I see that a lot of the Hot Network Questions in the sidebar aren't in areas that I'm even remotely interested in.

How about we show Hot Network Questions differently to each viewer based on the sites they participate in?

I don't mean eliminate all questions that are on sites they don't participate in, but just put a weighting factor in there based on their participation in those sites, so that the more interesting (to them) questions are more likely to be seen. Sites related to their sites of activity would get more weight than those completely unrelated, so for example, if you had a lot of Stack Overflow activity, there would be a higher weighting for Code Review than for Seasoned Advice (though I still see cooking as a programming exercise).

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    I think that big part of the whole "hot questions" thing is attract attention to sites one is not initially familiar with... this will pretty much go against this goal. – Shadow Dec 29 '13 at 18:35
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    @ShadowWizard, well they could still weight based on related sites, like giving a higher rating to Code Review if you have a lot of Stack Overflow activity. – Lance Roberts Dec 29 '13 at 18:37
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    This becomes over complicated in my opinion... I'm not all against your idea just don't see it happening. – Shadow Dec 29 '13 at 18:39

The point of the hot questions bar is to expose people to new sites, so users active on SO will probably know about the trilogy, as well as code review, code golf, and other technical sites, while they will have little ideas about other sites, such as Mi Yodeya and the like.

I propose a similar idea. How about we put a lower weight to only the sites that they have a high activity on; they are very likely to have seen it. However, what I suggest is that instead of an automatic weighting, we could have the user select which sites they want to and don't want to see.

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    +1 for "we could have the user select which sites they want to and don't want to see". There are certain sites I'm just simply never going to be interested in. – Martin Smith Dec 29 '13 at 19:13

As scrblnrd3 notes, exposing folks to sites they're not already on is kinda the point!

That said, you hit on something I think would be really nice: instead of showing "hot" questions in the sidebar, show related questions on other sites!

So if I'm viewing, say, this question I might get this one in the sidebar. Or I'm reading this one and this one pops up.

In other words, forget about customizing these for the reader - customize them for the topic!

I'm sure this is technically challenging, but IMHO it would be a whole lot more interesting than these "hot" questions.

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    This doesn't fulfill remotely the same function as hot questions. I enjoy browsing random greatest hits from other sites but have no interest in Latex or Mathematica so would rather those slots were taken up by other things I am interested in. – Martin Smith Dec 29 '13 at 19:18
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    And what better way to know what you're interested in than by looking at what you're already viewing? You can already create filters and subscribe to newsletters if you want hot topics tailored to specific sites; heck, the mobile app has a "feed" that's also tailored to your interests, and I wouldn't be surprised to see it pop up here eventually too... But do you really need that next to every single question? – Shog9 Dec 29 '13 at 19:22
  • Setting up feeds for other sites requires me to know about them first. I like the way hot questions exposes us to interesting and serendipitous stuff on other sites covering a variety of topics. Just once I've decided the site's not for me I'd rather suppress it and show other content in the limited number of slots. – Martin Smith Dec 29 '13 at 19:34
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    This is a neat idea... we could perhaps power it by tags to start. But, it would kinda destroy the whole "expose folks to sites they're not on already" mechanic. You'd be exposing people to a lot of technical sites, but not Mi Yodeya, or Photography, or Cooking, or anything that isn't code-related. (And on the flip side, on sites that are already non-technical, the list would likely be empty.) – Adam Lear Dec 29 '13 at 20:41
  • Well, you only get 3 questions in that list on question pages right now, so it's not like it'd be any great loss. – Shog9 Dec 29 '13 at 20:42

I've been thinking a lot about this lately, as these hot questions have been ignored for quite a while, and the new top bar kind of forced us to come up with a place to put them.

I love the hot questions because they bring attention to some of our lesser-known sites, and people seem to love them in general just for the interesting factor.

Over the next couple of months we've got a lot of things planned to test. However, at the moment my plan looks something like this:

  • Do some housecleaning in the right sidebar so that we can get more than three to display at any one time
  • Make the server-side list larger and make sure that every page load gets you a new list
  • Use something like newsletter subscriptions or cross site behavior to put together some general probability from site x to site y that somebody would be interested in a question there, then lightly weight the list towards that
  • Ultimately, allow some way of saying that you're not interested in the site at all. It probably is going to have to be more involved than a row of checkboxes … Something like Facebook's "I don't like this item" feature.

Having said that, it looks like we're going to be investing a lot more effort into ML stuff over the next year, so this all might change quickly.

  • I just noticed that when viewing a question the side bar show more than three hot questions, but it appears to be random... sometimes it's 5, sometimes more e.g. now I see 17 right here. Can you share the formula used to determine this, if it reached the final stage? :) – Shadow Jan 9 '14 at 8:07
  • @ShadowWizard Definitely not final, but right now we're just displaying more if there are answers that allow room in the side bar to do so. – Jeremy T Jan 9 '14 at 15:32
  • Based on answers count then? – Shadow Jan 9 '14 at 15:33
  • I believe we worked out something fancier than that that auto detects how long the page is in pixels, but to a rough approximation it's basically more answers equal more hot questions. – Jeremy T Jan 9 '14 at 15:35
  • Cool, would love to see some official update when it's stable. :) – Shadow Jan 9 '14 at 15:39

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