Over the past four months there has been a lot of discussion about the Tool category. The general consensus seems to be that in most cases, these questions are out of scope. That is the direction the majority is going, so it is time that we codify this in the FAQ.
The current system of playing whack-a-mole when these questions come up is not working.
It is not working because it is reactionary, and creates moments of exasperation which result in shouty tags:
PLEASE THINK CAREFULLY IF YOU WANT TO USE THIS TAG! REQUESTS FOR TOOL RECOMMENDATIONS ARE OFF-TOPIC FOR STACK EXCHANGE SITES. Hardware or Software tools used by UX professionals to do their work. Also more generally software used by users to shape or modify something they are creating.
It is not working because it creates a horrible experience for our new users, which does not create a welcoming atmosphere and will potentially drive away new users that might otherwise have made valuable contributions to the community.
Previously in another meta question I wrote the following regarding the current FAQ:
I don't think it would be the end of the world to keep the "policy" as-is, however I think it should be more clearly articulated in the FAQs just to avoid having this discussion over and over.
Currently when one of these questions is closed, the following message appears:
Questions on User Experience - Stack Exchange are expected to relate to user experience within the scope defined in the FAQ. Consider editing the question or leaving comments for improvement if you believe the question can be reworded to fit within the scope. Read more about closed questions here.
When you consult the FAQ, there is no mention of tools being out of scope. In fact, the language is written in such a way that it encourages "practical" questions related to "actual problems":
You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.
Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.
If your motivation for asking the question is “I would like to participate in a discussion about _”, then you should not be asking here. However, if your motivation is “I would like others to explain _ to me”, then you are probably OK. (Discussions are of course welcome in our real time web chat.)
By that measure, a specific question about how to use a UX tool is entirely valid according to the stated policy.
In my case I wondered if it would be in scope or out of scope, and was leaning towards not asking the question until I read the FAQ. As it is written, it encouraged me to post my question. Which was downvoted and closed.
I would like to formally propose we update the FAQ to be more explicit that Tools questions are out of scope. Additionally, we could include some language in the close message to reinforce this as well.
Update: I edited the tag wiki for tools to include a blurb about what is out of scope for the topic. I also included a few links to alternate resources.
Perhaps when an off topic question is posted a link to this wiki could be provided.
A link to the wiki may also be helpful in the FAQ.
I believe it will help those who do prior research before posting to not ask an off topic question, and it will give us a "canned" response to give to people who do ask an off topic question.
The "canned" response will hopefully help them get the answer they need, and will improve their experience on this site.
Even though we are downvoting/closing their question (which is a negative experience), we are softening the blow by giving them somewhere else to go.
It's the difference between "Go away" and slamming the door in someone's face versus saying "I'm sorry I can't help you by try down the street, thanks!".