The Hot Network Questions sidebar is a bit of a contentious issue, because it tends to promote questions that are often perceived as 'cheap', of relatively low quality, or on the fringes of topicality for the site that hosts them.

One reason for this is that they're subject to a feedback loop: they're promoted widely, a bunch of people with no previous experience of the site click through, upvote it (because they bring their association bonus) but don't downvote it even if they recognize it as bad (because the association bonus doesn't let you downvote), and then the question score increases, and the system thinks it's really Hot and worthy of further promotion.

This has frustrated a lot of people, to the extent that people have asked that outsiders with just the association bonus be barred from voting on those questions (or, for that matter, asking how to get rid of the sidebar entirely). That, however, is a bit extreme, and makes understandable that the dev and community teams have given that proposal a wide berth over the two years since it was first proposed.

So, here's something a bit less extreme:

Let association-bonus users vote on HNQs, but don't count those votes and views into whatever algorithm does the decision that a question is Hot.

That is, separate all the votes and views on questions and answers into two categories,

  • those by users with 100+ rep earned on the site in question, and
  • those by everyone else, even if they have 100 rep from the association bonus,

and discard the second category when feeding it into the HNQ algorithm (possibly still this one?). (If you want to, you can change that 100 to some given threshold, no smaller than the earned ability to upvote at 15 rep.)

I think this is a good mix of not being too disruptive on the normal mechanisms while also allowing more room for the organic quality measures of the individual sites to decide what gets promoted more widely, instead of the current junk-food driven algorithm.

That said, I would at least like to know from the dev team whether there are insurmountable scaling and feasibility barriers to implementing this sort of separation.

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    I still think reducing the downvote rep-limit to 115 and not counting the association bonus (which is technically possible, as seen with protected questions) for the 15-rep upvote threshold on all questions would also be a good way to mitigate such effects. – Christian Rau Oct 19 '16 at 14:04
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    Yeah, but that's going to have a huge effect on the rest of the site dynamics. (For starters, it's a definite barrier to participation if the association bonus doesn't let you upvote. The only reason upvoting needs any rep at all is to help prevent spam voting rings. Under your proposal, if I ask a question in the new site, I can't even upvote the answers.) This proposal does what it needs to do to break the feedback loop, but not more. – E.P. Oct 19 '16 at 14:47
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    @E.P. if I ask a question in the new site, I can't even upvote the answers. Why do you think you have to be the one who upvotes anything. You can let others upvote for you. They certainly will if your question and answers are useful. If you ask a question in the new site, you can just watch how they go and wait until you accumulate a certain level of rep points which will enable you to upvote. You can accept an answer when you see a useful one. You don't necessarily need to upvote anything if you are new to a site. – Rathony Oct 19 '16 at 15:30
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    @Rathony but SO lemmings... they want to upvote now, "- is it too much to visit site for for a day or two to unlock privileges - Yes, yes it is." (At smaller graduated sites, delay granting association bonus until at least after 2-3 days visited) – gnat Oct 19 '16 at 16:56
  • @gnat I understand the point, but If they want to upvote now, they can go to other sites where they can do whatever they want. If the reason users don't visit SE sites is there is such an unreasonable bar that is not actually very high for upvotes, so be it. – Rathony Oct 19 '16 at 16:59
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    @Rathony I don't think this is the place to discuss that - all I wanted to say is that Christian's proposal is very different and has much wider changes to the participation barriers in place. This may or may not be a good thing, but that's what this discussion is for. As it is, the team is probably (understandably) hesitant to make such large changes to the core Q&A engine and my proposal solves this localized problem (HNQ feedback loops) in a localized way. You can then argue that association bonuses are bad if you think they're still wrecking havoc. – E.P. Oct 19 '16 at 17:50
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    a related post. – user310756 Oct 31 '18 at 1:38

What's proposed in the question is a good, easy, actionable improvement that would make an immediate positive difference and is worth doing.

It can be done, and should be done (and probably should have been done 2 years ago when it was first proposed).

It should be rolled out as soon as possible.

Of course it's one improvement among many needed and not the mythical, magical one-fix-that-will-make-HNQs-perfect. We should, did, and probably will continue to spend large amounts of time discussing other, deeper, more fundamental improvements to the mechanisms around HNQ. That is important and needs doing. It is not a reason to not act on good, simple, quick improvements that will have an immediate positive effect.

