From time to time, questions like Devices that can slowly lower and raise 200 pounds ~2 feet?, and Motorizing Sliding Windows are asked. The questions give a goal; "I want to raise 200 lbs 2 feet", "I want to automatically open a window". They may also list a few other requirements. Aside from that, the questions don't give much additional information.

In most cases it sounds as if the user knows what they want to do, but weren't able to find a commercially available product that accomplished the goal. The questions basically boil down to a user asking the community to design a potentially patentable product for them.

While these questions may be interesting; since we all love solving puzzles (which is probably why most of us are here), are questions like these on topic here?


Personally, I think these questions can end up with one of two types of answers, and both seem to be against the spirit of SE. The first type of answer would be a product recommendation, which will quickly become outdated and create a problem with spammers and other self promotion. And the second type of answer is either overly long or lacking in detail, which is the reason for the "overly broad" close option.

If this were on SO, it would be akin to someone asking how they could add maps to their browser app. Yes it may be of interest to users on the site, but I feel it would lead to the same bad answers. There are dozens of pre-existing solutions, so there may be lots of product recommendations, many from people that are biased or simply presenting their own opinion. And if none of those work because of a specific requirement, then it becomes a very open ended question of which programming language is best for the task, what tools do you use to write the application, and could someone create an pseudo code algorithm of the program that does this task. Neither answer is a good fit for SO.

  • See my new answer. – tghw Sep 17 '13 at 0:05

While the topic of the question is DIY, the way the question as asked makes it too broad to be answerable in the Stack Exchange format. It is an interesting question, but the OP appears to be still at the discussion stage and Stack Exchange doesn't do discussion very well.

If the OP were actually in the process of designing/building this device and, say, wanted to know how to attach a rod to the window, or run power to the motor which is buried inside the frame somehow, then these questions would be OK, as they are specific and answerable.

The OP might find that "asking" the "question" in [chat] people helps as there might be people there able to help you refine the idea and/or problem such that it can be asked on the site.

  • Chat is not a good alternative for this. Hence why I would ask it in a more permanent place. – tghw Sep 16 '13 at 23:53
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    Well said. This was exactly my point. We solve specific problems, we don't design complex systems for you. – Tester101 Sep 17 '13 at 10:35

As this seems to have turned from a discussion about a specific type of question, into the defense of a single question. I think my comments on the question describe why the question was deemed off topic.

If you're looking for a prefabricated solution; as it sounds like you are ("Does anyone know of any sliding window actuators?"), then this question is off topic. If you're trying to design and build your own device, this question is too broad. We are here to help with specific home improvement problems, we are not a crowd sourced research and development department. – Tester101♦ Sep 5 at 15:39

The question was originally asked as a "shop for me" type question, where the OP seemed to be looking for an off the shelf solution. The question was then edited and became more broad and open ended, asking the community to design a complex system for the OP.

See my comment above. The original wording sounded like a "shop for me" type question. However, the new wording pushes the question into the "too broad" realm. There are a thousand and one ways to mechanically open and close the window, see this answer for a few ideas. Just because the question doesn't fit on any other stack, does not mean it's on topic here. – Tester101♦ Sep 8 at 11:53

The OP then asked for me to clarify why I felt the question was too broad, and if I thought the question was detrimental to the site.

I don't believe the other question is good either, which is why I provided the answer I did. Your question is too broad, because you are asking us to solve a complex problem with no guidelines whatsoever. You're asking us to design a potentially patentable product for you. As far as this question being detrimental to the site... possibly. Folks tend to use similar questions as precedent, when arguing that their question is on topic (as you have done). So leaving questions like this open can indeed be detrimental to the site. – Tester101♦ Sep 9 at 12:23

That comment gets to the point of why I feel this question is off topic.

If the OP would have asked something along the lines of...

"I'm working on building a mechanical means to actuate a sliding window, but I'm having trouble with this specific bit. How can I attach the foo to the bar, without breaking the baz?"

