I've been seeing a lot of questions lately asking for apps that do x or y, and so I read the main site's FAQ again and noticed that it's not explicitly stated that asking for app recommendations is off-topic.

Was this changed recently? Was it ever officially a rule?

  • For what it's worth, the FAQ was updated since this question was asked and initially answered. It explicitly mentions app recommendations as questions that should not be asked here.
    – ale
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 14:24
  • Such questions are on-topic at Software Recommendations: softwarerecs.stackexchange.com Commented Nov 11, 2014 at 11:11

2 Answers 2


I believe the standing rule is to not ask: "What is the best application that does X?"

Instead you should ask "How can I do X?"

In other words, it needs to be a solvable problem. App recommendations (what is the best app) are very subjective and there is no definite answer.

  • Yeah, so the next natural question for me is, as a mod, would you suggest we flag questions as off-topic or add a comment telling the asker to rephrase their question (or perhaps just edit the question ourselves)?
    – newuser
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 16:09
  • Any or all of the above would be sufficient. Either flag it and one of us will take care of it or leave a comment to get the author to improve the question if it is salvageable.
    – Bryan Denny Mod
    Commented Apr 28, 2011 at 18:07
  • 3
    That said, if the request is for an app with some very specific requirements such that there will probably only ever be one or two answers then it could probably stand.
    – ale
    Commented Apr 29, 2011 at 12:56


I've had my question (http://android.stackexchange.com/questions/31918/how-can-i-sort-filter-and-tag-files-images-in-android-ics-4-0) closed until I rephrased it from "which app should i use to do X" to "how can I do X".

As I pointed out in the comments there, the question itself didnt change one bit - just the choice of words. Still, one of the versions is valid, the other is not. Why not?

As can be seen in the edit history, the first version of my question was not a popularity poll. I did not ask for the best app to do something, I asked for any app that could do it.

Now, in my opinion, either a question is valid, or its not, but it should not have anything to do with the wording. If the question was potentially helpful for others, answerable and not subjective, why close it? Is "you can hammer a nail with a hammer" subjective?


I could have argued that my question was good, but i couldnt have argued about it being not-in-line with the FAQ (as it currently stands), so I edited it. But I would like to hold my point - that question was OK in its first version too!

What I want to say is, "how to do X" and "with what should I do X" are basically the same. So maybe we shouldnt close the second type just because of the wording? Both questions WILL attract exactly the same answers! Maybe the proper action would be just to edit the qeustion for the more desirable wording, instead of flagging and closing?

Actually, the "whats the best tool/app to do X" is also valid. Those questions are answerable, and those answers are as subjective as any other! What do I mean? When I ask "whats the best tool to hammer nails" the obvious answer is "a hammer". Its not subjective, right? Still, there will be people, who arent really experienced with hammers, and they have been using big rocks to hammer nails, and they will recommend rocks. Its doable, but not optimal. Such answers would be downvoted, the "hammer" answer would be upvoted. We end up in the same situation, in which we would end up with a "how do I hammer nails?". Those questions are the same!

I know that in some more complex cases, there will be many equally valid answers to the same "whats the best" question. Example? "Whats the best app to draw on a PC with a graphics tablet?" Some would say its Photoshop, others would say GIMP, someone will say its Inkscape. But that usually means that the question is just not specific enough. If the costs are a big issue, then GIMP will be superior to photoshop, and that will not be subjective. If youre interested in doing mostly vector graphics (which is not specified in the original question) then Inkscape will be better than GIMP.


In my opinion, the ban for "whats the best app/what app should I use to do X" should be removed from the FAQ, or perhaps replaced with a suggestion of the preferred wordings. (How instead of with what). Questions that are against this ban should be simply edited, instead of being closed.

  • 1
    The purpose of Closing a question is to give the OP (or whoever wants to help out) an opportunity to edit it into a more appropriate question. It's not an end state.
    – ale
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 14:19
  • 2
    While, yes, the answer to "How can I do X" is very often "Use app Y", but not always. We've had questions here where the asker had an issue that was easily handled by functions built in to the OS directly or just by using an app they already had a little differently. "I need an app that does X" is the classic XY Problem, where the app is "Y". Ask about X!
    – ale
    Commented Dec 20, 2012 at 14:22
  • Just to pile on, asking for app recommendations here is like asking for software recommendations on Super User. Here's what they say about that.
    – ale
    Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 14:01
  • 1
    Its all arguable and definitely not binary. Simplest example - the link you provided states "What is an alternative to x-software?" "They really don't solve any problems". I want to draw, I cant buy Photoshop, i ask for cheaper/free alternatives. While this particular example could be easily googled up, it shows the flaw in logic. I have a problem, and answers to my question solve it. As for the XY problm, there are many forms of it, and the one adressed with the rule banning "app X" questions is the only one adressed in the FAQ. Maybe the FAQ should address the XY problem isntad.
    – K.L.
    Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 14:40
  • Im quite sure I wont convince anyone, still, Id like to voice my opinion and hear counter arguments if there are any. One of them, the one you mentioned in the second comment, is quite easy to debunk. Only the most malicious formalist would not answer "you should use a hammer instead of a rock" to the question "what kind of rocks is best for hammering nails". And in "app X" questions, the background is pretty obvious, contrary to many other XY problem examples. If I asked for an app for tagging and sorting images, its obvious what i need. If android had it, you could recommend it.
    – K.L.
    Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 14:48
  • We don't do app recommendations. Web Applications doesn't do web app recommendations. Super User doesn't do software recommendations. Stack Overflow doesn't do programming library recommendations. Stack Exchange doesn't like shopping questions.
    – ale
    Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 15:22
  • Certainly you are entitled to voice your opinions. You are a member of the Community and your voice is as valid as anyone else's. I'm just trying to point out that you're swimming against the tide here.
    – ale
    Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 15:23
  • I know im a bit swimming against the tide, but it is said that only dead fish swim with it ;) but you must agree, the specific type of question we are talking about is not a typical shopping Macbook Air vs. Macbook Pro question, now is it. Also I will still be pointing to the fact that in this particular type of question (app x) the how and what app are just about the same. I am not advocating the allowance of poor and useless question. Im advocating not closing qeustions on the principle. I only rephrased my question mentioned earlier, im still asking the same - so the first one was valid too
    – K.L.
    Commented Dec 21, 2012 at 20:32

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