In general, Stack Exchanges don't do shopping questions - questions which ask for product or service recommendations. And for several good reasons. This is best explained in Jeff Atwood's StackExchange blog post Q&A is Hard, Let’s Go Shopping!

But consider the voluminous amount of information you need to even begin properly answering a shopping question: What is your budget? Where do you live? What are your preferences? Which alternatives will you consider? When do you want to buy?
the best shopping recommendations will be utterly obsolete within a year ...
questions that provide only temporary benefit to a limited (some might say Too Localized) audience

We've had a couple of shopping-type questions already:

Shall we decide now that these are firmly off-topic for this site?

  • "What is the most efficient design" isn't exactly a shopping question, though a good answer is likely to be an existing product. Alternatively, the answer might be a method of building your own, or even an engineering based proof of a design never tried before... Commented Feb 2, 2013 at 18:27
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    As Jeff Atwood no longer even works at Stack Exchange, I would like to see an end to the WWJD (what would Jeff do?) references. The internet is what we make of it, and the people who post on Stack Exchange don't owe its founders anything. Our content makes them successful. If people legitimately still think these questions are harmful to the site, that's fine. But, internet sites that fail to evolve in response to user demand are inviting eventual obsolescence.
    – Nate
    Commented May 5, 2013 at 3:57

3 Answers 3


I agree that questions for shopping recommendations should be off topic, but I do think we need to carefully read questions the ensure that they are, in fact, "shopping questions".

The first question in your example is not a shopping question. It is questioning whether a certain type of fungus is being commercially sold at all (not asking for recommendations of places to buy it) and then, in the case that it is not, asking how to obtain wild samples.

It's a thin red line, and since sustainability is very much a bleeding edge topic right now, we'll probably run into a lot of questions that are of the nature:

I have a problem. Here are potential solutions I've heard about. Do any of these work and how do I obtain the necessary materials?

Where obtaining the necessary materials may very well not be solvable buy walking into your local Lowes or through a Google Shopping search.

In the case of mycoremediation or using fungi as fertilizer/pesticides, the question of whether a certain type of fungus is commercially available at the moment is necessary information. And the answer for most is probably "no". Some samples may be available by special request from certain labs or you may have to go out into the wild to find them. Either way the question of "Is there a fungus/bacteria/algae that does X and where can I find it?" is very relevant to sustainability and should be very on topic. The second part of that question can't really be removed.

The specific question of commercial availability may go out of date (if the answer is "no" hopefully it will!) But it's a simple matter to update and fix that. It isn't the same as SU shopping questions where they will go out of date with in a year and go out of date for all time. Nor is it the same in that you need to know budget, preference, location, etc. All that is required is a yes or no, "You can buy this right now/You cannot buy this right now".

  • I think the fact that you say that a yes/no answer would be sufficient, shows why this is a problematic question. And it's good to get this stuff discussed now - hopefully more people will be along with their views soon enough.
    – 410 gone
    Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 22:01
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    I suppose we would need more than a yes/no. "Yes, here", where here could well be a place not easily googled. I agree that it's good to discuss this stuff. I know I've gone searching for fungal spores before and it's very difficult to find sellers. At least, I had trouble. It's possible I wasn't using the right searches. Commented Jan 29, 2013 at 22:03
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    I agree we need to carefully read questions to make sure they are shopping questions. But we should also do what we can to pull out the sustainability question behind the shopping question, editing as needed. Hopefully we'll get a lot of people visiting who are used to buying a solution looking to live more sustainably. We don't want them seeing this as another place they won't get answers and leaving due to a quickly closed question without a dialogue on how it could be reframed.
    – Rob Mosher
    Commented Jan 31, 2013 at 13:02
  • In the first example clicking the link reveals the Subject line to be close ended, but the OP's question is not. In the second example the OP is providing our community with a self-answered question including external links to a non-profit website with instructions on how to build it. I don't have a problem with banning shopping questions, but if the examples given are deemed shopping questions we should just close this site now. There won't be any constructive information conveyed here.
    – OCDtech
    Commented Mar 1, 2013 at 15:32

There is a way in which I seem to be out of sync with the overall SE community; I feel like question-banning is used too liberally. In the case of the endophytic fungi question, I would much rather see that question spawn even a small series of 'I tried this and this is the result' and 'I bought this at this place and it worked great on my apple trees' than just disappear. When you read the text of the question, it's clearly not really a yes/no question.

So what should happen to it to make it maximally valuable? Edit the question to something like "What are my options regarding the use of endophytic fungi to protect fruit trees against rusts?"

  • +1. I agree 100%. I despise censorship in almost all forms (with obvious exceptions for blatant spam, etc.). I actually don't think you're out of sync with the overall SE community. I think this is a fundamental problem with SE. Policy is not set by the overall SE community. It's set by high-rep users (who are mostly answerers), and people who are more interested in actively setting policy - a vocal minority. I think the majority of users would say "let the question stay ... if you don't like it, don't answer it". But, this is far from a perfect democracy.
    – Nate
    Commented May 5, 2013 at 3:47

It's the question of what is shopping and what is shopping question. For example, on The Great Outdoors there are many questions about particular product, like this: https://outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/3563/walking-trailers

The links to the shop sites are often used as example, when asked about product recomendation, such as here: https://outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/3272/running-shoes-for-asphalt-winter-conditions

There are also many questions about the prices, they are typical to Travel.SE: https://travel.stackexchange.com/questions/11467/whats-the-cheapest-public-transport-from-nurnberg-to-prague - isn't it a shopping question? However, such questions are welcomed, as long as they provide valuable content for community and the answers are concentrated on finding solution and are not spam.

So please, don't go absolute. Don't look for automatic criteria to close question, just analyse if it can bring something to the community.

  • FWIW bicycles.se distinguish "I have this, how does it work" and "I want an X, what should I look for" from "give me a link to buy an X" or "should I buy this X or that X" questions.
    – Móż
    Commented Jan 17, 2017 at 22:47

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