Throwing this idea out there: should the search bar in the topbar pull results just for the local community site you are currently on (current implementation) or results from across the network?

Many times when I enter a search query in the topbar, because a lot of the content within the topbar is network-wide (not all, but most) I somewhat expect to see network-wide results even though I know that's not what will happen.

If the topbar were to allow for network wide searches, you could achieve this at least two ways:

  1. A filter option that a user can turn off and on to search the current site or all SE websites.
  2. Change the search to be network-wide and provide an alternate site-specific search bar.

I'm not crazy about #2 (double-search fields?!?!) and #1 could prove tricky. Still I wanted to see what other user's responses would be this idea.

UPDATE: Some clarification on the goals of this discussion:

  • Let's set aside implementation questions for now. If and when Stack Exchange were to ever roll out an idea like this, we have some really smart people here to make sure that if a programmer is looking for "cake php", we don't serve results from Cooking.SE just because it has the word "cake" in the search. User history, current user accounts, and search query origination (where did the user start this search?) could all weight the search results. All that to say: let's not worry too much about implementation right now. I'm more interested in the pros and cons from a user experience perspective (i.e. Would this make your SE experience better or worse? And why?)
  • "That's just the way we've done it." (Or some variation of this phrase) — Just because we currently employ one method of solving a problem doesn't mean that it's a) still correct or b) can't be challenged with new goals. Comments like this suffocate discussion because it seems to put people who are in the "keep it the same" camp on a higher ground and any idea must overcome this taller hurdle in order to succeed. All ideas are valid right now. Current implementation should not be assumed the best. It should be assumed the best idea for the team at the time they made the decision. That's it.
  • No decisions will be made directly out of this discussion. I'm just gathering opinions for or against an idea.
  • Search is an inefficient and, therefore, an under-utilized tool on SE. Let's be honest: most people don't use search on Stack Overflow. They rely on Google. Our traffic shows this. I'm not under any delusion that by potentially exposing network results in the search results it would dramatically increase the user's search use. Would this make search better though?
  • 2
    A lot of the content on the topbar is network-wide, but all of that network-wide content is on the left side. Everything on the right side (except maybe arguably help) is the current site only.
    – 3ventic
    Oct 30, 2014 at 20:07
  • What sort of queries would you enter in the search bar where you'd want results network-wide? I'm not necessarily against the idea, just trying to get a sense of what real-world problem you're trying to solve.
    – Laura
    Oct 30, 2014 at 20:07
  • This would be an amazing feature, but seems like it would be expensive in terms of database queries. Perhaps it could use the Google custom search, but... it's still Google custom search.
    – hichris123
    Oct 30, 2014 at 20:08
  • 1
  • @Laura The thought generated more from the fact that when I search in the topbar I kind of expect network results because so much of the content is network-related. As far types of queries, it may help for users who search for an question/answer one community (like SO) and find an interesting answer already on another site like UX, Server Fault or Super User. Most results would probably still be within the current community, but other communities could provide some interesting serendipitous answers as well.
    – Hynes
    Oct 30, 2014 at 20:13
  • The topbar is logically divided into left half (network) and right half. The right half of the topbar consists of: my avatar on the site, reputation on the site, badges on the site, help center for the site, link to meta of the site. This is where the search box is. Therefore the search box is for...
    – user259867
    Oct 31, 2014 at 0:51
  • @babaji Our traffic would contend with your comment on "..is logically divided.." That's a learned behavior. It's "logical" only because you've learned the rules. It's not intuitive though.
    – Hynes
    Oct 31, 2014 at 10:44

5 Answers 5


There's a lot of search syntax that's only really useful in a site-specific context (i.e user:##), as well as search terms that have different meanings depending on the site context, so I'd greatly prefer to keep the default scope of the search at the site level.

That said, having a simultaneous search at the network level might be useful if the search results page gave the option to toggle over if what you wanted wasn't available at the site level. For example:

search result mockup with network result toggle

I can see some benefit in a network wide search, but I think for the most part if you're going to be looking for something while already on one of the network sites, you also probably have a target site in mind* and are expecting to find what you want at that site, if it exists. Otherwise, you were making a trip to Google anyway.

If there are any metrics on how often the current network search gets used now that might help frame the discussion a little too, although as it might suffer from poor discoverability those numbers are probably not an accurate reflection of its utility.

* There are some exceptions where topic overlap might muddy the waters, but most of those intersect with Stack Overflow where searching is going to be sort of prohibitive to begin with


Yes, this would be useful feature in my opinion. Can't see any downside and my vision of the filter is adding such an icon to the search box:

When clicked, it would expand to something like this:

The selection will be saved per account for good, same way the tabs/sorting are saved.

