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I've had this one in my head for some time and thought this should be discussed. Right now, any question that seeks advice on a 'product' is considered off topic:

Questions seeking product recommendations are off-topic as they become obsolete quickly. Instead, describe your situation and the specific problem you're trying to solve.

The rational behind this is is written down in a 2010 blog post aimed at Stackoverflow. The idea was that product recommendations go out of date quickly. While this is certainly true with some types of products (the example given deals with consumer electronics) it is far less true for other products, such as books.


Books tend to be a good source of nicely bundled information and they tend to have a longer useful lifespan than, to use the same example, consumer electronics.

Finding the good books, among the long list of books on any given subject, especially if you are not an expert on the topic, is hard. At the same time, most professionals can quite easily point out good books in their area of expertise.
(Some of the best books on information security I've read in the last couple of years were recommended by the various well known members of sec.SE; I'm pretty sure, I would not have found those books myself.)

So, the combination of the usefulness of receiving expert advice, the value of good information sources and the fact that they tend to have a long (compared to other products) lifespan, I feel books should be exempt from the "no product recommendations" rule.

In short
I feel books are far too valuable a source of information to be excluded from asking recommendations on. I personally feel that if we want people to better understand information security and its various disciplines, we should encourage people to read good books on the subject.

  • If you downvote, please leave a comment. – Jacco Apr 25 '16 at 16:00
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    On meta, downvotes usually mean disagreement, upvotes agreement. – Rory Alsop Apr 25 '16 at 18:18
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    Both agreement and disagreement without an explanation are not very helpful in a discussion. – Jacco Apr 25 '16 at 18:28
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While books are many times great resources, they are even quicker to become obsolete or at least parts made irrelevant. Regardless, any recommendations would be better served in a wiki style area which can be moderated by users on an as needed/updated basis -which isnt the same as our Q&A setup.

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I think it would be great to have a well-written reply that answers the question and is future proof - along with a book that could potentially help the OP overall on the subject.

  • StackExchange answers - for sites like Sec.SE at least - are nearly never actually future-proof. Books are even worse. – Iszi May 5 '16 at 1:34
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    in fact, SO has such a list for programming books (at least for C++): stackoverflow.com/q/388242 – SEJPM May 5 '16 at 20:26
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Books, like websites, can contain out of date information. Your post should try to be future proof if it does recommend anything. Books aren't future proof since they become wrong with age in a lot of cases. If this book if eternally right, sure. Just remember to paraphrase the part you are talking about in case all copies(physical and retention) get destroyed in the future uprising of the monkeys who are pissed off at the ladder.

In the case of paraphrasing form a book, don't forget the source, so that in the time frame it is relevant they can go look it up and possibly learn more. Leaving it as the authority though without extracting the information is a bad idea.

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Books are among the last types of products that should be considered for exemption from the general rule on product recommendations.

Firstly, requests for books still suffer many of the same problems that are inherent to all product recommendations.

  • Even with a well-written question, it's often hard to be sure of what personal preferences may sway an asker's ultimate choice for an accepted answer.
  • Even when given specific parameters, judging which one would "best" suit an asker's needs can be very subjective.
  • If budget is an issue, a product's suitability to meet the asker's requirement will change over time - and may especially be very short-lived in the case of promotional discounts.
  • To properly declare the "best" fit for anyone's needs - out of all the available products in a given space - requires a breadth of experience and sampling that practically nobody has, nor has time to acquire.
  • The list goes on, but I'll stop this part here.

And all the while that they're sharing these problems with other product classes, books are probably the absolute worst suffers of this one:

  • A product's suitability to fulfill any given need changes over time - often rapidly - as technology evolves, new solutions are developed, and previously-unrecognized problems with existing solutions are discovered.

For comparison, let's look at some of the common things that SE gets asked for in these sorts of questions:

  • Websites and applications in the cloud are frequently updated to fix problems in content and functionality as they are discovered, add new features according to demand, and generally evolve along with the needs of their customers. This is usually done with absolutely zero effort on the part of the customer. This helps to maintain the website's value over time and can even serve to increase it - sometimes to the point that it could move up in rank when compared to competitors. (Though of course this also means a website's relative value could decrease if it doesn't keep up with its competitors' innovations.)
  • Software can in many ways be, and often is, maintained similarly to websites in terms of patching flaws and bringing in new features on a regular basis. This typically requires minimal - and, in some cases, practically zero - effort or cost for the customer, unless a major new revision comes out that requires re-installation, a license upgrade, or (relatively infrequent) a re-purchase.
  • Devices have a harder time keeping up with new developments, as the hardware they're shipped with usually cannot be changed to maintain pace with increasing requirements. If the hardware can be upgraded when necessary, it is usually a non-trivial issue for the customer and most often comes with a substantial cost. However, many devices can still have their lifetime extended - and, on occasion, value improved - by the issuance of firmware updates and upgrades. In that respect, they're a little bit like software but just a lot less flexible in general.

And then we have...

  • Books, which do not change at all over time. Once bought, the dead tree matter will (at best) remain in exactly the same configuration as it had while it was sitting on the seller's shelf. Technology will move on, and often does very quickly, but the book's contents will not keep pace one iota. What is written as the absolute industry best practice in a book today may be revealed to have severe weaknesses tomorrow. But the book will still proudly proclaim that the broken solution is what you should be doing, and anyone who does otherwise is a moron. E-books provide an opportunity for the author/publisher to issue updates, but (and I'll grant I don't have much experience with this) I strongly doubt this is regularly done. More often, if you want to "upgrade" your book to a new version that has more current information, you'll have to shell out the full purchase price for a "new edition". And the vast majority of books never get one.

So, my answer is no. Absolutely not. Ever. Even if the embargo on product recommendations gets lifted at some time in the unforeseeable future, there should be an exemption on that policy that keeps book recommendations (at the very least, for any kind that would be on-topic for Sec.SE) completely off-limits. Let the dead trees stay dead on Sec.SE.

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