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This is a common issue for most stackexchange sites, and it is already rearing its head here.

Should we allow questions that ask for recommendations, such as "what breed of dog is good for x?" or "what's a good brand of dietary cat food?"?

If we do allow such questions, what are our requirements? I would strongly suggest that we have fairly well-defined guidelines for what we allow (or don't allow).

  • Setting up well-defined guidelines is always good if we set then sooner. – Ankit Sharma Oct 9 '13 at 17:19
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I think asking some of these questions are valid, but ideally it has to be reasonably specific and answerable with facts. For example, I might ask if a house rabbit is a suitable pet for a small child and that's a little vague and opinion oriented, but asking what concerns or risks there might be in getting a house rabbit for a small child is easier to answer (e.g. rabbit kicks can be extremely hard) or at least better phrased. Specific breed questions might be good too, especially with dogs as some breeds may be more suitable or not to purpose.

Also, I think we're going to see, and probably want, to have some questions that might ask if there is a product to help solve a particular situation. For example, someone might want to know if there's a litter additive that would encourage litterbox usage of misbehaving cats. I think that question is going to have a reasonable shelf life and general use to the public.

  • The litterbox example could be asked "how do I encourage my cat to use the litterbox" and it wouldn't even fall in the definition of a shopping question. – Baarn Oct 9 '13 at 18:18
  • It was a recent situation for me, so it kind of came to mind... – John Cavan Oct 9 '13 at 18:20
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    I know it was just an example. My point was that most shopping questions can be changed into similar (better) question making possible alternatives valid answers. – Baarn Oct 9 '13 at 18:23
  • Fair point, this is true. I did that with my first example after all. :) – John Cavan Oct 9 '13 at 18:27
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    Generally a prohibition against shopping recommendations is meant to cut off questions like "what is your favorite brand of cat litter?" But if the users is searching for something that happens to solve a very specific problem, asking if a product exists that can do {X} is generally okay. It would generally have to be a pretty specific search though, not a broad-based general recommendation. – Robert Cartaino Oct 9 '13 at 19:55
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    "What should I be considering when I choose an X" is, in my experience, a fairly standard SE fix for shopping questions. Don't ask what to get; ask what influences the decision. That's answerable and not a list question. – Monica Cellio Oct 9 '13 at 20:01
6

Questions asking for a recommendation are okay, if they are:

  • Specific
  • Are looking for a solution to a actual problem
  • Are relatively timeless

Specific means providing enough details to ensure that it is clear exactly what the criteria are, and that answers are more likely to involve, at most, a handful of suggestions, rather than dozens.

An example of specific might be: "I'm looking for a breed of dog that is small enough for my wife to easily carry it, does not shed a lot, is unlikely to be a problem barker, handles warm weather well (we live on the equator), is good with kids, and likes to play".

An example of not specific enough would be: "What's a good dog for hunting?" (what are you hunting? Where are you hunting? Are you looking for a pointer? A retriever? Etc.).

A Problem means that you are trying to accomplish something, and are looking for a solution. Note that "I can't decide" or "I haven't done any basic research" aren't valid problems (see "specific" above).

As an example, "My cat tends to stand when she urinates, instead of squatting. We have covered litter boxes, but it still leaks out of the seam between the cover and the bottom. Is there a good type or brand of litter box that will prevent such leakage?" defines a very clear problem (cat pee on the floor).

Whereas "I don't like my litter box. I'd like suggestions on what everyone's favorite litter box is, and why." does not identify a real problem to be solved.

Finally, Timeless means that the recommendations won't become outdated when a better product is released next year, or when the new start-up company selling Brand X folds in six months. This one is a bit harder to define, but I also think it is less likely to be an issue for this community.

If the answer is likely to be a product or service that is likely not to be valid in a year, then it is off-topic. For example, "I want to dress my dog up like [character x from recent release movie y]. Are there any good costumes like that available that will fit a dachshund? " would probably be off-topic because 2 years from now, few people may be looking for that costume, as the character will no longer be popular, and places that are selling it now may no longer be selling it then as a result.

  • I have removed my upvote on this answer. I believe the community consensus has changed, an example here made strong attempt to get a question like this to be in scope, it was voted closed by the community. There are some early examples of pet shopping questions, but the community is no longer accepting them. – James Jenkins Nov 18 '14 at 20:19
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Product Recommendations:

I think that in most cases, rather than asking for a product, people should ask for a solution. Instead of asking for the best cleaner to get rid of cat urine, the question should be how to clean cat urine. That way, people can suggest the products they like organically, with instructions to use the product, rather than just having a poll of people's favorite brands. In some cases, it also could benefit better where someone could be prompted to share home remedies/recipes.

