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We've seen more tool recommendation questions lately, and some of these questions have received some really great answers.

Despite what I thought was a consensus in meta, these tool recommendations rarely get close votes by the time I see them. So I read them and re-read them again to determine if this is something that I should take unilateral mod action on. If I'm in doubt, I instead try to encourage the asker to make some changes to the post to make it look like a better Q&A piece, since it seems like that's the direction the community would rather head.

Now, if we get a great answer on one of these questions, I've been trying not to let spam or low quality answers detract from any gems or force our hand in closing the entire post. Many questions can, and have, been saved by having a really great answer posted on it. This is one area where I haven't been afraid to more heavily moderate answers that are spam or just barely a link with no explanation or affiliation disclosure.

So, since we're not closing these, I thought I'd restart the discussion on tool questions. In general, a question with no context should simply be closed as not constructive, but if someone takes the time to clearly describe the problem they hope the tool will solve, are we as a community okay with keeping these open and instead making sure the answers fully address the problem?

Personally, I think we should keep the "tool recommendations are off-topic" clause in the FAQ because I think it has helped make people think more about their problem before posting, but I'm interested to hear everyone's thoughts.

  • I was about to answer based on my opinion on the whole pm-software, but noticed you narrowed down to only software recommendation questions... so I'll wait some community feedback before putting here my opinion :) – Tiago Cardoso Dec 10 '12 at 13:10
  • @TiagoCardoso - pm-software kind of falls into this category. Maybe the tag should be split up and broken down into more finite categories. – jmort253 Dec 11 '12 at 3:29
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if someone takes the time to clearly describe the problem they hope the tool will solve, are we as a community okay with keeping these open

As a policy such questions should still be off-topic. However, being a small Stack Exchange community we should allow them provided the OP has put in efforts to describe the problem and context well enough. Also, if the OP tells about what research has been done before posting the question that would be a big plus.

Overall it would be a bit tough to moderate. We should stop shopping questions (including the what-is-the-best kinds) and on the other side of the spectrum we should avoid becoming a support forum for specific tools. Somewhere in the middle would be fine ... I know that is subjective :)

  • Well said. I'm learning that smaller communities can get away with things that larger communities cannot. – jmort253 Dec 11 '12 at 3:27
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    Reason being that its easy to keep the site clean (according to the guildlines mentioned in faq) as the incoming traffic is initially low. – Aziz Shaikh Dec 11 '12 at 4:49
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    Very true. We're growing though, which is awesome. BTW, on questions where editing or closing might warrant a discussion, I sometimes drop links in our PMSE chat room, which helps when a second opinion is warranted. – jmort253 Dec 11 '12 at 4:55
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    Yeah, I have seen some of your comments guiding the OP towards chat for discussion about the post. That is a great approach. – Aziz Shaikh Dec 11 '12 at 5:01
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Talking broadly about the top voted entries HERE, one thing deserves special attention:

3 out of 5 questions with 1k+ views are closed as offtopic / not constructive.

If we believe that the path to keep the community growing is gathering more visitors, having (well elaborated) software recommendation questions may be something to be taken with care, as long as the OP also dedicated enough attention to present his/her problem.

On the other side of the spectrum, Jmort noticed that there are some Area51 proposals specifically to debate about pm tools (like Rally). Will these sites go through? I don't think so. If not, where would they fit, then?

Bottomline:

  • For questions the community consider well formed (i.e., considerable view rate / upvotes) I believe the community itself can moderate (voting closure / deletion whenever applicable).
  • For questions where the OP didn't took much attention / provided enough details / put in a too specific way that may not help others, the mods then can jump in, add a comment, point to the FAQ and close the question (as it's already happening).

Edit #1:

Hell, this question is complex. Being pragmatic, I believe we could take an approach like this:

If any question that the community (including mods) consider suspicious (with flags or close votes) receives more than one answer pointing out to a specific software / tool, it must be closed as offtopic.

It can potentially harm the OPs who may be searching for a tool as a technique rather than a software... but in this case, there will be a comment explaining that the question as it stands now is leading to shopping questions (with a proper link to the blog entry).

My point is to have a kind of rule to be followed in order to trace the line between what's acceptable and what's not.

