I've seen a rather high number number of off-topic flags that I have then marked as on-topic. In many cases I see close votes pile on in what could be interpreted as brigading.

On topic?

This question caught my eye in particular: Image alt not showing at magento product page

The question asks "how can I add an alt tag to an image in a Magento product page"... and has been marked by 3 separate site users as off-topic. However, at the time of this writing there are two answers.

According to our help document for the on-topic guidelines this matches the top three points:

  • It does not involve custom code
  • It does not involve a third-party vendor
  • No 3rd party developer can be contacted for support.

So it looks to me like it is actually on-topic. Perhaps the close votes are trying to signify that the "fix" is not Magento-centric and this is a gray area? At what point do we stop helping locate where to place a change because the change itself is "simplistic"?

Off Topic?

Let's review a type of question which I believe, by our guidelines, is likely off-topic.

Questions about Varnish aren't too rare around Magento.SE - but questions specifically about Turpentine (an OSS 3rd party module by Nexcess) are very very rare.

However, they do have their own tag but they break the community guidelines:

  • It involves custom code
  • It involves a third-party vendor
  • A 3rd party developer can be contacted for support

A question just posted referenced it in the title: https://magento.stackexchange.com/questions/82490/magento-turpentine-excluded-parameters-in-vcl-produce-incorrect-redirect

There are no answers at the time of this writing, and no off-topic votes at the time of this writing.

Getting to the point

Which leads me to my point:

  1. Have our "on-topic" guidelines changed?
  2. If so, do we need to update that document?
  3. Is the document sparse for a reason? Should we be more explicit?

and lastly:

  1. Is this question in fact off-topic? Why?

(I submit that this question is on-topic and have voted accordingly. But I would like the community to weigh in here.)

I realize that Q to A ratio is important for the overall health of the site, but let's be careful not to appear to be unhelpful in the process.

4 Answers 4


I've been moderating these kind of flag+close vote pileups since day one without stopping think that people might be blindly "agreeing" with the flag. Thanks for giving voice to this.

Nothing has been formally decided, and I suppose now is as good a time as any to remind people to keep the site fundamentals in mind when they are curating. The guidelines use the following language [emphasis mine]:

Questions which involve custom code or extensions should include relevant code

I don't recall if I drafted this or not, but I agree with it in the RFC sense of "should". It's not a requirement, but it's probably a good idea. At the very least we need context to provide good responses efficiently. This doesn't necessarily require the custom/third party code. Newbies should read this and err on the side of verbosity, and veterans might do to remind themselves of this focus.

  • 1
    Does the post in question conform to our guidelines? Are our guidelines purposely vague? Can we do anything to make it clearer what is or is not on-topic? I agree with RFC language, though I wonder if this was intentional or just a current interpretation.
    – philwinkle
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 16:00
  • 2
    At any rate those guidelines were drafted at the inception of the site. I would like to propose that we review them every so often.
    – philwinkle
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 16:01

Thanks for raising this issue, I agree that the on topic guidelines are open to interpretation and obviously interpreted in different ways. Also the way this site evolved, the rules in practice might have diverged from the original intent.

Both are reasons to rephrase the guidelines.

I don't have a ready suggestion but will add my 2 cents to keep the discussion alive:

Perhaps the close votes are trying to signify that the "fix" is not Magento-centric and this is a gray area? At what point do we stop helping locate where to place a change because the change itself is "simplistic"?

Many questions are not really Magento specific, for example those that could be asked on StackOverflow or ServerFault as well and often don't need Magento knowledge at all to be answered. I find it hard to draw the line in these cases and in doubt, would rather not close them (at least not for being off topic):

  • if there is a good chance that it is relevant for other Magento developers or merchants
  • if it's possible to give the topic a Magento specific spin

Examples for those borderline questions can often be found in and .

Questions about Varnish aren't too rare around Magento.SE - but questions specifically about Turpentine (an OSS 3rd party module by Nexcess) are very very rare.

That's a good example of questions about third party extensions that I would not close blindly.

Generally spoken: Questions on popular open source modules can be useful and often get enough positive votes and answers to justify them. Of course some should have been GitHub issues or are too special to get answers here.

More on third party extensions, I'll quote myself:

I will continue to close quesions that boil down to "recommend me extensions for X" (opinion based, attracts low quality answers and spam), questions like "I installed extension Y and get an error" (better suited for vendor support or as GitHub issues), and delete low quality answers that are obviously spammed by extension vendors to sell their products (recommending extensions is okay in general, but it should be reasoned, and any affiliation should be disclosed).

Other questions related to third party extensions must be handled case by case. Good examples are questions about modules that are targeted at developers, like the questions in avs-fastsimpleimport and ecomdev-phpunit tags.


I have seen quite a few questionable close pileups (nice one, @benmarks) as well, usually involving a third-party module. I think that can be a trigger for a quick close, even if the question is in regard to valid Magento code that just happens to be in a third-party module.

Since integrating third party modules is a common point of entry for new users to Magento development, I think as long as the question isn't specifically about that module's functionality it should be left alone. This is an example - I happened to see when this question was posted, and it was quickly flagged for close. While the author's point could be easier to understand, I think the answer that he was after is valuable information for future users.

Just my 2 cents. Thanks for posing the question, @philwinkle

  • 2
    Great point. I've reopened that question; great example of what I'm talking about.
    – philwinkle
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 4:52
  • 3
    The issue has been on my mind for a bit, but I wasn't sure how to approach the subject. Luckily, I voted for conscientious moderators! ; )
    – AreDubya
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 4:55
  • Always feel free to reach out to me on twitter - @philwinkle
    – philwinkle
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 4:56
  • Will do, thanks for putting in the time to mod.
    – AreDubya
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 7:46

Regarding the first one, even if it is a simple question, and not magento specific, it is a Question a lot of people working with magento would probably like to get answered. But it depends, if we only want to target developers, or also "users" of magento. From a developer it may be to expect, he knows such simple html/php basics, but for a user its a possibly hard task to do.

My personal opinion is, to also support the users.

  • 1
    +1 for not only support developers Commented Sep 15, 2015 at 20:28

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