We've had the discussion about what is on-/offtopic in chat and different other channels often enough. And we know one thing for sure: Plugin/Theme recommendations are (almost mostly) »shopping questions«. They add exactly no value to the site.

So let's make an update to our FAQ and get rid of the following line.

choice of themes and plugins

- filed under: "What kind of questions can I ask here?"

I thought about replacing it with something, but - to be honest - it's impossible to search through and and finding something actually useful or worth to mention.

As last note: If we decide that we get this out of our FAQ, we also need to know what to do with all those questions under those tags as well as those filed under . We currently got 478 questions for plugins, 24 for themes and 14 for hosting.

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Seems an eminently sensible proposal to me. –  Andrew Sep 22 '12 at 9:41
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I don't think it necessary to add a new question on meta for it, but still an issue worth discussing: What about the plugin-recommendation tag? Currently 479 questions are tagged with it. On the one hand, it is a valid tag, since it used to be within the scope of WPSE and most of those 479 questions were asked before the update to the FAQ/scope. However, its existence doesn't exactly discourage new users that might not have read the FAQ from asking such a question. I'd wonder why my question was closed, if I tagged it with a tag that has 479 questions. –  Johannes Pille Nov 29 '12 at 1:15
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13 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Today I made the change to our FAQ.

From now on choose off topic as close reason for these questions.

Update

If you came here after your question has been closed:

  • Rewrite the question to get it reopened. Ask for a code solution, add your own attempts to do that.
  • Try to write code for yourself, when you get stuck, ask a question about that specific problem.
  • If you really don’t want to write code and need just a link: Sorry. Maybe you have more luck in the wordpress.org forum.
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Yay! Glad this has finally been done –  Brady Oct 1 '12 at 18:05
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I agree. The answers to these questions are rarely more than link lists (and too soon out of date).

How to handle old questions: Let them stay as they are. We can close or protect them, but they should not steal more of our time.

And I don't want to see hundreds of flags against those old questions. :) Use close votes or make some rep instead.

Addendum: Book recommendations are shopping questions too. Yes, free books included.

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+1 My personal opinion on "protect vs. close" is to take "protect". I think they're responsible for a larger part of traffic coming to our site, so I wouldn't close them. –  kaiser Sep 21 '12 at 11:54
    
+1 also prefer protect over close. Then let the community decide to close questions over time, as @Brady suggests. –  marfarma Sep 21 '12 at 14:22
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@kaiser Closed is not deleted. If we want to avoid more link rot closing is the only option. Protecting a question does not disable new answers. –  toscho Sep 21 '12 at 14:50
    
Ah ok. Didn't know that one. Thanks and agreed. –  kaiser Sep 21 '12 at 15:11
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enter image description here

Also agree on hosting recommendations, it is incredibly opinionated and susceptible to bad info.

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The button doesn't work? –  userabuser Sep 21 '12 at 16:18
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sigh ... "YUUUP!" is Czech and means "disabled". –  kaiser Sep 23 '12 at 1:58
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Personally I would like to see the FAQ get changed to make plugin/theme recommendations off topic.

Regarding old questions, well that is down to the community to deal with. If those type of question are made off topic by a change of the FAQ then the community members can vote to close those questions as off topic. This should be done as a when community members come across such questions.

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I really like the answer to a similar issue on webmasters meta about hosting recommendation questions.

My proposal is to create one question titled, "How to find web hosting that meets my requirements" and use it as a reference for all questions seeking hosting. (Those questions get closed as a duplicate of this question). This question should:

  • be community wiki
  • start off being protected to stave off most spammers
  • not specifically recommend any hosting providers
  • give tips on determining a site's needs before searching for hosting
  • general advice from users (as answers)

And Jeff's citing of this perfect example of such a question:

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/01/the-wikipedia-of-long-tail-programming-questions/

I think this could be applied to theme and plugin recommendations as well.

We actually already have some of these "Wikipedia of Longtail Programming recommendation Questions"

And even a hosting one

So I agree that the FAQ should be updated and new questions get closed but no reason to go flagging and closing old questions.

