I taking the verdict of "no technology" the wrong way? At the end of the day, it's asking for a platform to link two communities.

Even if we did deem this on topic, should we allow these "shopping questions?" Other SE sites have mixed opinions views on them; it works well for some and not well for others. When will a shopping question be too technology based?

4 Answers 4


I agree with Monica's answer, saying this wasn't a technology question. It describes the user's end goal pretty well and doesn't ask for implementation details.

My goal is to encourage cross project contribution and usage. I'd like to provide a consistent profile that lets users show and add to their professional experience. [...] this would pull data from these profiles to create a reputation and experience dashboard.

That said, it ends rather poorly:

Has anyone seen such a thing?

This turns it into a "shopping"/recommendation question, and I believe this is where the red flags started waving.

Greg points out that his intent was to determine whether he needed to "go shopping", not to have others create a shopping list for him. I think Monica summarized it even better (and more broadly) in the comments:

It's asking about ways to bring disparate communities and identities together.

If this is truly the intent of the question, I believe a few minor edits will bring it out of the grey area it seems to be in right now.

To directly answer the question on whether we should allow "shopping questions": No*

The caveat is that Community Building is much less of a "only one answer can solve this" that other exchanges are. A question can be asked that lends itself to a list of products in the answer or across answers (disclosure: I answered the linked question). A question asking "Which product should I use to do X", would be off topic though. In this specific instance, despite the intent of the question, the closing question seems to have made it fall into this category.


This isn't a technology question. It's more of a design or requirements-analysis question. The author wants to achieve a certain goal, one bound up with community-building, and is asking about ways to do that.

I think of technology questions as more things like "in Sharepoint, how do I do such-and-such specific thing?". When I've argued or voted against technology questions I meant stuff like that, not stuff like the present question.

  • 1
    Ok, but what do you think of the question? You never weighed in on the shopping part of the question; would you care to share your opinion on that? Thanks! Mar 9, 2015 at 5:07
  • @AnnonomusPenguin I agree with Andy on that; the ending of the question gives that impression but I don't think it's really a shopping question. If that sentence is the only problem, let's fix and reopen. Mar 10, 2015 at 2:00
  • The red flag for a shopping question is the self-answer with a product listed by the OP. I'm not touching this question quite yet—unless edited. It seems like there are a few mixed opinions in the community and I don't want to interfere with the natural process of self moderation too much here. I think everyone agrees shopping not OK, but we're disagreeing on if this is meant for shopping or just how to bind these communities. Mar 10, 2015 at 3:29

With respect to Monica, I think she misses the point when she says:

The author wants to achieve a certain goal, one bound up with community-building, and is asking about ways to do that.

Author intent is a slippery beast. We cannot use it as a metric for whether a particular revision of a post meets community guidelines, even when it's plain as day. Let me illustrate with an admittedly extreme example:

What's the best social network?

I'm performing a meta-analysis of published research to determine whether there's strong evidence for a causal relationship between use of social networks and high school dropout rates among males aged 13-17. There are lots of different social networks, each with their own unique characteristics and dynamics, and most of them use this and that and the other thing as a way of attracting users in my demographic of interest.

My goal is to focus on research that targets one of the larger social networks specifically, since that will make the analysis much more practical. I'm wondering if anyone has used a social network where my demographic of interest is really strongly represented. They need to be able to create an account without any invitation or parental permission and have some way to access the account from school computers or personal mobile devices.

Which social network should I try first?

Here's a fine problem statement sandwiched between fairly poor questions. There are two good options for dealing with a question like this—edit it, or close it. You edit it when you have both the opportunity and ability to fix whatever makes it close-worthy without misrepresenting the author's problem or invalidating existing answers. Otherwise, you close it.

I would go so far as to say that the author's intent in the example above is explicitly clear—at least, I don't suspect them of lying about their goals and constraints (nor do I generally care if they're lying; good questions are separable from their authors). So I definitely have the ability to fix this with an edit, in a way that I'm confident will respect what's already there. If I also had the opportunity to edit (i.e., the free time and the inclination), then I would do so. If not, I would vote to close. Closing the question keeps it from accumulating bad answers, spam answers, and other answers that would tend to "lock in" the undesirable formulation of the question, until such time as it can be improved and re-opened.

The question in question

Is there a pan-community reputation service?

I'm working on developing a professional community that links multiple open source software development projects. Each of these projects has its own collaboration mechanism. Like many projects, they use a combination of GitHub, Jira, Stack Overflow for primary collaboration. A mix of forum or newsgroup software is used - anything from Google Groups to mail list managers.

My goal is to encourage cross project contribution and usage. I'd like to provide a consistent profile that lets users show and add to their professional experience. I'm wondering if anyone has seen an identity or profile service that lets users link their profiles from Github, Stack Overflow, LinkedIn, or Jira. More than just being OpenID approach, this would pull data from these profiles to create a reputation and experience dashboard.

Of course, users should have the ability to link, hide, and unlink any profiles they choose.

Has anyone seen such a thing?

I cast a vote to close here because I believed the question stated in the title and re-stated at the end of the body sent a much stronger message about the author's intent than the rest of the body. I had no way of knowing whether the author would be just as happy with a reformulated question, and I suspect that I didn't have much inclination to fix it for them because I read it as trivial

When users don't phrase their titles as questions and don't re-state them at the end, I'm much more confident that they could use some help expressing the "real question" they're trying to communicate, and so I'm much more likely to edit their post when I can see well-scoped, on-topic questions hidden in the body. Here, the opposite is true: I'm relatively confident, because the author took care to properly book-end their problem statement with actual, literal questions, that this formulation is what the author intends.

