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There have been some questions lately asking about particular features of particular pieces of equipment, or comparing specific features of two specific options. These questions seem to be drawing close votes from users who think they're shopping questions and must be closed solely because the asker doesn't yet own the equipment in question. I'd like the community to set some guidelines on just how strict we are or are not going to be on questions where the asker doesn't own the equipment being asked about. I will be providing my opinion as an answer, but remember that moderators enforce policy, we don't decide it, so if you have thoughts of your own, please do share them.

The two most recent examples that prompted this post

Chacos: Toe strap or no toe strap?
Maxpedition Condor 2 unresolved questions

Oddly, this question did not receive any close votes despite being much more of a shopping question than the above two, both of which were closed by the community.

  • I appreciate this discussion, also (but not only) because I am one of the users involved in the close discussion about the second question. My main reason was the specificy (two concrete backpack models compared in a number of very special features) and the short-live character of this question. If the community now decides different, I will follow that. But I still think it´s somehow contradictory... – Paul Paulsen Jun 24 '14 at 15:47
  • Thanks for the question, I had the same and am still very unsure. I second your opinion about this question (outdoors.stackexchange.com/q/5794/2653) and voted for a close. Regarding the "Maxpedition Condor 2" question (outdoors.stackexchange.com/q/5741/2653) I understand the community that my call for closing the topic wasn't proper. Still what do you think about outdoors.stackexchange.com/q/3223/2653 ? Should we change it to pros/cons of climbing insurances in general or could we even re-open the topic as it stands? For me it's pretty tough to decide these questions. – Wills Jul 9 '14 at 19:40
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I think people have been overzealous lately in closing as a shopping question any question one might ask while considering what to buy. Robert Cartaino, Director of Community Development here at Stack Exchange even expressed concern about this recently:

Oh goodness, folks. I'm not sure asking very specific questions about the capabilities of an outdoor product is anything like the "shopping recommendation" concerns discussed in this post: Q&A is hard. Let's go shopping. It's your call, but this seems like a very unfortunate turn for this site. This is exactly the type of question I might have asked about my gear, and the type of deeper gear discussions that would be the mainstay of any decent "Outdoors" site.

The reasons that shopping recommendations (note, recommendations, not everything to do with shopping) were barred on the Trilogy in the first place boil down to the following

  • They are open-ended
  • They invite spam
  • They will be "utterly obsolete within a year."

A question about specific features on specific equipment is generally not (excessively) open-ended and certainly does not invite spam. And outdoors gear has a much, much longer useful life than the computer hardware this policy was aimed at, which will be halfway to obsolescence by the time it arrives at your door.

In fact, the blog post announcing shopping recommendations as off-topic goes on to explain that not all shopping questions are bad, and suggests instead of directly asking "what should I buy," one should ask more along the lines of "what features should I pay attention to." Asking this question gives enough objective information to make a decision oneself.

I think Kate Gregory sums it up nicely on a related MSE post:

The key to a shopping question is that it asks others "please make a subjective decision for me and explain it" or "please list all my possibilities with their strengths and weaknesses".

So unless someone is asking for us to make a decision for them, or are otherwise excessively list-eliciting or opinion based, "shopping questions" should not just be reflexively closed.

Suggested reading:

Why are shopping list questions bad?
Q&A is Hard, Let’s Go Shopping!

  • Nicely put! Very subtle.. – WedaPashi Jun 18 '14 at 14:16
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To pick on one of the above examples....

I don't understand how this question is not primarily opinion based?

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.

This is completely dependent on your preferences and foot size, no? You are likely to (and I think you do) end up with people saying, I like them, No, I don't, but I do, etc. I fail to understand how this helps as a resource on Chacos?

Thoughts welcome... :)

  • I also appreciate I'm a little late on the take up of this... – Liam Jul 2 '14 at 12:26
  • The website is about creating meaningful content; the rules are to help shape that content. In my opinion, people are too zealous about rules which do not apply well to TGO content. People are looking for balanced and reasonable opinions. TGO should serve as a better way to organize these useful informations than say a forum. Common sense first, rules second. Some of those rules are legacy from stackoverflow for which it is much easier to stay in the realm of scientific facts. They often do not apply in a useful way for TGO questions. – ppl Jul 9 '14 at 4:49
  • 2
    As for the question, I believe it is best to ask yourself; does it contribute valuable information to the users? instead of does it aby by the canned website rules. I believe it does provide value to the users. The answers provide knowledge, experience and common wisdom which I wished I had available when I was contemplating trying this type of footwear for hiking. – ppl Jul 9 '14 at 4:55
  • but if you just get 3 opinions all conflicting, how does that help? Which one is valid to you and which one isn't. The point of closing as opinion based is to prevent questions that add zero value. TGO does not have the exposure of SO (it's not bombarded by thousands of bad questions a day) but it does not make it immune to the principles of all SE sites. For me, multiple opinions belong on a forum. This is a Q&A site. – Liam Jul 9 '14 at 8:35
  • It helps because you have the community applying their judgement to those answers. Why would there not be different principles for a stack about computer science, religion or philosophy? It is a question and answer website indeed; and those are questions, and answers. – ppl Jul 9 '14 at 13:53
  • So are you saying that primarily opinion based should not be a close reason? Because as it stands that question perfectly matches the description in this close reason. Could be interesting to start a separate discussion on that? – Liam Jul 9 '14 at 13:57
  • My personal opinion; it should seldom be closed for that reason; it is a nonconstructive reason to close an answer to the detriment of losing valuable content for TGO. Otherwise, for me as a backpacker, I do not see much value in TGO. I agree that a separate discussion may be better suited. – ppl Jul 9 '14 at 14:06
  • Feel free to add you 10p @ppl here – Liam Jul 9 '14 at 14:31

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