After seeing a few questions listing very few requirements, I realize we never actually discussed what to do if there is a low-quality question in terms of soliciting an overly-broad product recommendation.

A lot of questions only list one or two broad requirement initially, but the comments to help the author are often lacking. Instead, the questions get a few down-votes right off the bat, and that's what caught my attention.

When someone asks a question that doesn't quite fulfill the purpose of this site, what's the best course of action?

I started by voting to close it as being too broad. Closures with guidance aren't necessarily permanent, so to me this seems like the first step. Next, I commented to ask if the original author could add more requirements and info about the hardware they were looking for.

What's the point in down-voting a low-quality question when you can ask them to improve it first?

I personally think questions should only be down-voted if they're either spam or other advertising, complete nonsense, or simply not a question anyone can answer. Other than that, there's a good chance a question can be improved by the author if they want the question to stand.

I realize a lot of folks don't use down-votes like this. But I would like to start a discussion to see how we can better use these tools to help the overall quality of the site.

  • 1
    I'll probably write up an answer later, but I would like to say that I generally don't like to jump on new users that show good intentions. It was this guy's first day and second question, and on a site that's still working out its own kinks, folks may have gotten bit hasty.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 23:24
  • 1
    @HDE My thoughts exactly. Closing the question and asking for improvement should be what everyone does. If the OP improves it, it can be reopened.
    – Adam
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 23:27
  • I know this is an old question, but I just want to say - I completely agree. I don't downvote [on hold] questions, and I also don't downvote bad ones - just vote to close. Mos people asking bad questions are newcomers to this site, why make their lives miserable?
    – Rubydesic
    Commented Jul 15, 2016 at 19:00

6 Answers 6


Oftentimes a product search posted here is simply asked way too soon for a site like this. This is often just a simple misunderstanding of what we do here rather than something that can be easily fixed by simply rewording the post. That is why we need a good bit of thoughtful guidance to help users understand the purpose of this site.

This is how I see the target audience for this service:

"I have been looking for a product with {exceptional feature list}, yet I cannot find a solution — or I cannot tell if this solution will work — without your collective experience. Please help."

But a lot of questions are asked simply wanting to know what you like. "Just tell me what to buy!" If you have to come back to ask for their "requirements", that should be a big red flag that they probably don't have any requirements worth mentioning at all.

What does a good request look like?

If I need a "fitness monitor" waterproof to 15 meters with a built-in solar charger, latex free, and impervious to the ninja warrior fire & mud crawl… that would be in the very premise of my question. But when I see: "inexpensive, lightweight, good battery life, measures calories…" that's just a ubiquitous description of the product category. It's not asking for a definitive product search at all.

Folks are going to come here seeking broad recommendations and people's choice polls hoping to get a list of products they can pick through later. That's not really what we do here — yet I see questions like this remaining all over the site.

Not every purchase decision needs a site like this. If you start looking for a product on your own (the "random product search" I mention below), you will likely either find a solution, or get far enough to say I can really use that voice of experience to help me eek out some obscure bit of knowledge from someone who already solved that problem here… which is where this site comes in.

I don't want this to become an intimidating and harassing place to use. I would actually like to see a broader interpretation of what "technology-related hardware" covers. But when folks come here looking for broad recommendations and polling for what folks use in this space, I would include a very thoughtful explanation of what we're actually looking for on this site… so they can do much better the next time around.

Closed as a broad recommendation or poll

"Hardware Recommendations" is a community-run website to help participants complete an exhaustive solution search given very specific requirements. Unfortunately, questions seeking broad product recommendations are outside the scope of this site. Part of seeking a solution through this site is to explain why any random product search will not work for you. This question is too broad to narrow down the possible solutions in any definitive way. — draft

"Ah, I get it. Thanks!"

SeriouslyI have been getting way more responses like that since I started using this format.

