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When you hover over "Hot Network Questions" on the main page, there's a text saying they have been "arbitrarily" awarded hotness points.

Since English is not my native language, I had to look up the meanings of arbitrary, which seem to be:

  1. (usually of a decision) Based on individual discretion or judgment; not based on any objective distinction, perhaps even made at random.

  2. Determined by impulse rather than reason; heavy-handed.

  3. (mathematics) Any, out of all that are possible. The equation is true for an arbitrary value of x.

  4. Determined by independent arbiter.

I know from other questions and answers here that "Hot Network Questions" are not manually selected. Rather, they are automatically selected by a computer program following a certain formula. Looking at the synonyms and antonyms of arbitrary, this leads me to ask whether this word is used as a joke, since the opposite seems to be the case?

Or is the idea that the selection algorithm itself (being man-made) is written in such a way that some people may find it unreasonable and arbitrary?

  • It's meant as a trigger – random Jul 8 '16 at 18:40
  • @random What do you mean by "trigger"? – Revetahw Jul 8 '16 at 18:43
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    I think the overall message is: don't take it too seriously. Just like we abjure users not to take "imaginary internet points" (aka rep) too seriously. SE needed to pick some method to advertise sub-sites to people who might not otherwise explore, and the one they selected is the HNQ algo. Like any other decision, it has pros and cons. – Dan Bron Jul 8 '16 at 19:46
  • @DanBron Yes, makes sense. – Revetahw Jul 8 '16 at 19:48
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Or is the idea that the selection algorithm itself (being man-made) is written in such a way that some people may find it unreasonable and arbitrary?

Yes, exactly that. The algorithm, or rather, parts of it, have been selected arbitrarily (say - things like the relative weights of different factors).

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