https://music.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic says that 'shopping help' is off-topic. I'm wondering how that came to be.

This seems to be the most relevant question:

Are Shopping List Questions On-Topic?

The highest - rated answer actually gives an example of a 'good' question (for cameras) that seems to be a shopping help question (although, clearly, not a shopping LIST question):

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.

We have a close reason that mentions that questions asking for specific recommendations for equipment (i.e. specific models) are off-topic, and I'm sure that has broad support here. But why does our off-topic list say that 'shopping help' is off-topic? I would imagine a large percentage of equipment-related questions here are asked to help with someone's shopping, whether or not they happen to mention that they're going shopping.

For clarity - this question regards the two words "shopping help".

I'm not so much suggesting that a site policy needs changing as wondering if https://music.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic could be better reflect the policy consensus that meta has come to.

  • Right above that example is the statement: Regarding the last point, questions that ask how to evaluate things are better. Example from the blog . To be clear it's not a shopping list question and in fact it's the question type we encourage instead of shopping questions as you're giving them information on what to look for instead of just saying "pick this".
    – Dom Mod
    Jan 25, 2017 at 0:58
  • @Dom just to be clear, I'm not asking this in direct connection with our recent conversation;I've noticed this a few times recently, for example when I was answering music.stackexchange.com/questions/52104/…. My concern is that "shopping help" is so broad it arguably encompasses a lot of questions of the types we often do answer. My concern is not whether "shopping list" questions are on topic or not. Jan 25, 2017 at 1:40
  • Are looking to gather together posts like this one meta.music.stackexchange.com/questions/2252/… (the first one I found on a search for "recommendation")?
    – Dave
    Jan 25, 2017 at 3:10
  • @topomorto while alone I may agree with you, shopping help is well defined in that section as: shopping help — including product or music search — or buying/selling advice or recommendation. IMO this is pretty clear that we're not here to pick out, recommend products, or appraise/price out equipment for anyone which is what the meta will say over and over again which lead to that bullet point. We can work on wordsmithing if needed and suggestions are always welcome.
    – Dom Mod
    Jan 25, 2017 at 3:28
  • @Dave sorry, I don't quite understand what you mean..? Jan 25, 2017 at 8:43
  • @Dom yes, a little wordsmithing what I think we may need as as I don't feel that 'Including' in English normally has a sense of limiting to the given cases. If that line just said "recommendations for specific equipment", it would agree with out close reason; what would it miss? Jan 25, 2017 at 8:57
  • @topomorto this highlights one of the differences between us -- I'm very literal and you are more willing to apply common sense to the content here. Your literal title question is "What discussions from meta..." so I was trying to clarify that your intention was to try to gather links to related discussions into one place.
    – Dave
    Jan 25, 2017 at 14:29
  • @Dave if there are any, yes - but I'm only interested in those that might reasonably be interpreted as representing a consensus that "shopping help" (or an equivalently broad wording) is off-topic. Insofar as I don't think there are any such questions, you're right that I'm being rhetorical - unless anyone proves me wrong and finds one, of course! Jan 25, 2017 at 19:58
  • I skimmed over your link to "Are Shopping Lists On-Topic", figuring that it was a link to SE-Meta, not Music-Meta. Now having seen that it is a link to our meta, why isn't that sufficient?
    – Dave
    Jan 25, 2017 at 23:33
  • @Dave it doesn't come to a conclusion proscribing "shopping help" as broadly as that would naturally be interpreted. Jan 25, 2017 at 23:41

3 Answers 3


As Dom pointed out, the specific question you mention is not a shopping list question. If is a question asking for objective criteria the OP could use to help make their own decision on purchasing or selecting a product.

These are accepted across the SE network. The challenge is in trying to see whether a question can be tailored that way by the OP, or by another while still providing useful guidance to the OP.

As an example, the recent cajon question. I tried to guide the OP towards asking about criteria, what they wanted, etc., but in that case I think they just wanted to be told what wood was "best" so it was blatantly a shopping recommendation question.

Generally we should try and steer people away from shopping questions, and towards asking about how to choose criteria for selection. It's a bit like the famous quote, "give a man a fish, he can eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he can eat forever" (paraphrased slightly)

Let's teach them how to fish (how to understand what factors they may find useful in selecting) and not give them a fish (tell them this instrument is best)