The question would probably have been on topic, as the question is asking how to solve a specific problem. A question like that can be answered in a paragraph or two, and has a limited number of solutions. Asking the community to design a complex; potentially patentable, product, could lead to thousands of "correct" answers. The OP would then use some criteria (which is only known to them), to select the "right" answer. In the game of StackExchange, this is an unfair question.

This site is a game. You score points by asking good questions, and providing good answers. You get a bonus if your answer is correct. When you ask a question, you're setting the rules for that round of the game. When you ask questions with this in mind "so that I could select the design most likely to work in this situation.", you're asking people to play a game where the rules can constantly change. They call this game "I win", and only the winner likes to play that type of game. – Tester101♦ Aug 28 at 16:02

When asking a good question, you should not only include the rules but also the winning criteria. As @ChrisF points out. If you're having trouble defining the rules or winning criteria, there are usually folks in chat willing to help. While chat might not be the most "permanent" place to ask, it's often a good place to get suggestions on how to narrow and focus a question.

  • My original intent, after exhausting all research avenues at my disposal, was to see if there was either a class of device (not a specific link to a product, but another avenue of research) that is used for this purpose or if anyone had done a similar project and was willing to share their methods. What is most troublesome is that, instead of making constructive suggestions for improving the question, you immediately closed it. – tghw Sep 17 '13 at 15:18
  • @tghw It was not closed. It was put on hold, and comments explaining why it was put on hold were added. – Tester101 Sep 17 '13 at 16:00

Seeing as this is getting no response whatsoever, let's use what we have at our disposal:

This is a perfect DIY question by the way.


This seems a reasonable DIY to me.


And a potential answer that had to be written as a comment because Tester101 closed the question so early:

Lots of options ... 1) Convert to awning or casement windows, then motorize the crank. 2) look into mechanisms that automatically open/close greenhouse windows. 3) look into motorized skylight hardware. 4) make a box-bay window, reusing the slider and making the side lights or top/bottom open-able. 5) replace the stationary sash with a motorized something or another that does no obstruct the movement of the slider.


I think this sort of overzealous moderation is hurting the site, not helping it. DIY stands for "Do It Yourself", which will sometimes necessitate creative solutions. Other Stack Exchange sites, Stack Overflow especially, are based on novel solutions to specific problems.

  • I've added an answer with my take on the problem. – ChrisF Sep 16 '13 at 19:54
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    In regards to your specific question, we get lots of product recommendation questions that are closed by a single mod. On a smaller site like this, there simply aren't enough active high rep users to cast close votes like there are on SO. Very rarely do product recommendation questions get reopened because the underlying goal of the question is the same and the OP is simply rewording it to sound different. Typically, if you would be happy for someone to give you a url of a product you can buy, then your question is still a production recommendation question. – BMitch Sep 16 '13 at 20:13

Some examples of similar questions that have led to good answers and discussion.

How can I audit my furnace?

How can I clamp two 325 mm planks while gluing them together?

Two dryers connected to the same exhaust via a "Y". Backdraft problems?

How do I convert an A/C window unit from thermostat to humidistat control?

How do I stop bats from nesting in an attic?

Are there any "easy" ways to trace a home electrical system?

How do I repair laminate damage on a kitchen cabinet?

Some of these are better examples than others, but most of them are "Broadly, here is my problem, what should I do/how should I do it?" Many of these also include product recommendations.

Remember, answers are editable and product links can be useful even if they go dead, as there are ways of resurrecting what the product linked to was. (e.g. https://archive.org/web/web.php).

Lastly, this is one of the smaller and slower growing SE sites. Overzealous moderation is more likely to kill it off than promote growth.

