Due to extended exposure to wide SE network, hot questions tend to attract certain amount of low quality answers 1 2 3. These answers would better be (and eventually are) removed, but on smaller / subjective-ish sites removal takes quite a lot of time due to limitations in moderation power and inadequate flagging system.

This slowdown in removal, coupled with the way how hotness score indiscriminately inflates depending on amount of answers causes hot questions stick in the list longer than it would be in case of timely removal.

Suggest to adjust aging decay of questions "hotness" to account for amount of answers.

This would unblock other entertaining / interesting questions of the site and allow them to enter hot list.

##Diluting the brand

No matter what their purpose 4 is, it isn't reasonable to ignore long-term educational impact hot questions make on audience.

Current approach suppresses questions having less answers - given limited capacity of the hot list, this is just another way to say that it indiscriminately favors questions having more answers. This sends strong signal to SE users on what kind content is welcome here.

You may write and refer blog posts about real answerable questions until hell freezes over, but everyday reality of seeing other kind filling the sidebar works totally against the idea of welcoming laser sharp questions having "single correct answer", no matter how you try. As observed in another discussion of related matters, this dilutes the brand:

watching the 'hot network questions' leads me to think that several of the recent sites are gigantic broken windows of self-absorbed subjectivity... The questions are whiney, the answers are opinion, and the voting ... oh the voting.

I try to resist the 'reality TV' temptation to click on hot questions on these sites, but every so often I fail...

For the sake of completeness, brand dilution may be less visible from outside of Stack Exchange, as web searches eventually correct artificially promoted 5 stuff and bring truly valuable / entertaining content back to top, fixing the issue for visitors coming here from web searches. It's SE regulars, active askers and answerers, who take the hit of fake popularity conditioning coming from sidebar, it's them who get a long standing impression that asking questions to gain as much answers as possible is the way to go.

##"Protection" that makes a room for damage

The very protection ("penalty") that prevents list from being dominated by Stack Overflow, makes room for it to be dominated by questions from sites less capable of moderating highly exposed content.

Think of SO regulars (making probably the largest audience of the hot list), what do they learn from it? No matter how good are SO questions that get into the list, vast majority of what is promoted there is not like that.

  • Yeah average SO user can't see SO questions that fail to get to the list but what they see instead are mostly questions from other sites, encouraging multiple answers. This teaches list audience that it's a norm, that system encourages that. They think wow this works so well at other site(s), let me try something similar at SO. Yeah their attempt will most likely fail 6 and their question will likely be voted down and closed, but, alas, this won't help next guy seeing the same skewed selection at the hot list.

No matter how you close, downvote, educate those who tries it at Stack Overflow, this won't stop new users from trying weird "hot-like questions" again and again and again - simply because that's the way promoted to them from the hot list - every day, day by day, week by week, month by month.

  • I wonder if ultimately the "hot network questions" should just be a feed of hot questions from sites I can subscribe to or decide are interesting. I don't quite know how to learn about new sites under that approach though - like Aviation is something I wouldn't have considered on my own but they've had some good questions. Ultimately, I treat hot questions as a "what's new that I might be interested in?" feed and all these algorithm tweaks to try and balance the number of sites would still result in sites I don't want to see in the hot questions list.
    – Troyen
    Mar 27, 2014 at 23:20
  • 3
    Not totally clear on what you're actually requesting here. Less tangential hand-wringing, more problem statement followed by specific suggestions for changes.
    – Shog9
    Apr 24, 2014 at 19:11
  • 1
    @Shog9 there you go, actual request made bold, specific (example) suggestion for change is linked, at words "adjust aging decay of questions "hotness"", supporting reasoning is visually separated from main part of the request
    – gnat
    Apr 24, 2014 at 19:23
  • Number of answers isn't automatically a problem; perhaps you meant number of downvoted answers? Apr 22, 2015 at 22:46
  • 1
    @MonicaCellio per my observations, when smaller site questions are advertised from sidebar to hundreds Stack Overflow users who typically have no idea of local quality norms but are "armed" with association bonus, downvotes become too easy to obscure by sympathy upvotes to make any meaningful impact
    – gnat
    Apr 22, 2015 at 22:57

1 Answer 1


It's worth noting that matters of aging factor have very little impact on Stack Overflow questions. If you take time to monitor questions in the hot network list, you may notice that SO ones seem to leave it much faster compared to questions from smaller sites.

To understand why this is so, take a look at SO-specific "penalization" adjustment to hotness score explained here:

IF siteId in (over-represented sites) THEN Score = Score*0.2

Primary purpose for above is claimed 1 to avoid the list being dominated by Stack Overflow questions, and adjustment serves this purpose pretty well. It is easy to see that SO questions occupy a reasonably small fraction of the hot list, leaving enough room for questions from other sites.

However, a side effect of that is that SO questions also tend to age away from the list much faster than those from smaller sites. Thing is, above adjustment levels playing field only for first 7 hours, while hotness formula ignores aging factor. During this time, SO questions "compete" with aged questions from smaller sites reasonably well: their scaled down score is balanced by aging factor that scales down score of the questions from other sites.

But after first 7 hours, when aging factors kicks in, SO questions become much less "competitive", as their score becomes several times less than that of questions from other sites with comparable age and amount of upvotes / answers. As a result, questions from smaller sites tend to quickly push aged SO questions out of the list.

1 While official reason for adjustment is to prevent SO questions dominating hot list, if you dig deeper you'll find that it is most likely nonsense. If SE team wanted just to avoid SO domination, they would implement the adjustment differently.

There is a parameter in hotness formula that controls just how to limit amount of questions from single site:

additional penalty applied to questions if a previous question from the same site is already in the list. This tends to dramatically reduce the chances of multiple questions from the same site appearing...

Tweaking this parameter would guarantee desired limit for questions that can enter the list. But instead of simply changing it they picked an indirect way that makes SO questions leave hot list faster which apparently was the main purpose of this adjustment. The reason they wanted that was I think to avoid too loud meta complaints when SO questions stick in the list ("croissants" probably scared them).

Given above, it is quite likely for suggested proposal to stay ignored. It has to be difficult to justify studying and tuning a feature that is designed in a way guaranteeing a negligible impact on a main site in SE network.

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