I recently asked a question about very development-specific market research: https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/187476/how-to-do-market-research-for-plugins-to-proprietary-platforms. After several hours a few moderators users glommed on and downvoted it with no comments and closed it as off topic.

How is this off topic?

It is clearly about "freelancing and business concerns". Answers to some highly-voted questions such as this one: https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/83129/from-freelance-to-software-company basically say "you should do market research" as the accepted answer...but asking a how to do a clearly defined type of software market research is off topic?

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    It might be a suitable question for our sister site, OnStartups. Please do not cross post, I will look into getting it migrated for you. – maple_shaft Feb 19 '13 at 14:19

First I will point out that the moderators of the site did not choose to close your question, it was closed by 5 fellow high reputation community members.

Without speaking for them, my take on the reason for this closure is that the fundamental problem that you faced as a software developer here is that you don't have the transparency of data to decide which project you should do next.

According to the FAQ under the list of questions that are explicitly off topic:

and it is not about ... what project you should do next,

The question to me reads that even if a case were to be made that it is not a general market research question and that it falls under legitimate business concerns facing software developers, that it is still offtopic because the core reason for question is that you want to figure out what project you should work on next.

As far as Market Research is considered, if it falls in the general domain then it is off topic.

How can I choose a good pair of noise cancelling earphones for programming?

The above question pertains the software developers certainly, however it could pertain equally well to web designers, drafters, authors, etc...

Your question applies as much to entrepreneurs or software sales people as it does to software developers, probably more so in the case of sales and marketing people. Market research questions would only be ontopic if the case can be proved that it is almost exclusively the domain of software development.

I hope this makes sense and that I captured the communities thoughts on this.

  • I very much appreciate the answer and insight. I do disagree about the generality of it, though; I am not asking "how to do market research" in general. I am asking how to do a very software-specific type of market research given a very software-specific obstacle--the secret nature of sales information for a proprietary host software application. – user37735 Feb 19 '13 at 14:30
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    @JoshuaHonig Most software developers though go their entire careers and never have to do market research of any kind, even when solely about software. If this weren't the case then most software development sales and marketing departments would be mostly software developers instead of having MBA's or other business and marketing degrees. Market research is to find a a need for a solution, where software development is more about figuring out the solution to a need that is already known. They are two very different fields of study and expertise. – maple_shaft Feb 19 '13 at 14:40
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    Ah, that is very well stated! And it clarifies why it may be a better fit for OnStartups. The fact is I have to do everything (the marketing, the planning, and the programming) so it all kind of blends together. But it makes sense that this is not the case for many (most?) professional programmers. – user37735 Feb 19 '13 at 14:42
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    @JoshuaHonig You sound like a startup guy. Like I said, we have a site for that ;-) – maple_shaft Feb 19 '13 at 14:46

I disagree with maple_shaft's assessment that it's about what project to work on next. To me, you are clearly asking about how to determine what to work on next as a commercial venture, rather than asking people to tell you what to work on next. However, I see other problems with your question.

Although the FAQ does say that freelancing and business concerns are on-topic, they should be unique to software development, as is true for all questions. Market research, as far as I can tell, is not unique to software development and there is not much that makes it special or different when applied to software projects. Market research is market research, whether it's a software product or a hardware product or any other kind of product.

If you disagree, perhaps it would be best if you did some of your own research on market research and asked questions about making it fit a software project. We expect prior research to be done before asking questions. Have you researched market research and techniques for implementing it? What did you find? What confused you? How does this specifically relate to software projects? That last question is the most important - for things that cross domains, we expect the focus to be unique to software development.

  • It's specifically about how to conduct market research for software plugins. Wouldn't that make it developer-specific? Personally I figured it got closed because of the FAQ line "Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much." – Rachel Feb 19 '13 at 14:19
  • @ThomasOwens I was merely trying to capture multiple explanations for why the community chose to close the question. – maple_shaft Feb 19 '13 at 14:20
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    Thanks for the insight. I thought the question was quite clearly software-specific, though, and I attempted to explain why I haven't found research elsewhere -- namely, that the target is a closed platform where otherwise common market data is held as a business secret. Do you think rephrasing it more carefully to emphasize these points could yield a constructive question, or is it a lost cause? – user37735 Feb 19 '13 at 14:23
  • @Rachel And I feared if I limited it to any specific target platform (such as Microsoft Office) it would be closed as too narrow, and would be unnecessarily restricting since I figured the approach would be the same whether the target is Office, Adobe CS, Visual Studio, or whatever... – user37735 Feb 19 '13 at 14:27
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    @JoshuaHonig IMHO it is a very constructive question and a very good one. The closure really has to do with the topicality of it, not the quality. – maple_shaft Feb 19 '13 at 14:35
  • @maple_shaft That makes sense. I think stack exchange should sponsor a stack-wide machine learning initiative to make an automatic forum targeter. Users can enter a question and the stack8ball will tell them which forum is a most likely on-topic fit -- or the user can automatically generate a brand new stack exchange site where their question is on-topic. – user37735 Feb 19 '13 at 14:39
  • @JoshuaHonig Interesting... it seems like an awful lot of effort when eager volunteers for community content enforcement is much cheaper though :) You should check out Area51, it is the SE wide proving ground for new sites. There may be new site proposals already there that interest you. – maple_shaft Feb 19 '13 at 14:45
  • @JoshuaHonig - RE: the second half of your suggestion for question review. I think you underestimate the amount of effort required to get an SE site up and running. There are a number of beta SE sites that are struggling to gain critical mass. But there could be some value in prefiltering questions and routing them to the more appropriate SE sites that have overlap. – user53019 Feb 19 '13 at 18:37
  • @GlenH7 I was entirely joking about both parts of the suggestion, along the lines of gmail's AutoPilot :) – user37735 Feb 19 '13 at 19:58
  • @JoshuaHonig - crazier things have become reality... There are a number of questions where the community really could weigh in and say "yes, here" or "no, there." – user53019 Feb 19 '13 at 20:26

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