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Listening to the latest podcast, I followed the advice to get an incognito window and look at Stack Overflow as a brand new user:

Are these really interesting?

None of the questions have any votes, only one has an answer, and many have only ever been seen by the author as far as we can tell. (For the moment, let's assume the view number is accurate and current.) Without even reading them, I can guess that these are likely to to be among the least interesting questions on the site.

The very design of the feature optimizes for unanswered (or badly answered), unviewed, new questions. Question score does play a role, but it can be completely negated by 5 answers, one answer with a score of 5, 67 views, or a combination of the three.

Now if you have some favorite and ignored tags, and if you have tag scores, the picture is a little less bleak. When the system gets to know what interests you, it can serve up more posts in tags that are at least potentially interesting. But the less you have interacted with the system, the more random the list appears. Thanks to Sturgeon's Law new users are getting at least 90% crap from this algorithm.

The weird thing is that we know that our good content is in answers, not questions. I get that the idea behind the "interesting" tab is to bring to the surface questions that the user might be interested in answering, not the ones they might be interested in reading. But for a brand new user, is that really what we should be optimizing for? Do we want to show a bunch of junky questions to a person who is likely more interested in asking than in answering?


For users with no tag score and no tag preferences, eliminate questions with no votes and eliminate the criteria related to answers and views. The two criteria would become:

question score               +200 × score, up to +1,000 total
question last activity date  -1 × (seconds / 15)

(Note: it is no longer possible to experiment with the criteria, so it's not possible for me to test this algorithm.)

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+1 for listening to the podcast. If the first thing I hear when a podcast starts is someone chewing something, I just close the tab and forget all about it. – Yannis Mar 28 '13 at 19:45
@Yannis: Heh. I find Joel's voice soothing background noise at work. The SE podcast is the only spoken word audio I can listen to while programming. But by all means skip the introduction and epilogue. ;) – Jon Ericson Mar 28 '13 at 19:55

I get that the idea behind the "interesting" tab is to bring to the surface questions that the user might be interested in answering, not the ones they might be interested in reading. But for a brand new user, is that really what we should be optimizing for?

Absolutely! People with questions aren't even browsing the lest

A user who is more interested in finding answers to their questions probably doesn't want to browse a list of questions at all, regardless of how good the list generation algorithm is. They're either already on a question of interest (from a Google search), or they're looking to ask a brand new question.

They're not looking to read interesting programming tidbits, they're likely here to solve a problem, in which case, an Interesting tab is a very very inefficient way to go about things.

A user who is more interested in asking questions is going to do just that, they're going to ask a question, and when they start typing their question in, they will see similar questions below the title, and in the margin to their right.

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I'm confused: you seem to argue that new users don't look at the homepage, but are either on an already asked question or on the "Ask Question" page. That may be true, but it doesn't help us decide what a new user should see if they happen to stumble upon our homepage. What am I missing? – Jon Ericson Mar 28 '13 at 20:12
@JonEricson The point is that users with questions do not even want a list of questions to browse. They want to search for their specific problem/question. – Sam I am Mar 28 '13 at 20:17
@JonEricson That and the fact that the vast majority of users come from google searches. – Sam I am Mar 28 '13 at 20:18
I'm sorry for being dense, but I still don't understand your answer here. I know that most users come from Google searches and are seeking answers to specific problems. (It's how I tend to arrive at Stack Overflow myself, these days.) The question pages work well for that purpose. But what do you suggest showing them on the homepage? Just a search box? Or are you saying we shouldn't care what a new user sees? – Jon Ericson Mar 28 '13 at 20:25
@JonEricson It doesn't matter what content askers see on the homepage so long as there is a search box and an ask question button. because askers aren't here to browse. – Sam I am Mar 28 '13 at 20:42
@JonEricson and notice how I'm not talking about new users, but I'm talking about people with questions. The reason for this is because being a new user does not imply that you're not here to start answering questions – Sam I am Mar 28 '13 at 20:43

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