  • Deciding what's on topic is a careful balancing act. Allow too much, and the site loses focus and goes the direction of Gadgets where so many diverse questions that didn't interest a core user base resulted in the closing of the site. Close too much, and we won't have enough questions to keep the site alive. It's not an easy line to walk because most of the time we're trying to read the minds of our community to understand the desires of the active majority. – BMitch Sep 17 '13 at 3:42
  • I'm also detecting a suggestion that you'd like to see questions on product recommendations to be permitted. If so, the conversation on that is over here and you're welcome to offer a dissenting opinion. – BMitch Sep 17 '13 at 3:44
  • @BMitch Is it not the case that my question would be among the "What tool or device would I use to accomplish this task?" questions? From my reading, that meta discussion explicitly approves these types of questions. – tghw Sep 17 '13 at 4:27
  • The linked questions do not establish precedent, in my opinion. They are mostly "product recommendation", and "what tool should I use" type questons (with a "pest control" question sprinkled in). – Tester101 Sep 17 '13 at 11:18
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    I believe the tools you would use are a drill, screwdriver, perhaps a multi-meter, etc. This doesn't require the identification of a brand or url to a specific item. You already know that you're looking for a window opening device, so you know what device you want to use, but you can't find it, so you're asking for us to find it for you. That's when it becomes shopping advice or a product recommendation. – BMitch Sep 17 '13 at 11:27
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    Here are some other recent product recommendation questions to give you an idea of what we're often closing: Which roofing manufacturer should I use?, What device is there to monitor energy usage at each outlet?, and Is there a product to build modular cubby houses for kids? – BMitch Sep 17 '13 at 11:32
  • @BMitch All of the links you provide are the "compare for me" type of question. That is not what I am asking. I was simply curious if there was a class of product or term I did not know that I should start searching for. A specific Amazon link was not necessary. Alternatively, if anyone had rigged their own solution, that would have answered the question as well. It may have been a long shot, but it's different than the problem questions you are comparing it with. – tghw Sep 17 '13 at 15:14
  • @Tester101 How is my question different than product recommendation or "what type of device should I use"? As I mentioned, I don't need a specific product link, just a term or class of devices that would help with this. Or, if someone had their own DIY solution to this, it would have also answered the question. It is not "Tell me which of A or B is better." – tghw Sep 17 '13 at 15:15
  • @tghw I never said it was a "tell me which of A or B is better" type question. I'm simply saying that you're either looking for a device which you can purchase, or you're looking for somebody from the community to design a product for you. If it's the former. It's a "shop for me" question, and should be closed as such. If it's the latter. The question is too broad (since you don't give any type of constraints), and the question should be closed as such. If you want folks to play your game, define the rules! – Tester101 Sep 17 '13 at 16:07
  • @tghw it doesn't appear that you read the linked questions very carefully. – BMitch Sep 17 '13 at 19:05
  • @BMitch How exactly did you come to that conclusion? Read the 1st question again. What is it? A broad question where a product recommendation was the answer. Same with the 2nd. And the 3rd, which you answered with product links. The 4th is another "how do I do this uncommon thing" that a product link answered. 5th is "How do I stop bats from nesting in an attic?" which is also much more broad. 6, another product link. And 7? More product links. And you know what? They're all at least decent, if not good questions. – tghw Sep 17 '13 at 23:02
  • Clearly, this guideline of "if a product link answers it then it's off topic" is only true of some questions, but not others. – tghw Sep 17 '13 at 23:15
  • @tghw I'm coming to that conclusion because I provided 3 links and you're counting to 7... O_o?? It doesn't appear that you're even looking at the same list of links. I've done the best I can to explain what the current policy is and I understand that you don't agree with it. That policy is created by the community, so you'll need to convince them that there's a problem with the current policy or enforcement and we'll follow their guidance. – BMitch Sep 18 '13 at 5:34
  • @BMitch You're commenting on the list of 7 links. Which links would you think I was referring to? I addressed those three links already. 1 is a "this or that" opinion question. 2 is a "this or that or the other or the other other..." question. 3 is the closest to mine, but lacks any specification and is not solving a specific problem. None of these are particularly good analogies to my question, whereas the questions I posted are much closer. Try reading them. – tghw Sep 18 '13 at 7:00
  • @BMitch Regarding the "policy", it is very confused. As my links show, questions where a product link is a good answer are aplenty on the site, many with numerous upvotes. Even the meta discussion on shopping questions gives examples where a question that is looking for the correct tool or device is valid. Note the first comment: I think the key difference is "What the heck should I be looking for?" is ok. "Where can I find..." isn't. – tghw Sep 18 '13 at 7:05

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