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A few hours ago, a question was closed as off topic with the close reason we're now applying to game recommendation questions: Way to manage world factions and events. Now I see the tag has been edited to declare tool-recs off topic, and the close banner universally refers to all recommendation questions.

Consider me pretty shocked that we're now banning tool-recs as well, because there has been no dialog on that at all, nor checking with the community.

Community self-evaluation: How are we doing with game recommendations? covered just one tag and policy: whether game recommendations are on topic, represented by . That policy almost exclusively concerns itself with recommendations of actual RPG systems (hence our original tag being ), and later came to be used for adventures too. We talked about that one tag and its purpose. It had loads of problems, not least of which was shifting goalposts. Tool recommendations were never asked about nor discussed.

questions are something we've been handling separately. They never had much visibly to do with that policy or that tag. From what I've seen, they don't experience identical issues, and they don't get the same level of draconian rule enforcement and mod attention that was necessary to keep game-recs functioning at the minimum functioning level. More than that though: we the community never talked about banning them nor endorsed doing so. They've been banned without consultation, based on a discussion of one different type of recommendation we host. This is not good due process.

Before you go closing tool-recs for the same reason, and banning those as entirely off-topic, actually get our endorsement on this plan please. We may as a community want to keep them on topic. (Or we might choose to say they are off topic, which is fine, but let's actually have some public agreement on that first.)

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To be very clear, this question largely exists to communicate there's been a mess-up in communication and action by the moderators over the banning.

Here's what happened:

  1. "Let's evaluate how game recommendations are going because they seem pretty shaky."
    • Lots of discussion that seems specifically centered on games and adventures, i.e. the game recommendation tag's contents. Absolutely no mention of tools.
    • General agreement game recommendations aren't going well.
  2. "All shopping questions are now banned."

Jumping straight to step 2 was itself pretty surprising: The policy change regarding game-rec questions needs review. It was generally agreed due process should've had an intermediate step where we discuss whether to actually carry out a ban, but also that it wasn't worth going back and having that step.

Here's how good communication and process would've happened:

  1. "Hey, let's evaluate how all of our shopping questions are going. That covers game recommendations and tool recommendations and just about everything else you can think of recommendation-wise, so we're evaluating those things too."
    • Discussion happens on a variety of subjects. Tool recommendations get mentioned.
  2. "Ok, evaluation's done. Do we ban recommendations of game systems, and adventures, and tools?" (Or a separate question for each.)
    • We decide and say yes/no to each.
  3. "Hey, we're banning these things you agreed we should ban."

Mentioning the clear impact of things would've been good communication. Consulting us clearly on actually banning things would've been good process. Neither of those happened, and the interpretation of our game-rec discussion as being all shopping questions is not constructive.