If someone is bleeding heavily from the arm, you can and should spend time talking about why they're bleeding, how to prevent similar such bleeding, what the best bandaging technique is, etc etc. But that's not a good reason to dither and delay on treating the immediate symptom, bandaging the bleeding arm.

We should continue to discuss things like how to give sites more control over their HNQs, and discuss the details in posts like, for example:

...but that's not a good reason to delay taking a simple, easy to spec, easy to schedule and easy to implement action that will clearly reduce how often curious-looking but low-quality questions get stuck in the HNQ list because they're (often inadvertently) clickbait-y to people who don't know the topic.

See also this related even-more-popular proposal, from 2014, Prevent questions on Hot List from being upvoted by casual visitors (only rep is from association bonus). I think that's maybe an even better solution - but the most important thing is that either this proposal or that one gets done, and another two years aren't spent ignoring the problem.

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  • The proposal you linked to at the end is also good, though it does have the drawback that it changes the inner workings of the core Q&A engine (that is, at 15 rep you can upvote except if some obscure set of circumstances align). My proposal here leaves the Q&A engine completely alone - it just modifies the hotness-score formula. – E.P. Oct 28 '18 at 11:54
  • Yeah, that's why I think this one has a better chance of being actually implemented. It would break the feedback loop with very few (if any) side effects. – user56reinstatemonica8 Oct 29 '18 at 7:59

In my opinion, this proposal is treating the symptom rather than the cause of the issue. The sites themselves pretty much don't have any input on whether a question makes it to HNQ, since especially on smaller sites a few quick answers and votes can quickly put the question on the HNQ regardless of quality and how well it fits the site. Once it's there, the only thing the site can do to guarantee the question gets off the list is closing it, which in the typical case doesn't make any sense.

The HNQ is great especially for telling other SE users about smaller sites they may not know about, but the site should have some way of influencing whether a question makes it to the list. The HNQ should be for high quality questions that reflect the site and attract new users. As of now, we don't have have any feedback on the quality or that it reflects the site only if it is "hot" or not.

A simple suggestion is once a question reaches a certain threshold instead of just going directly to the HNQ bar, it is instead put into a queue to check the quality of the questions similar to the triage. Based on its score there the question will get a multiplier to its HNQ score which won't influence it's overall position on the HNQ, but determine if the site wants it there over other questions that have similar scores.

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    The idea of a "potential HNQ" review queue would give sites a good community-based method of how to promote themselves, and teach people how review queues should work long before they get to the ones that matter (like edits, close/open, VLQ). Benefits all round! – Nij Oct 20 '16 at 5:17
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    Also, high-rep users (I'm thinking ones with the "protect" privilege) should be able to yank a question of the HNQ list. – Monica Cellio Oct 20 '16 at 16:12
  • It also doesn't treat all the symptoms. It removes part of the feedback loop, perhaps, but the question is still going to be on the list for a while, and in that time you can get quite a lot of unproductive comments and disproportionate rep gain from upvotes. – Cascabel Oct 26 '16 at 0:09
  • @Jefromi I'm going for the fix for the cause, not the symptoms. Admittedly, it won't be a silver bullet. What it will do is get the ball rolling in the right direction with sites having more power over what content gets on the HNQ. – Dom Oct 26 '16 at 2:59
  • Sorry, my point was that the proposal in the question doesn't really treat all the symptoms - I'm agreeing with you. – Cascabel Oct 26 '16 at 3:39
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    @MonicaCellio please be reminded that smaller sites may have a very small number of users with the "protect" privilege (as low as four - including two moderators and one absent user). Review queues with higher rep requirements do have a hard time on these smaller communities too. – Ghanima Oct 27 '16 at 12:22
  • Maybe there can just be a simple message at the top: "You are visiting a Hot Network Question on one of your non-native sites. Please do not up-vote/contribute unless you are confident that this question is on-topic on this site to prevent drawing of undue attention." ..... or something like that. – ghosts_in_the_code Mar 13 '17 at 12:32
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    @ghosts_in_the_code I think that would make the problem worse in practice. Conscientious users from other sites would read it and not vote. They're also the ones most likely to have been careful with their votes. Lazy users from other sites will ignore it and upvote the first answer they see that looks legit, as now. So the % of votes that have thought behind them will go down further. – user56reinstatemonica8 Oct 28 '18 at 9:01

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