I have edited this question to bring it to the top of the meta-SA list, because it never seems to have come to consensus, and is relevant again (March 2013).
We have had two sourcing questions lately:
- Is free-range veal available in the US? (later edited)
- Where can I buy borosilicate (Pyrex) bakeware in the U.S.?
[Moved my argument as to why all such questions should be off topic into a new answer]
Is there any circumstance when a sourcing question is a good value add for SA?
Can we reconsider this question, and come to a consensus on how to handle sourcing questions?
Aaronut's original version of the question below:
By "sourcing" in the title, I am referring to questions along the lines of Where can I buy/find X, where X is any culinary item.
A recent question, What is a good place online to buy quality Sterling Silver Dinnerware?, picked up a few "off-topic" flags and a close vote. I have to confess that this puzzled me, because utensils are culinary items and our community has always allowed these "sourcing" questions in the past.
A search for the keywords "where find" or "where buy" in the title turn up 12 and 15 prior questions respectively, most of which seem to have been pretty uncontroversial. Some of them are practically identical in their format, such as Where can I buy online spices, sauces, extracts, etc. with international shipping? or Cheapest place to get bulk chocolate?.
I asked about it in chat and some of the comments revolved around these previous questions appearing to be low-quality or treated as polls, where everybody answers "here's where I buy them" as opposed to working toward a comprehensive list.
Those arguments are fine, and it's never too late to revisit a policy if we see a problem emerging - but we have to be consistent. We're already asking a lot of our newer members to understand the sometimes hazy distinction between good vs. bad recipe questions or "What can I add to X" - I don't think we'd be doing anybody a favour by closing "bad" sourcing questions based on a Stewart test.
So, things to think about:
Is there a fundamental, structural problem with sourcing questions like the one linked at the top of this post? Are they always polls, and therefore Not Constructive?
If we assert that these are polls, is there any valid formulation of the question? For example, we don't allow shopping questions of the form "What's the best X?", but it's OK to ask "What features are important in an X?" (equipment) or "How can I spot a good X?" (ingredient selection). Is there an equivalent when somebody is searching for a supplier?
Is there a difference between asking for online suppliers vs. local suppliers? Why or why not?
One of our principles on Stack Exchange is that questions should demonstrate some preliminary effort to solve the problem, which is inherent in our rules about recipe requests and general reference questions. Does that apply in any way to sourcing questions - could it be the deciding factor in whether to close or leave open? If so, how is somebody supposed to demonstrate this effort?
P.S. Please note that I am not advocating a policy change here or suggesting what it should be. I'm simply pointing out what appears to be a current state of inconsistency and confusion, and opening up the discussion for others to comment on.
If nobody has anything to say, we (hopefully speaking on behalf of all the mods here) will just continue to leave these questions alone, unless there's something else seriously wrong with them and/or the community starts consistently voting to close them.