But let's also talk about the body, because it's interesting. The first paragraph gives context, evinces a real, practical problem, shows some background knowledge/research. Awesome! The second paragraph starts off well—love to see goals explicitly identified, goes back to that "practical problem" element. The first half-and-a-bit of this problem statement is really very good; unfortunately, it makes a complete 180-degree turn here:

I'm wondering if anyone has seen an identity or profile service that...

This is now a shopping recommendation. The rest of the question is a list of features the author wants. It's no secret why we dislike these:

These questions may seem tolerable at first glance. Isn't it our mandate to help our fellow ewoksusers? But consider the voluminous amount of information you need to even begin properly answering a shopping question:

  • What is your budget?
  • Where do you live?
  • What are your preferences?
  • Which alternatives will you consider?
  • When do you want to buy?

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! What’s the point of a bunch of labor intensive questions that provide only temporary benefit to a limited (some might say Too Localized) audience? There isn't any.

Plus, they attract spam. I can't tell you how many questions I've come across (or on how many SE network sites) with a list of answers like, "You can use this to do X, Y, Z." That's not useful and it's certainly not the high-quality Q&A that Stack Exchange intends to provide. Most of them don't tell me anything I couldn't find out by putting "free X Y Z" into Google and half of the links are broken.

Response to specific objections

The author objects:

My question wasn't a shopping question.

Sounds reasonable. The solution is to edit the question to make that clear to users who have the ability to vote to close and re-open questions.

This was a "do I need to go shopping question."

I'm not sure what you mean by this, but as long as someone in the future who has a similar problem will find your question and its answers useful, it should be okay.

I have a different principle for you - why are you trying so hard to fine tune such complicated rules?

That will hopefully become more clear as you become more familiar with the Stack Exchange network and its governance. It's a surprisingly esoteric implementation for such a simple concept: Q&A that leaves useful artifacts to help people solve practical problems. The complexity of the platform comes in all the fine-tuning—the threshold for what constitutes "useful," "practical," even "problem" is constantly changing, and it happens just like this, with arguments made and voted on by communities.

You have another problem with this community - low engagement. Perhaps you should be erring on the side of encouraging good discussion rather than making up additional rules on the fly to justify your overmoderation.

I hope this Meta discussion has shown to your satisfaction that these rules are not arbitrary, insurmountable or set in stone. You have been inconvenienced and perhaps confused but in the end you did improve your question and it was re-opened. Your thoughts about effective ways to conduct the beta and deal with low engagement are more than welcome (in another Meta question, perhaps).

  • 3
    A few comments: 1.) the shopping thing: I think the OP was unfamiliar with the Stack Exchange-specific term 2.) For the intent thing, the self-answer was clearly stating the intent: a shopping questions. Like mentioned before, there's a better written, higher quality question nested inside the current one that needs to be brought out using an edit. Mar 10, 2015 at 0:05
  • Yes, as much as questions are in theory supposed to stand on their own, the self-answer does not help here.
    – Air
    Mar 10, 2015 at 0:50

My question wasn't a shopping question. This was a "do I need to go shopping question."

Granted, its very much my line of work to talk about technology services. "Does a service exist or do I need to build it" is a business discussion in my company, and amongst the customers and people I interact with in my general community.

I have a different principle for you - why are you trying so hard to fine tune such complicated rules?

You have another problem with this community - low engagement. Perhaps you should be erring on the side of encouraging good discussion rather than making up additional rules on the fly to justify your overmoderation.

  • 1
    Regarding your last two paragraphs: that is exactly what this topic is for. Rules didn't change on the fly, but it is soliciting community input regarding moderator actions that were taken. Regarding the first two paragraphs, and the heart of this topic, I'm not sure the intent was conveyed the way you describe here. I didn't read it as a "Does this exist or do I build it" question, but more of a "recommend a service that does this".
    – Andy Mod
    Mar 7, 2015 at 20:09
  • We are not erring on the side of encouraging good discussion because our model is not that of a discussion forum. Stack Exchange explicitly discourages discussion in order to focus on direct, well-scoped, aggresively useful Q&A. Everything that happens on the main site is supposed to be geared toward leaving useful artifacts that will solve specific problems that people search for in the future. Discussion threads are awful to slog through when you need to solve a particular problem—chronologically ordered, full of in-jokes and other incidental cruft, barely if at all curated.
    – Air
    Mar 10, 2015 at 4:06
  • I believe the canonical bit about why the network is designed to have such a strict filter on incoming questions is still Optimizing For Pearls, Not Sand.
    – Air
    Mar 10, 2015 at 4:08
  • Its a beautiful sounding blog around a beautiful metaphor which you can use to justify any view you have about a question "not being good enough". In fact, it seems the writer goes in circles saying we optimize for answers not questions by how we treat questions.
    – Greg Chase
    Mar 10, 2015 at 8:53
  • That being said - I'm willing to agree that "does a technology exist?" might not be a good enough question. Perhaps a better way to ask is "how can I design a platform that fosters XYZ behavior?", such as optimizing for questions and answers than discussions. It's not asking specific vendors rather than how to create an experience.
    – Greg Chase
    Mar 10, 2015 at 8:55
  • 1
    I think that's a great approach, and it helps that reformulating questions in this way never prevents people from suggesting existing tools for the use case. As for the blog post, it's a fair criticism, and there are other examples where you could raise the same objection.
    – Air
    Mar 12, 2015 at 16:58
  • I was thinking a list of components and vendors would work well in the wiki.
    – Greg Chase
    Mar 12, 2015 at 19:04
  • disclaimer for my upvote: I upvote this because I think that your first two paragraphs need to be read. For your last two ones, while I don't have any objection to them, I also don't completely agree.
    – Ooker
    Sep 9, 2015 at 5:53

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