  • My question asks why shopping HELP, which could cover an incredibly broad swathe of questions, is stated to be off topic. I fully recognize that the example question quoted isn't intended to be a "shopping list" question. Jan 25, 2017 at 8:43
  • I think as Dom mentioned this is simply a terminology piece. Currently we say shopping help is off topic and we still get loads of questions on it, a tiny fraction of which are salvageable. If we said it is on topic, or we're more precise about wording, you can guarantee we would get many more...
    – Doktor Mayhem Mod
    Jan 25, 2017 at 8:44
  • 1
    I think we actually keep quite a few questions that could be said to be 'shopping help' - some do get tweaked, but some aren't even queried to begin with. And then some get put on hold, and my difficulty is that sometimes it can seem that those have been picked on a bit randomly. I don't think that tightening up this wording would encourage many more such questions as I don't think people who ask borderline questions pay that much heed to the on-topic page anyway. I think its main use is as a guide to the group of users on this site who actually do the 'meta' stuff of refining and close-voting Jan 25, 2017 at 9:07
  • ...it's good if the site's experienced users agree on what the rules are. Dom made the point in a recent discussion that if there's too much room for interpretation in a question, it's a sign it needs tidying up. If that's the way we want to go ('clarity' over 'charity'), I reckon we need to make sure our on-topic page is equally tightly-worded, or the confusion over what's on-topic remains even when the questions themselves have been clarified. Jan 25, 2017 at 9:11
  • 2
    That is very true - if the community can clarify the line between shopping recommendations and help with how to shop, then we can get it in the FAQ.
    – Doktor Mayhem Mod
    Jan 25, 2017 at 9:13
  • Also, we know there are questions there that should be shut, but we're missed when they were asked. We do rely on the community to flag them. As you have noticed, if we spot them and unilaterally close, we get shouted at :-(
    – Doktor Mayhem Mod
    Jan 25, 2017 at 9:14
  • There are nearly 10 000 questions on this site now and I don't think mods or anyone else should have to plough through and get them all in a state that agrees with the current policy, especially given that that can change. I'd think it would be more efficient if we could point to a a really clearly-worded on-topic page and say (as I know you often do) 'that's the policy - don't infer it from the list of past questions'. Jan 25, 2017 at 9:24
  • That would be my preferred outcome, yes. And then as ones which don't match are found, they can be flagged and closed.
    – Doktor Mayhem Mod
    Jan 25, 2017 at 9:42
  • @DrMayhem there is no sharp line -- it is community judgment, which will naturally be fraught imprecision: exactly how the question is worded, how quickly a good answer gets in, who sees the question first, the mood of people etc. What gets closed on one day, may be allowed to pass if asked in a few months. That is the nature of this beast. Imagine trying to "clarify the line" between "too broad" and not.
    – Dave
    Jan 25, 2017 at 14:12
  • 2
    @topomorto the idea that shopping questions are off topic does not mandate that we must always promptly close any question that helps someone make a purchase. My experience is that, in the context of SE's, "shopping questions" are a more specific category of questions: person is thinking about buying something, person wants other people's impressions/views on the pros/cons of different choices. A situation where the answers could be "Buy X for reasons...", "Buy Y for reasons..." and then the votes would be a popularity contest between these options ...
    – Dave
    Jan 25, 2017 at 14:18
  • 2
    you can get this feedback from any number of other music/equipment boards, and it does not closely match the original design concept of SEs.
    – Dave
    Jan 25, 2017 at 14:19
  • @topomorto I interpret the close reasons as sufficient conditions -- if I note that a Q is, say too broad in my opinion, I can use that reason to justify closing it, but not a requirement to close it. This can happen if I think that leaving it open will make the site, and the internet as a whole, a better place meta.stackexchange.com/questions/124576/…
    – Dave
    Jan 25, 2017 at 14:24
  • @Dave of course you are right that there will be a variety of reasons why questions get received the way we do. Nevertheless, I think it's user-friendly if we can make things as clear as we can. At the moment, to me, the on-topic page seems out of sync with the meta (and, correspondingly, the actual feelings of people on the site). Jan 25, 2017 at 20:05
  • @Dave I also agree that if a question comes in that's clearly 'technically' off topic and yet is well received, that's not necessarily an enormous problem (although it might be a little confusing). What is potentially a bigger problem is when a question comes in and it's not clear whether it's technically on-topic or not; if such a question is closed, it can seem that the user (or at least the question) is being randomly or unfairly picked on. Jan 25, 2017 at 20:09
  • @Dave what other stacks do is always interesting but It's up to each community to decide what it wants to do within the technical infrastructure SE provides and this question is aimed at clarifying what this community has actually decided. Jan 25, 2017 at 20:14

Are Shopping List Questions On-Topic?, which you've already found, is probably the key one for this site. Note that the camera example there is taken from the QA is Hard Let's Go Shopping SE Meta post.

Note that you are not the first person to observe an apparent knee-jerk reaction to this topic.

Also check out the edit history on this question, referenced from this meta, where relatively modest changes in content and emphasis turned "what should I buy" into a substantiative question about the different kinds of DI boxes and how they'd apply to the guitarist's specific problem.

I could go further into my search on meta with the keyword "shopping" (I've already skipped some content on the nuances of questions dealing with shopping for for books or software) or do a search on, say, "recommendation" to find additional related content, like this one, but the few I've found so far should give you a sense of the discussions that have already transpired here.


Neither Dave (thanks for looking!) nor I found a meta question that explicitly indicated "shopping help" (in those words, or any equivalently broad term) should be considered off-topic.

It's understood that particular types of shopping help questions are off-topic, but I feel the current wording...

shopping help — including product or music search — or buying/selling advice or recommendations

Could easily give the impression that all questions soliciting any help with shopping are off-topic.

Could we perhaps simply remove that catch-all term, so that it simply states

product or music search, buying/selling advice or recommendations for specific equipment

(including the 'recommendations for specific equipment' phrasing to agree with the close reason?)

Or does anyone have other suggestions?

Some might think that I'm taking it a bit literally. But given the mix of cultures and English language abilities we have here, and the general enthusiasm for clear language, it would seem good if our on-topic page was as clear as possible.

  • Downvote explanations always particularly welcome on meta.... Jan 27, 2017 at 8:47

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