  • 1
    I agree that questions like the one I linked to show a lack of research and are asked too early, but I'd still much rather comment on it to ask for improvement instead of just stating what was done wrong, although doing that can help too. Thus far, I've been trying to be be extra friendly toward newcomers seeing as we're still in closed beta, so asking for improvement seems like the best way to go in my opinion.
    – Adam
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 17:20
  • 3
    "ninja warrior fire & mud crawl" - Batman?
    – Andy
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 18:56
  • Would it be a good idea to add that as an off-topic close reason? I'm quite fond of how you've worded that.
    – user1
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 20:35
  • @Undo Probably. Some might argue it is covered under "too broad", but I find the much more finely-crafted closure explanation more palatable to those who receive it. I'd have to squeeze it down somewhat to fit, but I'll give it a shot. Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 20:38
  • Asked a meta question on the subject.
    – user1
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 20:42
  • 6
    @Adam Incidentally, this site was just cleared for public launch... for this coming Tuesday, I believe. Congrats! Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 1:14
  • 1
    @RobertCartaino - Just to say thanks. The original closures were confusing and seemed misdirected, but the explanations you've provided since are useful.
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 9:49

I'm against dogpiling downvotes, but the hover text does say:

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful

My preferred way of handling these is to vote to close them, with a comment detailing what extra information I would consider necessary to make the question answerable. On SR, this is the comment template I use (tailored to each question):

We'll need much more information to provide a solid recommendation. Please, take some time to read through our question quality guidelines and [edit] your question to match them. What requirements do you have? What would be nice to have, but not required? After you edit your question to contain more information, we can reopen it. Thanks!

The [edit] automatically expands into a link that the OP can use to edit their post - it's quite handy, highly recommended.

So, my routine on these kinds of this:

  • Comment
  • Close (vote) as too broad or unclear
  • Downvote if I deem it necessary. Votes are for expressing one's opinion, and can be used however people like. That said, I don't want to make someone quit the site just because their post hit -3. It's a delicate balance between speaking (voting) your mind and thinking about what this will look like to the guy on the other end of the line.
  • A template for HR will definitely come in handy. And as for your last bullet point, I can personally attest to being scared (to some degree) that I would be disliked when I first joined SE. I'm willing to say a large amount of people equate downvotes to "dislikes" which pushes them away. Not what we want.
    – Adam
    Commented Sep 24, 2015 at 0:11
  • @Adam oh boy calling this site HR makes me think of Human Resources. Not sure that's a good association :)
    – enderland
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 13:12
  • I think downvotes are in order when content is completely terrible and seems unsalvageable. I basically downvote when I don't expect that there is ANY chance that a question can be saved because frankly I've gotten pretty good at reading "drive by poster" from questions.
    – enderland
    Commented Sep 25, 2015 at 13:20

As I stated in a comment, I don't like to jump on new users who show good intentions, which I think was the case here. This guy was asking his second question on his first day on Hardware Recommendations, a site that's still working out many of its won problems. Perhaps being a big more gentle would have been nice.

I saw the question soon after it was posted, and debated about what to do with it. I thought, and didn't do anything for a while, then checked the close vote queue, saw the question in it, and voted to close. At that point, several comments had been made to the effect that more information was necessary, and so I decided to wait and see what happened. There's currently more information, but I still don't think there's enough for me to cast a reopen vote. There are a bunch of webcams that could fit the given requirements.

In general. I don't downvote questions that need to be improved. However, I do downvote crappy questions that are clearly the result of negligible effort on the part of the asker, or else appear to be asked in bad faith. For example, if someone asked

What's the best laptop to use while sitting on my dog in a supermarket?

I would downvote and vote to close, because the asker is being a troll, and trolls are not your friends.

If, on the other hand, the question was

What's the best laptop to use while on a train?

I would simply vote to close as Too Broad, and leave a comment to that effect (if one had not been left already). If the question was asked in good intent but was really terrible (e.g. unsalvageable), then I would downvote. But it would have to be pretty bad for me to do that.

I feel like Hardware Recommendations will have a lot of questions that could be good if more information is provided. There's more of a structure here than on other sites, and that structure seems to work. For that reason, I think it's easier to improve questions, and harder to ask questions that can't be saved and are, for me, downvote-able. That's probably the key to my view.

Admittedly, this comes from someone who doesn't downvote much, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

  • 1
    I completely agree. You bring up a good point though: did the OP put enough effort into research before asking about the webcam? I'm starting to think he didn't, but since he's new and it could be improved so easily, I just voted to close and commented.
    – Adam
    Commented Sep 23, 2015 at 23:57

I agree, there's no reason to dogpile on downvotes. I didn't cast any vote, but I only would have downvoted if it had a positive score when I first read it. I certainly don't fault anyone for sinking it to a negative score, but I, like you, prefer to leave a comment instead (particularly for someone new to the site).