We should probably now have a discussion on tool-recs and whether to keep or remove them, since that never happened. But the fact it didn't, but they got banned anyway, is a big problem.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is not quite accurate. We did no banning. What we did do is in header-sized letters in that meta: "We should ditch game-rec guidelines". We did. Everything being objected to here is direct fallout of that: we have no rules for permitting them, so they're not permitted. That's why bringing back tool-rec without proposing new rules is a non-starter. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '15 at 3:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie My suggestions that wasn't clearly communicated are, apparently, falling on deaf ears. Also, banning it vs removing the rules that allowed it - tomato/tomato. The mods decided they were no longer allowed and we weren't appropriately consulted in that decision, whatever words you want to pick to describe it. When we decide something can no longer be asked here, that's a ban, so I'm calling it a ban. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 3:51
  • \$\begingroup\$ No, the difference absolutely matters. It is the whole reason we are where we are now. Regarding consultation: to the contrary, you even cite a meta where I say that it would have been silly to have a vote to implement the vote, so we didn't, in an answer which is highly upvoted and accepted. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '15 at 3:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I do. And then it turns out that vote means more for the site than you ever communicated. See how I reworded point 1 in version 2 to mention all shopping questions including tool recommendations, and then we explicitly discuss what to ban in the next step? That is important. We didn't get to do that. So now you have this complaint. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 3:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I've said what I expected to happen in the very answer you're commenting on. Clear communication, and having that step 2. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 4:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, what I expected to happen was that [game-recommendation]'s contents got banned. The fact it turned out to affect all shopping recommendations, including tool recommendations, comes as a shock because nobody ever talked about those or brought those up. Everyone talked about systems, and talked about the problems that happen in game-rec, and all of the prior discussion has been about systems and games and adventures. So I expected that tool-recommendation, and anything else, would be left alone. Apparently it isn't. Had I been alerted this might happen, I would've gotten involved. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 4:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ But I wasn't alerted, and I did not get involved, and now I'm being told "well, shopping questions are banned now" based on no discussion of that nature and scope happening. Just talks about games and one tag happened, as far as I saw at the time, and this idea that game recommendations somehow also includes tool recommendations is news to me. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 4:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Mate, the clock shouldn't have to even be wound back in the first place. Some acknowledgement that things happened badly or maybe not as well as they could have happened instead of standing around surprised anyone could have expected anything else would be appreciated. But yeah, I intend to make that discussion happen and propose those guidelines. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 4:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I am suggesting no such thing. (That is a pretty straw manny way to summarise it and misses so much of the point of what I'm saying, so consider me gravely unamused.) I'll come back later clarify, but for now I'm going to take leave of this. I have other things I need to be occupying myself with and it is about time I take my mind off this. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 4:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ What are you suggesting then? The meta Q at hand is suggesting that they are (or be declared) still on-topic. If you're not suggesting that, it's rather unclear what else you might be. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '15 at 16:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie What I'm suggesting is that people can do whatever they like with that policy, it doesn't mention and isn't about tool recommendations. All it ever mentions is systems (and its tagging started out that way), then it comes to mention published adventures, _and that's it. It has nothing to do with tools - it never mentions them, the interpretation of "well it covers tools too" is something you've decided but was never written. Suggesting the policy to support tool recommendations is gone is a nonstarter, because that was never tool recommendation policy to begin with. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 22:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ "No, tool-recs (the tag) was explicitly created due to the discussion to diversify the tagging of questions covered by our late recs policy." - Which is never said anywhere! Not even in that policy! For all I know, you made that up, though I doubt you did so. You are apparently benefiting from closed knowledge some of us were not aware of! I can't fault you for not informing us and assuming we might've known, but I can fault you for saying we should've known and should've expected this outcome despite not being told about it. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 22:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie You missed the point of that comment if you're saying "well, charops aren't covered by the policy, so of course they wouldn't be banned." Yeah, neither were tool recs! And that's how surprising it is. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 22:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I don't think we have had specific policy about them, and it is probably overdue that we do. But, in the absence of a policy, pointing to one that only really talked about game systems, for a tag about recommending game systems, then asking how our game recommendations are going, doesn't make it OK to say tool recommendations (never mentioned nor discussed in any of this) are now banned and that we consented to it. You changed the status quo with a topic ban without any secured agreement. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 22:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ We have a specific policy: the SE-wide ban on shopping questions. All recommendation questions were once under the aegis of our game-rec née sys-rec policy, even being tagged with [game-rec] or its ancestors. Tagging changed when we decided that maybe we needed more specific tags, but policy did not. (Only tool requests had enough mass to get their own *-rec tag in the end.) So now with the controlling policy gone that permitted shopping questions, all shopping questions are explicitly off-topic per the SE ban on them. Tool-recs were never an overlooked, policy-less question type. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '15 at 22:34
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I had a big long answer written up, but I don't really think I need one.

Let's turn back the clock and peer way, way back in time to the antediluvian period, in ancient August of that long-vanished year of 2015:

@doppelgreener If the game-recs go, then our draconian bandaid solution for them will go too, I have no doubt. Whether tool-rec and such will live on after is probably something that will take some time to shake out, but regardless they'll be managed on their own merits. – SevenSidedDie♦ - Aug 20 at 3:50

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    \$\begingroup\$ The band-aid is gone and it has shaken out. If people want them back, they can propose new policy based on their merits. I see a whole lot of not-doing-that so far. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 9 '15 at 0:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I took the liberty and did just that: meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/a/5863/3324 Please do have a look. \$\endgroup\$ – Angelo Fuchs Oct 10 '15 at 20:44
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SevenSidedDie argues that is a subset of , and therefore banned along with that tag. While that's certainly worth discussing, it's also important to consider on its own merits. And in that arena, I believe that it falls short.

