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A recent question about the availability of flip-up seatposts got me wondering if these questions are on or off topic.

To me, this seems like a pretty clear-cut example of a shopping question: the OP wants one and, presumably, wants us to tell him what his options are. It happens that in this particular instance, the answer is that he can't get one and has no options. But it's easy to imagine a similar question with many options as answers.

What's more, information about what is and isn't available "tend(s) to become obsolete quickly," which is the reason we give on our on-off topic page for closing shopping questions. In this particular case, somebody could fire up a Kickstarter campaign tomorrow, be selling these seatposts in a year, and then all the answers to this question would be dead wrong.

In spite of all that, this question has received a fair number of views, upvotes, comments, and answers. And absolutely no flags or close votes. I also seem to remember (although I can't find it at the moment) a similar question recently that the community didn't object to. This seems to imply that the community sees these as different than shopping questions.

So my question is: should we treat "is this available" questions as shopping questions and close them as off topic, or are they somehow different and on topic. If they're different, how so?

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To me, there are two and a half considerations

  • Has the OP put reasonable reasonable effort into research?

  • Will the question / answer have lasting value?

  • And the half is - does the community find it interesting?

Dealing with the last first - we can vote to close off topic questions, and we can vote to keep them open. This case can be handled using the current methods plus comments.

Shopping question seem to come in a few varieties

  • Q: Where can I get ...
    A: LMGTFY

  • Q: Is this good value? Meaning good value to me?
    A: We cannot read your mind.

  • Q: Is this better than that?
    A: Totally a matter of opinion.

  • Q: Does [brandname] sell X?
    A: LMGTFY

  • Q: What is this (possibly stolen) bike worth?
    A: We are not a valuation service. Google against Craig's list or Ebay.

On the whole these show no effort, or the answer requires mindreading, or are just a matter of opinion (like are MTB's better than road bikes?). So these are clearly off topic.

The availability of flip-up seatposts question did show some effort, and did seem to be of interest. To me it was borderline, but not testing the boundaries too much.

Our Help Center > Asking > What topics can I ask about here? page says

Questions seeking product, service, or learning material recommendations are off-topic ...

but I think it can be a bit more explicit about shopping questions, even to the point of quoting the examples above.

But, at the same time, I don't think all shopping, product, service, or learning material questions should be off-topic. I'm thinking that some of them could be of future value, if they mention the year in the title. Yes, their main purpose fades quickly, but then they become a useful comparison point.

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Well, I think theres a decision to be made. If its for something particularly weird (such as a flip up seat post), I'm reasonably OK with it, cause you'll either have to find the product or come up with a work around. It reminds me of Raymond Chen (Old New Thing)'s view in that the work around often gets to the real question they have.

On the other hand, there was a recent question on something like hex keys. Those I think should be closed for the reasons as its just product rec.

As for it could become obsolete, well, reasonably, I doubt anyone's going to come up with that product in a year (its far too niche -- most people would just get a new seat or something). Its a judgement call, and people can add new answers if the product appears or something.

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