We can't and shouldn't control how people spend their downvotes, but I do think it's a good idea to promote your way of handling it; cast a close vote if appropriate and leave a comment suggesting how to improve the question.

Leaving comments on closed questions is encouraged by the SE platform. While the site is in beta, questions that are put on hold without any comments will be automatically flagged by Community♦ for moderator review.


One of the problems with closing a question is that review is slow to come, and I think people have a reasonable expectation of not waiting hours once they have reformulated their question. I hold the best option would be to make a comment that the question is too broad and tell them to revise it, then close the question if after a reasonable amount of time it has not been revised.

This allows people to keep their questions open and get at least once chance to reword things before they are shut out for a potentially extended period.

I fear that if this is not done, the de jour response to being asked to reword your question in order to get it reopened will simply be to ask a fresh new question and attempt the rewording there - which surely is not the preferred behavior, yes?

  • 1
    Correct. However, we've opted for the current strategy of closing early to avoid getting an extra workload of bad answers that we have to moderate. The extended review period is a function of the size of the site, and is unfortunate, but there's not a lot we can do about it. (Though - personally - if I've closed the question, I'm happy to review it again if I get pinged in a comment.)
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 17:46
  • I don't understand the need to moderate bad answers. If a question is bad and gets bad answers because of it, Then putting the question on hold removes it all in a single blow. If and when the question returns, newer, better answers can be voted to the top.
    – Adam Wykes
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 17:57
  • 1
    I'm not sure I understand. We don't want the bad answers in the first place, and if they do turn up then they require moderation.
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 18:00
  • What is an answer which is not a bad answer, yet which is not the correct answer? Most questions have these; they are downvoted or simply not voted as highly as the correct answer(s). This common feature of the site had led me to believe answer moderation was largely crowd-sourced in order to alleviate dedicated mods from the need to do this.
    – Adam Wykes
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 18:15
  • 1
    Again, you're not making much sense. Answers that don't meet our quality requirements - which are objectively set out here on Meta - are deleted to preserve quality. I hope you don't disagree with that. Answers that do meet the requirements are left alone to normal voting processes, no matter if the OP deems them "correct" or not. Currently, it's mostly diamond moderators who delete answers, because we don't have many people with sufficient rep; once we have those people, it will become a more community oriented job.
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Jul 12, 2016 at 20:59
  • You may have set out requirements more or less objectively, but no moderator is a robot. I think what I'm saying is really not all that hard to understand: you could wait to put questions on hold to see if satisfactory answers arrive. The downside of this approach is that, potentially, a few bad answers will also be put in, but since those can be downvoted I really don't understand why we must be so averse to them that we preemptively cut off even the possibility of getting a good answer for the sake of preventing hypothetical bad ones.
    – Adam Wykes
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 3:50
  • 1
    I'm afraid that shows you have a limited knowledge of how the Stack Exchange system, and this site in particular, is supposed to work. But seriously, if you want to discuss your concerns, please write a meta post and roll your comments into that. I'm going to stop responding to comments now.
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Jul 13, 2016 at 8:06

I had voted to reopen this question. Namely because of this criteria from the question:

I would like one that identifies the background and removes it.

I understand that a basic webcam is probably trivial to find online and that sort of question should be closed. But finding one in that price range that also meets the above criteria is a fairly specific thing (presumably it includes a software installation as well?).

If that line was not there, then the question is way too broad/vague but I think because of that criteria the question IS scoped appropriately.

However that is the only reason - a fairly specific requirement among a lot of other, generalized requirements.

  • I would argue that cameras, by definition, aren't able to remove backgrounds automatically. I see this specific requirement as concerning software and not hardware.
    – Adam
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 16:08
  • @Adam that sounds like a great basis for a comprehensive and detailed answer to that question then :)
    – enderland
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 16:09
  • 3
    My point is that because it's a software thing, any webcam can remove the background, so the question remains broad.
    – Adam
    Commented Sep 28, 2015 at 16:15

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