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I am not talking about the merits of what is on- or off-topic on this site, I am making a suggestion for updating how that is described in the help center under "What topics can I ask about here". I was confused by the current text and I see I'm not the only one.

Currently, the description properly emphasizes that on-topic are questions about enterprise networks. Listed as off-topic are questions about home networking and consumer-grade equipment. Fine. The problem is there is a gaping hole between the two categories, namely home office, small office, and medium-sized business (a.k.a. SOHO and SMB) networking and equipment.

According to US Census data, approximately 90% of business have fewer than 20 employees, and more than half of all jobs are with small businesses. This means that the solid majority of business-class networks are probably off-topic here, because they are not using enterprise-grade equipment. Personally, since I have worked in companies ranging in size from zero to over 250,000 employees, I feel I understand the distinction between "business" and "enterprise", but I suspect lots of people who have only worked in small businesses, which again are the majority of people, do not readily appreciate the difference. Still, when I read about what was off-topic, I did not consider a question about business-grade equipment in an office environment off-topic. I was wrong about that, and it would have saved me and some moderators time and effort if I had understood the boundaries more accurately before posting.

Currently, the help center contains the note:

"All questions about RESIDENTIAL/HOME networking and CONSUMER-grade equipment, are explicitly OFF-topic."

I propose changing that to:

"All questions about RESIDENTIAL/HOME/SMALL BUSINESS networking and CONSUMER-grade or SMALL BUSINESS-grade equipment are explicitly OFF-topic."

The beginning of the "Off-Topic" section starts with:

  • residential/home networking;
  • consumer grade products;

I propose changing that to:

  • residential, home, and small-business networking;
  • consumer and small-business grade products;

I believe this more accurately states the consensus of what is off-topic and will help reduce the frequency of people posting off-topic. It would have saved me time in keeping me from posting here and aggravation in being told that a 48-port L2+ managed Ethernet switch is not a business-class device.

(I also think the Off-Topic close reason should be changed from "about professional networks" to "about enterprise or service-provider networks" but I don't want to create a second post about that.)

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Small business devices cover a very broad spectrum of devices, some little more than consumer devices repackaged for the small business by marketing/sales to nearly fully enterprise capable devices containing many features. Some sizable business and higher education environments with network professionals make use of the higher end small business devices (i.e. more features and capabilities).

It seems counter productive to rule them all out, so how do we draw a distinction to help guide the community in what is on topic/off topic without leaving it to the whims of the moment? Ultimately it was decided on that most of the better equipment with better vendor support had a paid support option. This also fits as most professionally managed networks also require paid support.

Was it a perfect way to break draw this distinction? I don't think any of us at the time thought it was perfect, but it is a fairly clear line to guide the community. If you can provide a better suggestion, we would love to hear it, but I can't imagine all network devices labelled with "small business" being determined to be off topic here.

So, this is what the What topics can I ask about here? section of the help center also says (emphasis mine):

and meets the following requirements

  • under your direct control (if the network is not under your control you will not likely be able to provide the information required to answer your question);
  • hardware that has a paid support option (enterprise/provider class products, some small business class devices);

As for your parting comment about the off topic close reason, you are absolutely correct that it should be updated, if not in the way that you mentioned. At one point the SE staff suggested that we remove the focus from the person ("network professionals") to the topic ("professionally managed networks"). The help center was updated with this change, but the off topic reason clearly wasn't. Thank you for pointing that out. So I fixed that now.

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  • It seems to me more counter-productive to NOT rule them out in the help text but then rule them out when the questions are asked. People here say that MikroTik devices are now off-topic (despite plenty of paid support options and no shortage of features). I say make the help center text reflect the practice and let people argue that their small business network/device qualifies as an enterprise if there is gray area. It pisses me off to spend time writing a post and waiting for responses only to get it closed as off-topic.
    – Old Pro
    Jun 13 '17 at 6:20
  • I am sorry this has upset you. It is not difficult to copy and repost your post on another SE site. However, I just double checked and Mikrotik does not offer a paid support option. Yes, there are third party services that you can hire, but they do not represent the manufacturer. By the definition in the help center, these devices are off topic on this site.
    – YLearn
    Jun 13 '17 at 7:49
  • If I wanted to argue MikroTik should be on-topic, I would say that since MikroTik is providing paid training and certification programs and MikroTik certified professional consultants, it shouldn't matter that they are doing it without making the support personnel MikroTik employees, but that is not what this is about. This is about making the help center text clearer about what is off-topic. Yes, I could (and did) copy and repost my question elsewhere, but I lost 2 days of response time in the process.
    – Old Pro
    Jun 13 '17 at 8:01
  • Once again, devices classified as small business cover a wide variety of platforms and capabilities. It makes no sense to rule them all out (some certainly fit here) and it also makes no sense to allow all of them (some are no better than consumer devices); but how to draw the line in a way that makes it a somewhat clear distinction? Most of the higher end platforms do have paid support options and better vendor support. Is it a perfect line, no, but it is the best we were able to come up with at the time, if you have a better suggestion, I would love to hear it.
    – YLearn
    Jun 17 '17 at 3:26
  • My better suggestion is above, but I will clarify it for you. It is to say in the Help Center that "SMALL business" is ruled out, which you can then clarify to say that if it has paid support then it is not a "small business" device. Right now the big print says my question about a 48 port L2+ switch is acceptable and I have to read the fine print to find the exception that got it REJECTED; I propose that you warn in the big print that it is off-topic and clarify in the fine print what makes a small business question ACCEPTABLE.
    – Old Pro
    Jun 17 '17 at 3:46
  • Again though, we are not going to rule out small business. That just won't happen as it doesn't fit what the community decided on. If you can come up with a better distinction between small business devices that are on topic and ones that are off topic that would be clear for the targeted community, please suggest it. To clarify, your stance that we rule out all small business will not be accepted.
    – YLearn
    Jun 17 '17 at 3:55

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