We've had several prior discussions about resource questions, but it has been a while:

In addition, on the current FAQ we have the following:

We don't do resource questions

Questions about resources are offtopic on JLU. Asking for dictionaries, books, streaming audio and other forms of books/software/anime/etc will generally result in the question being downvoted (unnecessarily) and closed as offtopic.

The net votes on the answer quoted above were at -1 when this was posted. Since then, they went down to -2, and then back up to 0. So it's clear that there's some disagreement.

It seems that we are a bit overdue in re-opening this discussion.

Do we, the community as it exists in 2013, want to allow resource questions?

Personally, I see no reason not to allow resource questions, as long as they fit the Stack Exchange guidelines. Other SE sites allow them without any problems, and I don't see why our community should be an exception.

What do you think?

  • Hmm... your link for "Other SE sites allow them without any problems" does not support the link-text. There are other links which show that some SE sites accept resource/shopping questions, but I would argue that "without any problems" is rather obviously false in at least photography's case.
    – jkerian
    Commented Oct 11, 2013 at 10:58

4 Answers 4


Let me preface this by saying three things:

  1. Ignore the diamond attached below. My status as a glorified site-janitor has nothing to do with how seriously my opinion should be taken regarding this question.

  2. The entire "Vote in Meta" was rather widely considered a mistake, both by the moderators(ours and others) and the community managers. The issue with the upvote becoming deceptive was predicted. Please don't just upvote answers in this topic... discuss them.

  3. You might want to get coffee first, this could take a while.

In the time since the last meta-question addressing this was written, I've changed my mind on this issue. At one point I made tried to form the most convincing argument I could that resource questions could be an acceptable and valuable part of the site. At this point I oppose that position. There are a number of arguments for adding resource questions to the site, but I no longer find them convincing.

Claim: Adding resource questions to the site will make it more welcoming to new Japanese learners.

I do not believe this to be the case. New Japanese learners are most likely to need "a textbook with audio resources", "some video lessons", "some language software" and "a dictionary". They are most likely to ask resource questions that are generic and subjective, or otherwise unacceptable on the site for reasons unrelated to their categorization as 'shopping recommendations'. What will happen is that more experienced users who understand the nuances of stack-exchange rules will have their resource questions answered... and the contrast will feel even more unfriendly to new users than the current policy. After all they "just need to know where to start out".

Claim: Adding resource questions will massively increase the usefulness of the site.

Looking through the resource questions that we've allowed on both main and meta, most of them are incredibly specialized questions related to particular pieces of software. There are also several questions asking "Does anyone have an electronic form of list X?" Those that aren't in these two categories (or weren't subsumed by the resources list FAQ) are mostly unanswered.

Some fears about what this will do to the community are overblown.

Baseless Fear: JSE will become reddit's LearnJapanese sub/the Tae-Kim forum/the RTK forum/any random crappy Japanese forum if we allow resource questions.

The problem with most of those forums has more to do with not moderating against subjective questions/polls/"does anyone else think Naruto should just...", not the presence of resource questions. The Stack Exchange Q&A format doesn't work terribly well for subjective discussions (which is especially notable for meta questions like this... where we're trying to have a discussion), and me-too-isms are treated pretty harshly both by the automated tools and our moderators.

It is noticeable that entirely too many people are paying attention to "vote totals" in another thread. Apparently they haven't noticed 8 upvotes on an answer that said to throw out all other rules for resource questions. This option simply won't happen. The community won't let it happen, the site moderators wouldn't let it happen, the community team wouldn't let it happen... and even if it did happen, we would get a "this site is being closed down in 48 hours" notice from stack exchange within 6 months. So let's assume we're talking about either continuing the status-quo (no resource questions), or allowing them, subject to the usual standards of a good stack exchange question.

Baseless Fear: If we allow resource questions, many of our more experienced people will leave.

I actually heard this directly from several of our more advanced members last time this was brought up. Not to put too fine a point on it, but not a single one of those members have posted in the last 6 months. When you're issuing ultimatums based on a tricky decision that a community is trying to make, I'm not sure I'd count your participation as a factor in either direction.

Somewhat reasonable Fear: We'll be flooded with crappy resource questions.

This probably will happen a bit. I think that this will settle down after we close the most obvious problem questions. (Move the resources threadnaught to the main site and close basically every 'new learner resource' question as a dup of it) The more serious question however is...

Somewhat reasonable Fear: We will get embroiled in endless arguments over how narrowly scoped a resource question has to be to be acceptable.