Tool recommendation questions are effectively identical to shopping questions, which are banned on SO main for good reason, as well as on most of the rest of the SE network. Unlike some questions on, for example, Super User, RPG tool recommendation questions rarely can be rewritten to the more acceptable, "Teach me what I need to know to make a good decision for myself," so even that loophole is closed.

So why are shopping tool recommendation questions bad? They, pretty much by definition, lead to link-centric answers. While a good answer won't be just a link (an explanation of why the tool matches the asker's needs is pretty much mandatory), it will still be centered around a link that could stop working at any time. A lot of RPG tools are unlicensed 3rd party contributions made available for free on whatever no-cost/low-cost hosting is available to the creator. They can disappear at the drop of a hat, and even if they're still available, they may not be kept up to date.

Essentially, is the RPG.SE equivalent of class of questions that the rest of the network has banned for good reasons, reasons that apply just as well here as they did everywhere else.

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    \$\begingroup\$ No, link rot does not invalidate good Tool Rec answers. If I know a product is a good solution to my problem, I can search for alternate methods of acquiring it. It's possible the tool will be gone forever, but it's also possible, and I think more likely, that the link will rot and the site will go down but the product will still be available from some other party. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Oct 8 '15 at 17:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't know how tool-recommendation can be a subset of game-recommendation if tools aren't games. I can understand the same rules applying, but I can't see one as subset of the other. \$\endgroup\$ – Flamma Oct 8 '15 at 23:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Flamma You may notice that I explicitly state in my first paragraph that SSD is arguing that, and that I wanted to discuss tool recs on its own merits. If you would like to argue about whether tool recs should be part of game recs, we have 2 answers in this question, a whole additional question with more answers, and a chat channel for doing so. My answer is about whether tool recs deserves to be allowed on its own merits. \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Oct 8 '15 at 23:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ObliviousSage I didn't see SSD answer below. Sorry if I disturbed you. \$\endgroup\$ – Flamma Oct 8 '15 at 23:40
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Shopping questions are/were off topic initially.

We decided we should allow "system-recs" initially and developed guidance to attempt to allow them. As it became clear we were getting adventure-recs, tool-recs, etc. we changed the tag to game-rec and said "and tag it with adventure or tool or setting or something too."

Recently, as these questions remained both scarce and problematic, we had discussion on meta and ended up rescinding shopping questions. This includes all variants.

Apparently not everyone participated in that discussion, or had the same understanding of it, or whatever. OK, that's unfortunate. But the mod interpretation of current state is as I've stated it above. Therefore it is fact, as we're the ones that have to enforce it, and we see no clear reason we should be interpreting past discussion in a different way.

More meta Qs just saying this is unfair or improper or generally complaining about how it's all "mod abuse" and the results of impropriety - this one and @darkwanderer's other one - aren't going to help anything and frankly generally makes us want to ignore them. This will be my only post to this question and I do not intend to post to @darkwanderer's given its current frame. They're frankly patently offensive and I have better things to do than engage with people who are expressing themselves in this manner.

Proposing specific guidelines under which we might allow tool recommendations (or the "close to rec" class of "does something exist?" questions) that could be discussed and voted on would be.

However, given the failure of game-recs I'm not sure what rules would be both easy enough to administer and effective, so I'd most likely be against that measure, though perhaps I might be surprised with a brilliant plan (other than 'do what we were doing again,' which is a non-starter).