  • I wouldn't say the purpose is to debate. Stack Exchange will step in and close that proposal if it becomes a debate. But if you look at the Rally Proposal you can see that it's more for support of Rally, sort of like Salesforce SE. The site still follows a Q&A model, and isn't a recommendation engine. The "How do I do X in MS Project" questions aren't the best, but they do fit Q&A.... – jmort253 Dec 11 '12 at 15:32
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    The ones that I see that are closed are polling questions. "What software do you recommend?" is a shopping question, see Q&A is Hard, Let's Go Shopping. Lately, I'm really only stepping in when this is classic polling, as we do have more people helping keep the site clean. :) – jmort253 Dec 11 '12 at 15:35
  • Lastly, when I've spoken to SE about these things, they say they'd rather see a small, tight community with great quality than a mediocre site that gets traffic. Stack Exchange's Q&A goal is to be the best resource on the Internet, making it better. :) – jmort253 Dec 11 '12 at 15:38
  • Hello @jmort253, I do agree that those closed ones are shopping questions. But maybe they only got closed because they were 'hot' questions. Checking that top voted question list, there are at least other 3 questions that could potentially be closed as shopping questions (it represents almost 50% of the questions amongst the first 15 questions). The bright side is that these questions were (most of the time) slightly wrongly asked, but correctly answered (usually pointing to methodologies instead of tools). – Tiago Cardoso Dec 11 '12 at 16:04
  • Hi Tiago, that rule would make it much clearer on when to close/not close, but it could harm our ability to judge posts on a case by case basis. With that said, I don't think it's a bad idea. The asker can always make edits, and the community can always vote to reopen. I'm also not above being pointed out that I'm wrong occasionally, if I do close something that shouldn't have been. :) In short, if you see something that you're sure should be closed, go for it. :) We should remember close != deleted. (closing isn't permanent) – jmort253 Dec 12 '12 at 2:10
  • As for me, I don't think I'd consistently close. I try to look at the question and answers as a whole. If someone posts spam, I know I can just simply remove it. Since the flag queue is pretty light, it's not like a spam post would inconvenience me that much. Again, I don't think there's a right or wrong answer to this, and I think all of us will look at posts differently. That's okay, and I think most of us meet in the middle on this issue. ;) – jmort253 Dec 12 '12 at 2:14
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    If there are any questions in that tag that shouldn't be closed or that can be edited into shape and reopened, people could throw a reopen vote on them, which would kick it back into the Reopen Review Queue. – jmort253 Dec 14 '12 at 6:04
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I believe this question should be closed.

Our community consensus on tool recommendations seems to be evolving. I think that the referenced question is outside our desired scope. I don't think it is sufficiently focused on project management, and I don't think the requirements are sufficiently clear to make the answer of value to an arbitrary member of the PM profession.

What do others think?

  • I agree, and I went ahead and closed it. – jmort253 Dec 14 '12 at 4:00
  • We are evolving a bit, for sure. Remember, if there's anything that shouldn't be closed, those posts can be reopened with reopen votes. Additionally, putting a reopen vote on something puts it into the Reopen Review Queue. – jmort253 Dec 14 '12 at 6:02
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Change the Tag Names

I still think the problem is that the tool-related tag names solicit polling questions. Not everyone reads the tag wikis (even when one exists) so making the tag names process-focused would certainly reduce the mental load required to determine that a given tag was not applicable.

A question always needs at least one tag. If people can't find tags that fit their question, they might reconsider the question, or you might end up with more off-topic questions in some catch-all tag category. If the latter, it seems to me that it would at least make closeable questions easier to spot.

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Personally, I think we should keep the "tool recommendations are off-topic" clause in the FAQ because I think it has helped make people think more about their problem before posting, but I'm interested to hear everyone's thoughts.

I believe that the questions about tools are essential for PM. Yes, tools are evolving with time (just as tools for developers), but still it can save effort to learn from others' experience. I've spent half workday to find a proper wiki tool that supports mobile+notifications, found nothing. And also, was notified that my question about it is an off-topic for this forum. I can't see a better place to ask it, though. (the question was deleted meanwhile).

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    Welcome to PMSE. Questions about how to use tools are squarely on topic. But questions that have no depth, that merely poll the community, have little to no value on a questions and answer site that strives to be a leading resource for thousands of visitors. In our experience, shopping questions tend to evoke a lot of spam, something that doesn't help us be that leader in solving tough problems in the project management space. Please check out Q&A is Hard, Let's Go Shopping for more details. – jmort253 Aug 27 '13 at 20:14

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