Pet Recommendations:

I've already shared my opinion of pet-recommendation questions in this question but in short, I think that pet recommendation questions are off-topic.

To summarize:

These questions are too broad:

There are only two factors that limit what animals can be owned as pets.

  1. The animal ownership laws in the region where the person looking for a pet lives.
  2. The motivation of the person wanting to own an animal.

There is nothing that can be done with our format that will allow us to give accurate recommendations for specific animals, and recommending species is a gross disservice to everyone involved.

These questions are too opinionated:

One important signal that shows when a question is opinionated is when the answers are subjective to the answer's experience. In order to build content that lasts, it's important to stick to objective questions and answers. Ones that can be verified by multiple people.

At best, people will suggest only the animals that they own, or have experience with. Which means the suggestions will only be limited to a select few animals depending on who answers their question.

At worst, people suggest animals they don't have experience with and it lowers the quality of the answers on the site driving potential users away.

These questions are too localized:

In the end there is only one person that can select the correct answer in pet-recommendation questions, and that is the person asking for the recommendation. We can suggest any animal we want, but the actual choice is up to them.

This goes against everything else on the site, probably even the network. The entire point of having the voting system is so that users on the site can sort questions to have the best answer on the top. If we have no way of objective selecting a correct answer, then no one coming to the question through a google search will be able to make any use from the answers.

In the end, asking for pet-recommendations is not much different than asking what programming language to use, or what kind of cake to bake, it doesn't really matter to anyone but the person asking the question.

-2

One of the reasons why Shopping questions in general were made off-topic on some of the technology sites is they get out-dated quickly, however, in our scope, pets haven't changed much and the breeds/species don't change at all. Sure there are some new breeds that pop up, mostly mixes that eventually are recognized as a separate breed, but that is a slow process. A German Shepard now is effectively the same as a German Shepard will be in 10 years, and as it was 10 years ago.

So, let's go back to Jeff's original blogs on the topic Q&A is Hard; Let's go Shopping and Gorilla vs Shark

So what should be discouraged is "Shopping Lists" and vague comparisons.

Here's some examples borrowing from our site's scope:

  • "Is X-brand food better than Y"? -> Off-topic (Gorilla vs Shark)
  • "What kind of food should I feed my cat?" -> Off-topic (Shopping List)
  • "What breed of dog should we get for our family pet" -> Off-topic (Shopping List)
  • "Is a Labrador Retriever better for my family than a Rottweiler" -> Off-topic (Gorilla vs Shark)

However, "Shopping" questions that ask for specific, objective comparisons and offer concrete criteria should be allowed.

-3

I´m ok with shopping questions about pets, comparisons among pets, etc.

  1. Sometimes a question is about a specific problem, that has a very specific solution: you just need to buy, borrow or steal product X. And having to answer it without mentioning the product will be harder than necessary.

  2. Sometimes a question is about "is X dog better than Y dog, when related to blablabla aspect". You can compare things about some aspect, and conclude they are equal, or one of them is better.

  3. Shopping questions are also useful. "Which product can I use in my aquarium to prevent algae from growing?". Spam answers should be deleted, but that doesn't mean we can´t have a good, with references, answer, like "You could buy YYYY because it has alien DNA on it that will reduce the amount of O2 in the water and kill all the algae".

  • 2
    Point 2 seems to be opinion oriented type questions that are more likely to lead to debate I think. – John Cavan Oct 9 '13 at 19:00
  • President Obama need a dog with hypoallergenic characteristic. "Is Portuguese Water Dog better than a German Shepherd for a allergic child?" is the example of point 2, and I think it should be on-topic. – woliveirajr Oct 9 '13 at 19:17
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    That's probably okay, but it's a fine line I think. I would hesitate to use terms like "better" as that often leads to the opinion/debate issue. Terms like "more suitable" don't create that contention in my experience. – John Cavan Oct 9 '13 at 19:28
  • Hum, I agree with you on that point. That´ll be be a matter on "how good is your english to use more suitable words that won't lead to debate", and it´s not my case... :) – woliveirajr Oct 9 '13 at 19:41
  • What's wrong with opinion/debate? We're not talking about rocket science here. There could be many correct answers to most specific questions, but what matters is whether the original author agrees with it or not. For example, take this one: pets.stackexchange.com/questions/7165/… It's a specific question, if not very detailed (but details are unnecessary here). And there's a correct answer. The problem (or rather my argument) is, it's not the only correct answer. I can think of at least 5 more opinions without really trying, and all of them would -- – Kaworu Jan 5 '15 at 7:46
  • be correct. What matters here is that the author agreed with the first answer, and that's fine, but if someone else wanted to debate, what would happen? In my opinion, nothing bad. – Kaworu Jan 5 '15 at 7:48

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