These questions struck me as way off topic from the home page, but perhaps the question really was intended to be "is there a web app for this." Is this type of question considered on topic?

I modified both Ben Gartner's answer and your answer in the other thread. I think it's better to have the discussion in a separate thread (i.e. this one) than in the FAQ one. –  Senseful Jul 13 '10 at 21:05
See Also:… –  Senseful Jul 30 '10 at 21:12

5 Answers 5

I think this is one of the most valuable functions of the site. These questions can be very hard for Google to answer, but very easy for users to give recommendations.

Currently Google is not a very good research tool for asking these kinds of questions. I think leveraging community experience to find useful tools creates a lot of value for the internet and saves people time doing their own research.

The title of that question also struck me as quite odd, but the question really was, "Is there a webapp to do historic currency conversion?" I think this is valuable. In this specific question it pointed out that Wolfram Alpha could perform that function, and gave the correct syntax that WA would accept.

Another useful variation of this would be "Is there a webapp for x that doesn't require y?" Where Y would be money, signup for an account, run javascript, etc. In these cases you'd have no real way to know except to try all the services you could find, or try to get lucky on Google.

Ultimately, stack exchange sites are about helping people solve problems and saving research time. I think questions of this nature help accomplish both goals.

Interesting - I took the opposite view in the FAQ thread. So I suggest posting a statement in that thread about such questions being on topic and we'll see which gets more upvoted. –  Will M Jul 13 '10 at 17:46
May the best man win :) –  Ben Gartner Jul 13 '10 at 19:19
I don't think of it that way (and I trust, from the smiley, that you don't either). We're both just trying to improve/build this site. –  Will M Jul 14 '10 at 4:40
Answers to these kinds of questions have been the most useful I've received so far, it's a nice service of this site, I just have stopped putting "what is the best" in the titles and just ask "Is there a site which does..." so that they can be answered and stay true to the format of this site. Also I make them community wiki. –  Edward Tanguay Jul 14 '10 at 11:31

I think this is OK, provided X is not something that is too common, e.g.

  • X = email, not allowed
  • X = email with mathematic equations in line, OK
  • X = book keeping – not allowed
  • X = book keeping that can download statements from bank XYZ and do PAYE - OK

In my opinion, such questions are off topic. This site should be about how to make advanced use of webapps. I don't think the purpose of this site is (or should be) to provide an index to what's out there on the internet in the way of webapps. Just finding one for a particular purpose should be the function of google or some other method of indexing the web.

(Posting this to promote discussion of the point, since the other answers went the other way. And because this is what I actually think.)

Just wanted to point out that the answer to the example question ended up being a fairly advanced use of Wolfram Alpha. Is there some fundamental problem with not knowing which web app you want to use to solve a problem? Would you be better off asking "Is there a way to do X in web app Y?" and getting "No" as an answer? –  Ben Gartner Jul 13 '10 at 19:22
"Is there a way to do X in web app y" is a very different question - it is focused on (and will attract to the site) advanced users of web app y. Allowing questions that just ask "is there a web app to do x" invites a lot of questions that could be answered by Google and will be yahoo-answers level noise. –  Will M Jul 14 '10 at 4:38
I am not sure it is possible googling something like Wolfram Alpha features , very empty forum and they are very obscure as stated in… , so since the OP never knew of wolfram alpha there is no way he would be able to link inflation to wolfram alpha, hence that was the limit to what he can ask. If I just listed Wolfram Alpha can do this then the follow up question would be how,so I decided to prevent the follow up by stating exactly how I would do it. –  phwd Jul 14 '10 at 14:36
I do agree that we are trying to discourage these yahoo answer type questions but some would say that if enough requirements are given by the OP that can only be answered by someone who is a power user of that app then I see it as valuable. –  phwd Jul 14 '10 at 14:38
I'd like to hear more about how webapp Y specific questions attract advanced users where general questions don't. Do you see this as problem of getting advanced users to the site, keeping them here, or both? –  Ben Gartner Jul 14 '10 at 18:04
I guess my thinking is this - if you're looking for a web app to do something, then it's pretty much guarantied that you will be a beginner at that site. If you are looking for how to do something on a particular site, you're more likely to be advanced. It's not scientific or absolute, but I do think that the first type of question is more likely to attract beginners and noise. (I admit that the Wofram Alpha question and answer were pretty advanced, but the probabilities are that more beginnings will ask this type of question.) –  Will M Jul 15 '10 at 15:46
I think this gets to a bigger issue than just these types of questions. Namely, how important is it to filter out beginners? What are methods to filter out beginners? What are the costs of those methods? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? Those are at least 2 separate discussions that we could have on meta. Or are there similar discussions on other meta sites already? I would be interested to see what people think. –  Ben Gartner Jul 16 '10 at 18:10
Good question, and should have its own question on Meta. I took the answer as a given, due to the description on Area 51, "For expert and advanced users of web applications" as well as some of the comments Joel Spolsky made about the intent of Stack Exchange back in the podcast days. But certainly open to community discussion now. –  Will M Jul 17 '10 at 16:59
I do think we need some filter for newbie questions, we just need to find the right boundary for what "newbie" actually is. I think there are a lot of expert web users who will have questions about sites they've never used. The point of the site is to cut down on research time after all. I do think these types of questions become much more interesting if they're frame as "I used banking app X but it didn't have feature Y" or "my google search didn't only got results like X which I don't want for reason Y." Not sure how to set a standard for that though. –  Ben Gartner Jul 20 '10 at 14:25

Not a fan of these since they're very close to "help me remember something" and "do my decision making for me" type of questions.

Better versions of these would be if the user was already trying something in an app and leaving an aside that if it's not possible in their current web app of choice, feel free to suggest an alternative.

You then get the benefit of having the question focussed to a web app at hand and a side bonus of another out there that could overtake its use.

In the end they still read as "pitch me an idea that I should go with since I am non-committal about my choices in life".


I would say that it is. What is more of a gray area is when people ask "What's the best webapp for X".

You should also post this in the "What should our FAQ contain?" thread.

Posted in the FAQ thread, with the recommendation that "is there a webapp for x" be treated as off topic. –  Will M Jul 13 '10 at 17:24
really? even though there is so much disagreement –  hoju Feb 22 '12 at 7:19

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