**Note: I retagged the questions I just linked to above.

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I don't feel theme and plugin recommendations are analogous to hosting. There aren't many variation to hosting (hardware, software, support). There is multitude of variations to theme (intended use, style, framework, features, options, etc) and for plugins it is essentially limitless. Out of your examples hosting one is actually best of how to ask question without it being shopping. Others I don't quite like (yes, I know I asked frameworks one :) it was a different time). –  Rarst Sep 22 '12 at 16:39
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It's true that newbie's sometimes suffer from a happy down vote trigger finger by veteran members but nevertheless to the subject of pluging's & themes questions…

I couldn’t agree more!
Most questions regarding plugin's & themes (in my opinion) are mostly too narrow and unbeneficial to must users and in some cases were crated just to advertise a plugin / theme…

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unbeneficial to must users I doubt a person trying to solve their immediate problem cares about potentially providing value to other people in the future. ◔_◔ –  Synetech Apr 5 '13 at 18:49
    
true... but, since its a community is should target most users... i hope users search for some specific line of code for a specific project would find help with the plugin creator. nevertheless your right - its a tricky one. –  Sagive SEO Apr 6 '13 at 4:56
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since its a community is should target most users I don’t see why. By that argument, the same would go for everything, including message boards. If nobody bothered to help anyone with any problems that are not “sufficiently universal”, then nobody would ever get help for anything or bother to solve any problems except the most widespread. The support departments of most companies already behave like that and people hate it. If it’s unacceptable for a company to ignore any problems that don’t impact a large enough number of people, why would it be okay for individual volunteers? –  Synetech Apr 6 '13 at 17:21
    
there is a lot of truth in that... nevertheless. trying to help someone with a specific change to a plugin or a theme is not only sometimes a onetime deal which would not help anyone else but also very hard to do since you need install that theme or that plugin to assist. I know ideally everyone should find the help they need but i personally i am not going to install that plugin / Theme on my local server so i guess (for me) it all depends on how good the question is... Meaning how descriptive is it. –  Sagive SEO Apr 7 '13 at 2:58
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I can only agree with the proposal (and extending it to hosting too)

If someone needs a specific plugin and LMGTFY hasn't given them the right answer, then developing their own one is an option. At which point this forum is here to help.

Likewise, there are lots of hosting providers out there - and I'm sure you could find someone who has had a bad experience with pretty much every one of them, no matter how good they are.

Therefore recommendations do not fit into the Q&A nature of the site.

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I actually came to stackexchange today to do this very thing. (-blush!-) I'll just to add my two cents to this conversation.

SO I've just spent the last half hour looking for a specific type of solution. Google gave me the top 10 possible matches but there was nothing that met my niche request. I'm not saying that this is the place to ask such a question, but it definitely a one up over google's search, because here I am able to work with real people, not search algorithms. Spammy suggestions by people just looking to promote their own products are not going to get my up vote.

If I can't find a plugin solution for my specific need, this very well could then become a development question. Perhaps this isn't the place though for making recommendations. Perhaps I should start my own website for wordpress plugin recommendations.

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Recommendation questions are self-promotion magnets. You have no idea how much time it takes to clean this up each day. And even the better answers suffer from link rot. There is just no long time value for a community. –  toscho Sep 21 '12 at 23:34
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Yeah, I can see that being the case. Not having to be on the maintenance side of the issue, I don't know what happens on a daily basis. I love stackexchange, and would hate to see it get over run by spam and self promotion. –  Brent Sep 23 '12 at 3:58
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I also agree to the proposal 'Update our FAQ and abandon theme/plugin recommendations'; particular theme recommendations are too personal and open to discussions or even financial interests - web search and the WordPress theme tag filter should enable anybody to find a suitable theme.

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Can I be the 'Devils Advocate' (Damien is my name haha) and share a different opinion here ...

Can we get some stats on the types of questions Newbies ask? In 'my' real life I deal with customer experience and engaging new customers.

So, I would bet a 'drink' that most newbies ask 'shopping questions' ... lets assume 80% ask shopping questions. Can moderators or someone dig out these stats?

If we also assume that these 80% followed a link from Google .. and then they bothered to Register so they ask a shopping question.

So who is being the Troll if we say most newbie questions are not welcome here? All new babies have to learn from mistakes .. so it would be better to help new members to learn to use WPSE.

I also think the stat is still true (was it Seth or ?? someone else) that 1 in 99 social media users become active users. Let's try to not reject 100% of new members?

What was your first question or first answer?

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It's not "newbie" questions, it's questions that are based on opinion that don't work well. WPSE is a fact/example and experience based site because that is what adds value. –  Wyck Sep 21 '12 at 17:14
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Just some question titles from our new 1 rep users from the front-page: "Trackbacks not displaying", "Predefine magazine style layouts", "cross-site custom menu", "Is it possible to send blog posts via email to subscribers?", "Different side menu on each page", ... I guess it's not fact that 80% of new users ask shopping questions. In fact most of them are from users between 100 - 500 rep points (from what I've seen). –  kaiser Sep 21 '12 at 17:17
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There are plenty of newbie question categories that already aren't welcome (generic HTML/PHP/etc). If this argument is reversed - porn is popular online so let's add porn to scope and attract a lot of people. Simply put we are refining scope to maximize capture of useful knowledge. It's related but not quite directly to user counts and less so to very novice users. PS my first question was about troubleshooting XML parser errors in WP feed processing :P –  Rarst Sep 21 '12 at 17:18
    
