Recently, my question was closed for shopping. However, how shopping is described on meta does not seem to match my question. The meta question I link to outlines three possible characteristics of a shopping question, each of which my question does not satisfy.

It seems like there are two very different types/interpretations of shopping questions (1) asking for a list of objective facts related to academia [such as my question on #of attendees at academic conferences] and (2) asking for a subjective list of rankings for comparison.

"Shopping" questions, which seek recommendations or lists of individual universities, academic programs, publishers, journals, research topics or similar as an answer or seek an assessment or comparison of such, are off-topic here

Note that the word "shopping" applied to (1) is a bit offensive, it implies the question asker didn't simply google the question and is asking for an opinion, which is simply not correct. There seems to be a lot of disagreement as to whether questions of type (1) are shopping. For example, this question, which is nearly identical in flavor to mine was reopened on Academia Stack Exchange after a meta conversation which classified it as not shopping.

If we are to say that any question that asks for an answer in list form, regardless as to the reason one would want a list, the close reason should be more explicit and include a "for any reason in it". Should we have two close reasons list asking and shopping. The description of the list asking close reason could go something like as follows

"List asking" questions which seek a list of objective facts, with entries of the list each likely contributed by a different community member, are not well suited for this site. This is because each answer would be an equally valid yet incomplete part of the complete list. Questions of this form are unlikely to receive a complete list/answer by a single user. Therefore it is difficult to upvote and downvote the partial answers to such questions. While such questions may be well researched and on topic, other formats are more appropriate for this type of question.

I think shopping has too negative of a connotation if we are going to use it to close questions of people who have demonstrated considerable research behind their question.


I agree that this question is not a shopping question as no reasonable person would choose conferences by that criterion and hence the close reason was badly chosen. Note that I consider it irrelevant that the criterion for answers is objective; “What is the most visited conference for theoretical underwater basket weaving?” still is a shopping question. (The phrasing of the respective close reason was chosen with exactly this in mind.)

However, the wrong choice of close reason is about the only problematic thing about this. In particular:

  • I do not see that we need to redefine shopping. Just that a close reason was misused in one case, does not mean we need to redefine it.

  • We need no new canned close reason. Bearing exceptional cases, sites can only have three canned close reasons. These should be used for the most common cases and mainly exist to prevent close voters from having to type/paste/script-insert a custom close reason every time they are closing such a question. Questions that ask for lists and that are not shopping questions are very rare.

  • The question should not be reöpened. As you already noted, the problem is that every answer matching the criteria is equally valid. While this can be solved by having a single community-wiki answer, this does not solve the problem that this platform is not suited to provide the required maintenance.

  • 1
    Agreed - I think "too broad" would have been a more appropriate close reason.
    – ff524
    May 3 '17 at 15:01

I think is a broad sense, the question is a shopping question. In my mind shopping questions come in two flavors:

The first asks for help choosing between a list of potential "products". In general, for these type of questions, the criteria for defining "better" are undefined or personal. In the presence of an objective set of criteria, these questions might be a good fit. For example, a question with a back story involving a desire to be taught by Fields Medal winners could then aspect the objective question "Is MIT or Cal Tech better in terms of number of classes taught by Fields Medal winners". This would be an okay question in my mind with a small number of potential answers (someone might answer the total number of classes, another might be number of professors, one might include cross listed classes, etc). It also highlights the fact that shopping questions are not necessarily because the asker is lazy, sometimes the relevant information is hard to find.

The second asks for products that meet a given list of criteria. These tend to lead to lots of answers with a single "product" or a community wiki answer with the complete list. An example of such a question would be "Which universities have classes taught by Fields Medal winners". While not asking for an opinion about which is better, these still feel like shopping questions since compiling the options is part of shopping. Your question falls within this category

The question you link as a counter example is slightly different in that it is not asking for individual "products", but rather if someone has already gone through the effort of compiling a list of "products".

  • So if I were to ask if someone has compiled a list of such conferences, that would be considered on topic at SE? May 3 '17 at 23:06
  • @WetLabStudentWe I think so, but my guess is that it would go unanswered for a bit and then eventually get answered with academia is diverse and it isn't likely that such a list exists. Then again the Google fu of the collective might be better than yours.
    – StrongBad
    May 3 '17 at 23:14
  • Also, just to clarify, I think you'd consider the question "what conferences have sexual harassment policies?" shopping, correct. May 4 '17 at 0:23

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