  • Perhaps do the selection similarly to the search in Firefox?
    – 3ventic
    Oct 30, 2014 at 20:05
  • Yup, good idea @3ventic. Oct 30, 2014 at 20:07
  • 1
    Think this would be good ux. But wouldn't this really take a hit performance wise if a lot of people start searching all 117 sites with every single query?
    Oct 31, 2014 at 1:01
  • @cVplZ let the developers handle it, and it can use Google Custom search, same way this does, just adding site icon next to each result. (hopefully it can be customized) Oct 31, 2014 at 6:39

I'm not entirely convinced this will be useful. Perhaps on some occasions, but not often.

The Stack sites are intentionally separate as they're all different topics and fields, and so their answers/info are (mostly) completely unrelated. So a cross-search amongst them all could be largely pointless.

There's a potential to return completely irrelevant results from sites with matching keywords yet within unrelated topics/fields.
e.g. Searching for: "Cake php session time out" wanting programmer info, and instead getting results from cooking.stackexchange with: "Cake cook time before taking out".

Granted, it's a pretty wild example, but it will happen. If there are matching keywords across the different sites to return relevant results, there are also likely matching keywords to return irrelevant results.

You'd have to use pretty cunning search criteria and well chosen tags to make it useful. As such, if you're familiar enough with the different sites and their tags to perform an accurate search, surely you just go to that site and perform a search as it is now?

That said, there are scenarios where it could work, mostly it could be quite advantageous for searching some of the technical sites.
Such as cross searching between Stack Overflow, Programmers, Webmasters, etc.

I'm sure some users would find use for it.

It would have to be an additional feature however, and not change anything current.

  1. A filter option that a user can turn off and on to search the current site or all SE websites.
  2. Change the search to be network-wide and provide an alternate site-specific search bar.

Number 1, definitely number 1! And remain defaulted to local until changed by user, with a simple option to choose networked.

Perhaps have:
Initial Default = Local;
Dropdown choices:
1) Network;
2) Network (make default for this session);
3) Local;
4) Local (make default for this session);

Users are familiar with how the search works now with default being local, and changing the default might not be welcomed, potentially causing confusion (and questions asked, complaints, change requests, etc).

Leaving it as is means you've not changed anything, just introduced a new option/feature which users may choose to use or not depending on whether they find use for it or not.

I've not voted either way as while I lean towards it not being particularly useful, it's not breaking or spoiling anything, and it may provide use to enough users to warrant it being implemented.

  • Don't focus so quickly on implementation pros and cons. Does the idea alone bring value? Could it enhance the current experience? If it could, then we can worry about requirements, rules, and other safeguards to put in place to maintain the current level while enhancing it.
    – Hynes
    Oct 31, 2014 at 10:48

Setting aside the question of whether it's technically feasible (I don't know off the top of my head if it is), I think I like this idea.

One thing that comes to mind, though, is whether network-wide search will lead to more network-wide browsing (I assume it would, and that this is, in fact, one of the goals), which in turn would lead to more frustration. Reputation and privileges are site-based, so I'm wondering how much frustration would be caused by users searching from a site where they have a bunch of privileges, and then winding up on a different site where they can't, for example, comment or vote down a post. Does increasing awareness for other sites in the network / getting people to interesting/relevant content outweigh any frustration that might arise from being extremely limited in your interactions with that content?

Another thing that might be mildly confusing is if you click on a search result and don't realize it's taking you to a different site. We have dozens of beta sites that share the same theme, and I could see people not noticing if they were switching from Open Data to Data Science, for example. (Both in public beta at the time of writing.) Not even noticing that you've switched sites would increase the level of frustration caused by any rep/privilege barriers that result from the switching, too.

You tagged this , so I'm musing more than arguing for or against the feature. :) I don't have answers to either of the points I raised that give me pause about the proposal.

  • We have the Hot Network Questions for a while, which are taken from various sites and looks like it's working just fine. I think that as long as the search results would be designed properly to make it crystal clear what site each results belongs to, it's fine. Users should be familiar with Stack Exchange and the per-site reputation, so don't think anyone will be surprised or frustrated. Oct 30, 2014 at 20:56
  • 1
    @ShadowWizard Hot network questions are a totally different use case, though. Those are meant to basically just be interesting reading, so we don't expect that most people will want to interact with them. If you're searching for information, though, I would expect users to want to vote, or possibly comment if they have additional clarifying questions or whatever.
    – Laura
    Oct 31, 2014 at 15:31

@Shadow Wizard suggestion of providing options is most helpful, along with, @James, a default configuration toggle.

It seems this feature would be most useful for the site to order collect more mindful question submissions including accurate tagging, community placement, etc, let alone giving users easy access to a much deeper database of terms, leveraging the feature @Jeff Atwood ensured was available back in Oct 2010.

Let's be more abstract, Stack Exchange would also benefit from collecting, and reporting, community data points on this to gain perspective on requests. For example the highly active community over at Plex.tv forums attempts to implement a liking system for feature requests, it seems the data explorer tool and "feature request" tag is this site best bet.

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