I guess im saying that a bit of analytic data would better inform the change. And @kaiser are shopping questions asked by newer WPSE users or people who have been members for sometime ... for example I could get 100 points bonus from another SE account. Final thought, Android SE, Project SE, are full of shopping questions (best app, best phone, best project app). So would WPSE be doing something 'inconsistent' to the other SE? Maybe we could ignore shopping questions and leave them for others to answer? –  Damien Sep 21 '12 at 17:28
    
See the linked posts on network's position on shopping question. The question can be asked in different ways and only those that minimize quality of response and maximize "work for me for free" impression are really what passes as shopping. There are ways to ask same things in better ways that no one has issue with. –  Rarst Sep 21 '12 at 17:34
    
@Rarst I agree on the 'work for me for free' point .. It frustrates me that people will make the effort to join but dont bother to search google (or even WP.org) –  Damien Sep 21 '12 at 17:38
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I can assure that most "New Community Users" don't ask shopping questions. They ask questions that can be answered by a bot. Trust me, I just started moderating on .org and I answer 20 questions a day with standard replies programmed into text expander. WPSE is not a support forum. –  Chris_O Sep 22 '12 at 13:14
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It seems the only questions welcome here are extremely narrow ones. Nothing subjective. One kind of thinking allowed only. advanced-search-form-with-filters-for-custom-taxonomies-and-custom-fields (for example) = good. The business of wordpress theming or how to work html5 into a theme template = bad (I didn't see what was wrong there). Seems only certain "approved" kinds of discussions are allowed. I have rarely gotten help here and usually am insulted. People hang out in order to close and leave snarky replies to what appear to be honest questions. Looks like a troll, quacks like a troll... –  Sinthia V Sep 25 '12 at 22:42
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@SinthiaV There are various other forums that are targeted specifically to HTML5/JS/CSS/PHP/Servers. Plugin recommendations are typically questions because someone hasn't done their research. I find plugins that work because I test out a number of them. If we let presentational questions in that 'pertain' to WP only because that's the CMS, then this forum would be entirely diluted with CSS/HTML5/JS questions. People who try to find answers specifically about WP would not be able to do so. Typically answers out-of-scope here can be asked at wordpress.org or other various forums. –  Brian Fegter Sep 27 '12 at 10:04
    
@SinthiaV To discuss things, we're starting the WPSE blog. There we can target all those opinions and discussions. And as long as a question is JS/PHP/HTML related, then it's better off at SO. At least that's what SO was built for. –  kaiser Oct 2 '12 at 12:31
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Plugins are a huge part of the WP ecosystem

I came here exactly after posting a plugin-related question, after searching quite a bit for it and trying some plugins that didn't fit my case, so I'm possibly a bit biased.

As I understand from this thread, a lot of plugin related questions don't add value and are asked by lazy noobs? Though, I think it's nothing to be argued, plugins are a huge part of the WP ecosystem. I think there are plenty of plugin related questions that are not easy to answer, require know-how about quirks, plugin compatibility, quick fix for plugins that haven't been addressed by their makers that make valuable information.

Just because it's difficult to deal with some categories of enquiries I'd say it's not fair to remove it all together just because of the extra work (It's true I don't have to deal with that so again, both takes are a bit biased). In the worst case maybe there's a need for a wp-plugin.stackexchange website. But I'd rather still have it all here.

I urge you to have a quick look over at Quora, where the 'meta people' think it's ok to ask questions which could be easily answered by way of Google.

Thanks for listening :)

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"(...) quick fix for plugins that haven't been addressed by their makers(...)" -- There're still ways to get around that: Figure out why a plugin doesn't work. Then come to the WPSE main site and show the problematic parts (see: "research effort"). People will like to help you. Then you can go and try to get the author to fix this part or even overtake the development of the plugin. –  kaiser Oct 5 '12 at 14:17
    
Difficulty was not the point. The amount of low quality answers and dead links was what lead us to this decision. –  toscho Oct 5 '12 at 16:20
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On Pro Webmasters there is a tag looking-for-a-script http://webmasters.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/looking-for-a-script

It's description is

"This tag is used when someone is looking for a script that has certain features."

If it's acceptable on pro webmasters for people to ask for scripts with specific features, what is the difference if someone asks about a plugin with specific features?

As for what to do with questions tagged hosting-recommendation i'd migrate those to pro webmasters even if they are WP specific. There's a lot more chat about hosting over there.