What I would like to see from those who want to allow resource questions are very clear examples/rules of what would be allowed. To allow them, could we get substantial agreement about what the boundary is between allowed/disallowed.

We have basically decided on this site that even the most trivial questions (answerable with a Google "I'm feeling lucky"-click) are allowed on the site as long as they are on the subject of syntax, grammar, orthography, or almost anything else that would be covered in a Japanese language class at your average university.

Would this extend to resource questions? Where in the following list do you think the question is acceptable?

  • "Does anyone know of a free online dictionary?"
  • "Does anyone know of a free online dictionary that uses romaji?"
  • "Does anyone know of a free online dictionary that uses romaji and has tonal annotations?"
  • "Does anyone know of a free online dictionary that uses romaji, has tonal annotations, etymology and major works of literature that include rare words"
  • "Does anyone know of a free online dictionary that uses romaji, has tonal annotations, etymology, major works of literature that include rare words, cross references with Chinese dictionary XYZ, runs in IE6, uses an obscure polish encoding, includes pronunciations, variations, masseuse-specialized vocabulary and a partridge in a pear tree?"

Look carefully at the questions that I thought would be on-topic/off-topic last time I thought about this question. Do you agree? Should they be made more specifically problem oriented/general-purpose or are they fine as they are?

EDIT: So that people don't need to click through all that mess...

  • Flaw voted to close all of the remaining questions on this list so that they'd go into the review queue and people could decide whether or not they were on-topic.
    – user1478
    Commented Oct 12, 2013 at 20:43

Since I posted this meta question, we've had four resource questions:

They're all on meta, and they don't seem to be causing any problems. In fact, I would argue the site is better off having these questions. If nothing else, we can treat them as requests for suggested additions to our resources list on meta.

I think we should just go ahead and say resource questions are allowed, but they should be posted directly to meta, not on the main site.



In addition to sharing many of the sentiments that @jkerian♦ addressed, my reasons are two-fold:

  1. The main focus of the site is to create community and help others discuss and learn about the Japanese language (& its usage). Dictionaries are not part of the Japanese language; podcasts are not part of the Japanese language; software is not part of the Japanese language. Resources are only tools that help you learn the language. However, posting answers to resource topics is helping you learn about these tools - which is, in essence, helping you learn about something that helps you learn the language. That is the very definition of meta. That's why resources should be kept on meta (whether to allow individual resource topics on meta or keep them in the current stockpile is another question).

  2. My other concern is the reputation system, which I'm surprised no one has mentioned yet. Of course this system is far from perfect and should not be used as a true assessment of one's Japanese ability. However, it does hold some merit. From the corresponding help page:

    Reputation is a rough measurement of how much the community trusts you; it is earned by convincing your peers that you know what you’re talking about.

    So my somewhat reasonable fear is that resource topics will further skew the meaningfulness of the reputation system. As an extreme example, a user might post a link to the greatest online dictionary ever as an answer to a topic. Hundreds of users upvote the answer, earning him thousands of reputation points in the process. Now he appears to the community (or at least new users) as a really trusted and knowledgeable member of the site, but really that says absolutely nothing about his Japanese ability.

    The bottom line is I trust the current reputation system (for what it's worth), and there shouldn't be any meaningless factors that globally affect users' perceived merit.


I feel like any question that can be answered with a single link to or name of a resource (book, iPhone app), etc, should be offtopic - but can be redirected to chat/meta as appropriate.

Possible exception: Where there is some official/canonical source, e.g. the question pertains to rules/guidelines to do with language use laid out by government sources like 文部省 or major organisations (official JLPT or 漢検 documentation, for example). However, a good answer to these questions should still be a summary/translation of the information with links as supplemental.

Basically, there should be information in the question/answers that would still be useful even if every external information source mentioned disappeared tomorrow. A question which only asks for pointers to external resources can't fulfil this criteria.

Many resource questions can be made into good non-resource questions fairly simply.

Instead of asking for a source for X, ask for help with translating the search terms you need to find it yourself (i.e. 〇〇用語). One good question which covered the sort of terminology used for referring to specialist dictionaries/glossaries/technical vocabulary lists would be much more useful in the long term than a scattering of questions about dictionaries/word lists for various specialist topics.

Or, if you have an example of a specific, specialist term that does not appear in the average dictionary, it is entirely legitimate in my opinion to ask a question about it and state that you're looking for an answer backed up by appropriate citations/references.

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