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    \$\begingroup\$ You're taking a complaint that informed consent wasn't secured as offensive? I haven't even mentioned mod abuse. I don't know what background you're reading into this. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 22:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your conduct here to SSD is offensive to him and to me. Acting surprised about it doesn't make it less so. Insisting we "admit we were WRONGZ!!!!" - is that really your goal? Because that seems like it's what most of your effort is being placed towards. If you want to get tool-recs back on topic, go do that. I won't be responding further. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Oct 8 '15 at 23:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ “the mod interpretation of current state is as I've stated it above. Therefore it is fact.” False. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Oct 8 '15 at 23:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mxyzplk Right, I can't do much about you finding it offensive. And no, my driving point is due process and good communication didn't happen. I don't care whether you think you were wrong or not. I appreciate you saying it's unfortunate, because it is. I intend to open the floor to guidelines (or explicit agreement to keep them off topic), only I've let most of my recent spare time get sucked into comment discussion on the internet. I'll deal with that sometime later. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 23:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I'm not really seeing the point either. Hypothetically, if we were to agree that due process and good communication didn't happen — what would be the result? Because I'm not seeing what the hoped-for end-game is of driving for that point. I've consistently focused on trying to redirect you to looking forward instead of back, for that reason. If your intent is to open the floor to a guidelines discussion, “admit everything went wrong” isn't accomplishing it. Moving on to a proposals discussion meta Q is what I'd expect, not this. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '15 at 23:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie: As a community or organization, the correct response to realizing a potentially significant failure of due process has occurred is to slow down and figure out what to do next more carefully, not to say "Right, OK, next item on the agenda is to finish deciding X as fast as possible!" If things are being done sloppily, the last thing to do is to rush through addressing the problems as quickly as possible. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Oct 8 '15 at 23:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TuggyNE Yes, but I'm not seeing a significant failure of due process. (Inasmuch as we have a concept of due process separate from “hash things out and then act on them”, which is what happened. There are no formal processes here to object a lack of following.) The proposal was literally to get rid of a policy, and it received overwhelming support. This is the result of that overwhelmingly-supported proposal. I'm not seeing overwhelming objection at the result, or the process that arrived at the result. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '15 at 23:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie: The existence of this very meta question is the assertion by (14-2) members of the community that some sort of due process breakdown has likely occurred. Please don't dismiss that out of hand. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Oct 8 '15 at 23:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TuggyNE We don't have due process. We just just have talking about stuff on meta. I'm much more interesting in moving on to talking about what to do next instead of going in circles here. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '15 at 23:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie: fakeplus.com/pictures/jpg/… \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Oct 8 '15 at 23:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Cute, but that ignores years of the meta process doing its job just fine. People can raise process objections if they want, but if they're citing irrelevant ideas of process rules, that is just noise. In consensus terms, I see a few isolated objectors, but nothing that merits overturning a consensus established by the surprisingly overwhelming support that proposal got. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 9 '15 at 0:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie: +19/-5 is "surprisingly overwhelming"? Next to +13/-2, which counts as "a few isolated objectors"? I guess I need my magnitude detectors checked. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Oct 9 '15 at 0:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TuggyNE Yes, +19/-3 and double any other answer when it was implemented. On an answer that was a week late, and shot to the top in a surprise come-from-behind. Then it sat around a week uncontested while we the mods waited to see if there was going to be any reversal or new objections, until people started badgering us to implement it already. Which we did. (You're comparing questions to answers, which doesn't work because of how voting works on meta. Show me an answer-post proposal to overturn the decision that meets or exceeds it, then I'll be OK with it.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 9 '15 at 0:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie While I appreciate your attempting to be helpful and direct my efforts, what I experienced came in an entirely different shape (like, having everything ignored in the name of toughing it out, providing no acknowledgment at all there could even be an issue here and dismissing it entirely, etc). I'm at my stress and frustration limit with this effort and to top it off I earlier today realised how I could've brought it up without causing this disaster. So I'm not going to try to explain even more than I have. I'm going to sit this out for a day or two for my own emotional health. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 9 '15 at 16:00
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Tool-recs have always been a subset of game-recs: a recommendation of a game or something for a game. Having their own tag was a tagging convenience, not a sign that they weren't shopping questions subject to our now-defunct special exception. Even if someone persuasively argued that the different tags were a significant separation, they are still self-evidently shopping questions and therefore off topic.