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I'd say that if recommendations make good questions is quite topic specific. That's why stacks are deciding this individually. For example I think Arqade (ex gaming) allowed game recommendations questions at start but made them off topic down the road. That is probably why this is not part of network-wide policy and something communities work out on their own. –  Rarst Oct 15 '12 at 17:44
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They add exactly no value to the site.

I see many people tow the company line and agree with the popular answer for whatever reason, but I couldn’t disagree more.

What do you think this whole site is about? Getting help with WordPress! If someone is trying to do something with WordPress, how in the universe would finding out if a plugin that can help accomplish that goal be off topic?

Moreover, when someone Googles for how to XXXX with WordPress and comes across a question here where a plugin is indicated as a solution to a problem, how is that not useful adding value?

(For the record, I am patently opposed to filtering questions such that they “benefit the site” in the first place. The whole point of users asking questions is to get help with their problems, not to build a repository of information for the SE owners for free. If you want that, then do it yourself or hire people to do it; don’t pretend it’s a place for users to get help with their issues.)

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You know what is curious? In no place where site describes itself (about,faq) the word "help" is actually mentioned as a goal. This is not a support site, this is QA site. And yes - it is building information repo. Yes, for SE owners. And for everyone else who wants it, under nice Creative Commons license. That's how things are. It's not a pretense, it's you wanting site&network to be something they weren't created to be. –  Rarst Oct 25 '12 at 17:21
    
PS Behave. –  Rarst Oct 25 '12 at 17:23
    
Our site is not made to help anyone with any problem related to WordPress. Syntax errors, bare opinions and link collections are off topic. About the “repository of information for the SE owners”: scroll down, read the license and then stackexchange.com/about. :) –  toscho Oct 25 '12 at 17:24
    
@Rarst, disagreeing is “misbehaving”? That’s exactly the sort of attitude that drives people away. –  Synetech Oct 25 '12 at 17:31
    
Calling other people sheep for disagreeing with you is. –  Rarst Oct 25 '12 at 17:35
    
@toscho, fine-print. You can’t make an interface and advertise a site that gives one sense, then put some contradictory stuff in a page somewhere with a link buried in a long page that you know nobody is going to read. This is no different than EULA fine-print that everybody knows is B.S. Do you really think that when people come across SE sites that they think, oh hey, here’s site I can contribute all of my knowledge to for no compensation or oh, hey, here’s a site where I can ask a question to get help instead of one of the many forums on the Internet? –  Synetech Oct 25 '12 at 17:35
    
@Rarst, ok. Unfortunately you can’t edit comments for more than five minutes otherwise I would have removed the sheep part of it and left the rest of the sentiment. –  Synetech Oct 25 '12 at 17:36
    
There is no contradiction: our FAQ, the about page and almost every single thread tell you how our community works. –  toscho Oct 25 '12 at 17:39
    
You keep trying to make a point that SE is somehow misleading, but I don't see how it applies to sites with participation that is (1) voluntary, (2) free, (3) with results put under open license. No one makes anyone participate. And no one owes things like help and support to anyone either. –  Rarst Oct 25 '12 at 17:46
    
@toscho, yes, I’m quite familiar with how it works, I’ve been with SO for some time. Have you actually looked at the FAQ? It says nothing about crowd-sourcing information for free, but it does give the impression that users can ask questions to get help with their problems. –  Synetech Oct 25 '12 at 17:48
    
Not any questions: The scope is defined first. And the free access is just obvious. I really don’t see your problem. –  toscho Oct 25 '12 at 17:51
    
@Rarst, the site gives the impression that the site is a place to get help. Go ahead and do a focus group if you don’t believe me. Show the site to any number of people who are not familiar with it (and even many people who are), and ask them what it’s purpose is. I guarantee that most of them will say it’s site where you can ask questions related to the topic to get help (like EE, YA, Q, etc.) as opposed to a site to crowd-source information. –  Synetech Oct 25 '12 at 17:51
    
@toscho, no not any questions, but obviously related questions. I don’t see how you fail to understand that asking questions about WordPress in which a plugin is indicated as the solution is not off topic. That’s like saying a doctor mentioning some specific brand of cough-syrup is off topic even if it happens to be the best solution. –  Synetech Oct 25 '12 at 17:52
    
Asking for plugin recommendations only is off topic. That’s the whole point of this update. Sometimes a plugin is the proper solution for a problem – and that is still allowed. But we prefer real solutions written down on our site, not just links. –  toscho Oct 25 '12 at 17:56
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So some people would get wrong impression. And? The great harm in that is? –  Rarst Oct 25 '12 at 18:03
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