As per our FAQ, recommendations are off-topic. Historically, we started off allowing them, but eventually banned them. At the time, it seems that our analysis was that most recommendation requests were really list requests, which are a category of their own, and the others are personalized and thus too localized.

Fast forward to this question, which is mostly asking for an explanation of a trope in SF works. That comes with examples, but they're meant to illustrate a point more than being recommended reading per se. There's some disagreement as to whether this is a question we want.

On a related note, the Literature site (now defuct) tried out book recommendations with a limiting policy that tried to allow the worthwhile questions and reject the ones best suited to wikis or chat. The site eventually failed due to low traffic; it doesn't seem that book recommendations was a significant aspect of that lack of traffic. Since the site is now close, I quote the policy here:

  1. The questions must be reasonably specific. Not "What's a good book for a person who likes Harry Potter", but maybe, "What's a good book for a 13 year old boy who likes Harry Potter, Eragon, Percy Jackson, and Artemis Fowl?". The more details, the better. Otherwise, how could you expect someone to possibly answer?
  2. Answers should try to recommend as many relevant books as possible. Aim for a syllabus, not for an evening's read.
  3. Answers should provide some reasoning on why a book is suitable. Don't just say “read this”, explain why. [If you can't motivate why the book is suitable, consider leaving a comment instead of posting it as an answer. Answers that do not meet this guideline may be removed. --Anna Lear]
  4. This is not a popularity contest. Votes should go to the answers that provide the best match for the request. Don't vote up or down because you liked or didn't like the suggested books.
  5. Close any question which does not meet these guidelines. The number of votes is irrelevant when deciding whether to close a question.

  1. Should this question be closed or opened for reasons that have nothing to do with book recommendations in general?
  2. Should we revise our stance on book recommendations?
  • IMO the current version of the text of that specific question no longer is asking for recommendations (but was before the edit), so (again IMO) it can be re-opened and doesn't impact whether recommendations are ok or not.
    – Tony Meyer
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 10:32
  • +1 I was going to ask exactly the same question! Commented Jan 12, 2012 at 12:51

3 Answers 3


From the literature meta-posting:

This is not a popularity contest. Votes should go to the answers that provide the best match for the request. Don't vote up or down because you liked or didn't like the suggested books.

I can't say that I really believe this will be respected. Oh, people will try--I'll try---but popularity tends to have it's way. Maybe on Literature.SE they'll have enough people how take literature qua literature seriously enough to make it work, but our audience seems to less academically inclined (at least for now...I still have high hopes).

DampeS8N's suggestion is more attainable.

On CodeGolf.SE we have established something like a consensus format for [code-golf] answers that is partially adhered to by almost everyone, and strongly adhered to by many.

This works because there is feedback in the form of how other answers look, and because the community can edit postings that are good aside from not conforming to the formatting conventions. (Note that this is different from a suggestion about how people spend their unattributed and unreviewable votes.)


To only really address the second question (as my answer contains the first) I believe we SHOULD allow for recommendations. But only when they satisfy these conditions:

  1. There isn't already a list like it on another major source of lists. (like wikipedia)
  2. They are tagged with some new tag that allows users to avoid/seek them.
  3. They are very specific as to the desired criteria.
  4. The answers follow a strict format that we follow religiously.
  5. The answers are all automatically community wiki.

The reasons being that list questions are typically a bad fit for our format, but under these conditions they don't need to be. By removing the competition aspect from the answers of these questions, and reinforcing the community aspect, we can re-tool the up and down vote system to be able to let the community decide what the proper quality order of the list should be, and we can fully answer the question with ALL of the answers. Not just a single one.

Is this a meta usage of the system? Absolutely, but I think we can cover a lot of ground that other sites, like wikipedia, are too broad to really be able to cover well. We have an opportunity to create a community answer to some specific questions that otherwise don't work well here.

The strict format would be something like these:

Novel: Time Enough For Love by Robert A. Heinlein

The continuing adventures of Lazarus Long, the oldest living man. And enough more text about the work to jog the memory of anyone who read, but doesn't know by name, the work.

Universes: Future History, World as Myth

TV Episode: Darmok by Joe Menosky

Picard and the captain of a ship manned by a strange alien race are trapped on a planet and must overcome their inability to communicate to survive.

Universes: Star Trek: TNG

  • 1
    Gilles and DampeS8N at meta scifi.
    – Kalamane
    Commented Sep 8, 2011 at 23:42
  • 3
    "They are tagged with some new tag that allows users to hide them." uttering these words means, almost by definition, that this is a bad idea. If you object to content on your site, that means it doesn't belong there, not that it should be swept under the rug for safekeeping. Commented Sep 11, 2011 at 3:43
  • 6
    @Jeff Atwood: There are plenty of people here who avoid one topic or another because they don't like it. Twilight is a popular thing to avoid. Doesn't mean it doesn't belong here. (Currently, there are no twilight related questions on this site) But you are right. "hide" was a poor choice of word. I meant mentally hide. Ignore. - And, I kind of intended this answer as an expression of what a lot of people on this site have expressed to me they'd like. I'm actually pretty happy with the rec chat, myself.
    – DampeS8N
    Commented Sep 11, 2011 at 12:27

I would love to see recommendation questions approved as long as they are automatically community wiki, and the recommendation requested is specific and not generic.

Example of (what I would consider) a good recommendation question:

What are some books like "Hichhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"?

I really like the dry humor of HGTTG and would love some books that have the same dry humor.

Example of (what I would consider) a bad recommendation question:

What are some books like "Hichhiker's Guide to the Galaxy"?

I really like HGTTG, what are some books like it?

I would say the first one is asking for books with a similar specific aspect of the base novel. Which is good as it is providing that there could be a limited number of books that could qualify.

I would say the second is bad as it is generic. There are thousands of books like HGTTG in one aspect or another.

I think that if they are all community wiki, then there's no harm or anything since reputation isn't really a factor.

Just my 2 cents.


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