Note that it's somewhat inaccurate to say that we banned the tag—we would ban question types, not tags, if we were to ban something. It's inaccurate in a different way to even say that we banned shopping questions—we just stopped making an exception for them, and watched the default network-wide ban reasserted itself. That might seem like semantics, but that's fine because this issue is tangled with semantics and it's important to understand what did and didn't happen when we the mods executed on the overwhelming agreement that our exception's rules did not work. Everything that was only permitted by that exception is again off-topic.

Since all recommendation requests are off-topic by default, if we want to host tool-recommendation questions, a new exception would have to be created. The old system did not work, and won't be restored wholesale or in part without some very persuasive arguments that it will turn out differently this time.

There's no reason we can't have a new exception, except that nothing has yet been proposed that might make them work in our format.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This answer is a little tone-deaf to the fact that tool recs are named something else entirely from game recs, even if you may consider them under the same umbrella. (Do the rest of us?) We were invited to review something called game recommendations (i.e. game-recommendation), and then something else got banned because of that discussion. Something was on topic before, and now is not, and nobody had a say in making that change or was given clear warning it would happen. I agree they're still shopping questions, but we did not discuss all shopping questions, we discussed game-rec. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 0:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, all game-recs got re-banned regardless of how they are tagged. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '15 at 2:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ SSD, you're missing the bit where we never actually talked about doing that, nor was there agreement or warning about anything happening at that scope. (And the idea that discussion about game-recs covers tool recs is... ambiguous and going to vary. Because they have different names, and there's something very specific we consistently refer to as game-recs, and something we do not.) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 2:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Forgetting that tool-recs have always been a subset of game-recs doesn't make them not shopping questions. They're off topic now. If you want them on-topic, propose a means by which we can make an exception for them specifically that has a chance of working, and see if the community is interested in the experiment. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '15 at 2:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ So, look: yes, I agree we should discuss how to handle tool recs at present. However, you're being held to account for taking ban action without clear communication. I didn't "forget" they were the same thing as there's never been consensus they are, and it isn't like someone said "oh and this will affect tool recs too." Second, repeating that shopping questions are banned is all well and good - but we never discussed banning shopping questions, did we? We evaluated game recommendations. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 2:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your choice to interpret our voice more broadly than what was asked and communicated, but that doesn't mean you're doing so accurately and not misrepresenting us (frankly, for some of us, I think you are). You've already been held to account for going straight from evaluation to concluding a ban and surprising community members in doing so - now this is a ban on another topic, which is also surprising. This has been a major failure of due process and, apparently, also communication to us and your interpretation of our will. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 2:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ That meta was running concurrent to the discussion that resulted in banning, and doesn't have consensus either way. This one does and was never overturned. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '15 at 2:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ The fact it doesn't have consensus rather reinforces my point it's not clear. And the best voted answer says they're not the same, and highlights a history of support for that notion or ambiguity around it. (Aaaand now that answer is deleted for reasons I expressed in the other linked answer. I'll re-author it later.) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 2:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually it's a very recent aberration. I'll suggest reviewing this, this, and this. Those are the inception of the rec rules, and the genesis of tool-rec as an extension of them. A discussion that is based on a history revision where those didn't happen isn't fruitful, and I'm answering with the actual precedents firmly in mind. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '15 at 2:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Right. I'm across these and I've re-scanned and re-read. I'll note that none of this conveys the idea that tool-recs belong to game-rec, in fact: tool-recs seem to have just slid in without much discourse on them at all and where they fit into things. I'll hold that it's not clear that tool-recs somehow belong to game-recs. (The part where I quote you saying a thing? That's just me quoting you saying a thing about how game-recs has un-ideal semantics.) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 3:04
  • \$\begingroup\$ Those are the principles upon which tool-rec is currently banned as a subtype of game-rec. If you want to dismiss them that's fine, but there's not much to discuss then. They're shopping questions, which we agreed we did not do well enough to justify the exception. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Oct 8 '15 at 3:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Oct 8 '15 at 3:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Lord Ashton wept. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Oct 10 '15 at 23:47

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