18

I love Hot Network Questions. I really do. But I've got a little gripe, that's been itching at the back of my head for a while.

Hot Network Questions is great at exposing a new site, and introducing popular questions from those sites to a broader environment. It's a form of populism-by-exposure that picks up interesting questions and flings them in front of everyone's eyes. That can be good for a site. Hot Network Questions makes people aware of niches for expertise that they might not have otherwise seen, and draws people to sites with an area of interest that, perhaps, they're either curious about, or actively pursue a hobby or passion in.

But Hot Network Questions has a serious problem: Hot Network Questions are not a representative sample of any site's content. However, because of the way they're presented, wanderers-from-elsewhere are going to see it that way. When people see something on Hot Network Questions, there's nothing in the design to discourage them from viewing it as a representative question. As a result, HNQ visitors get a skewed impression of most sites.

The truth is, I'm not sure how to fix it. There needs to be something in the UX of Hot Network Questions, either structurally or as a design goal, that either brings the users' perceptions in line with the reality of HNQ, or communicates that what ends up on HNQ is not a representative sample and doesn't really show what the site is about.

I'm open to any ideas. I'll be thinking about this, too, and I'll post an answer if I have a good one.

  • 1
    Personally, I don't know if there is an issue. It allows people to explore a site, on a topic that has decidedly been called interesting by people. It will be impossible for it to be truly representative, but it may give a general idea of what the site is about. If people actually use the site, they'll already know - and a responsible person would try to at least read the tour page before asking a question. Most sites that get questions in the sidebar often get multiple questions at a time, and get listed consistently. But heh... I don't know what to do... :/ – Zizouz212 Jan 19 '17 at 21:37
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    It's not called "Typical Network Questions", is it? – user315433 Jan 19 '17 at 21:59
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    @zaq No, but its presentation makes many people think they're typical examples of questions from that site. – Aza Jan 19 '17 at 21:59
  • This a major Code Golf stackexchange problem - the questions that get tons of answers are usually trivially easy ones. – isaacg Jan 20 '17 at 1:00
  • @isaacg Well more of challenges that are mnade possible by tons of users – Anthony Pham Jan 20 '17 at 13:27
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    SE team folks may be somewhat ashamed to widely admit that so much damage as brought by HNQ to smaller sites is done with sole purpose to entertain Stack Overflow audience – gnat Jan 26 '17 at 12:06
  • Is there a way for the site moderators to veto a HNQ from their site? – Barmar Jan 26 '17 at 18:45
  • @Barmar There's a hack that works on some sites, but there's no option within SE itself. – Aza Jan 26 '17 at 18:47
  • BTW, I just looked to the right. At the moment, puzzling.SE has a HNQ whose title is the informative "Here is my question". :) – Barmar Jan 26 '17 at 18:59
  • Instead of "Hot Network Questions" make it a bit clearer with a new name such as "Network Highlights" or just add a sentence below HNQ explaining what they are before the list of HNQs begins. – Rob Sedgwick Jan 26 '17 at 22:17
  • @Emrakul you probably refer to injecting mathJax in title (which indeed drops question from HNQ). But for the sake of completeness at sites without MathJax one can try hack with injecting "sex" and similar HNQ-blocked words into the title – gnat Jan 27 '17 at 12:52
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+100

The only way to guarantee that users the come from other sites via the HNQ will understand what the site is about to not put questions on the HNQ that represent otherwise.

The HNQ currently has no input from the sites about what goes on the HNQ and the only thing that does dictate it is just "arbitrarily awarded hotness points". No UX idea will change what questions the users see and while it may change how some users interact with a site, it will not get bad fitting questions off the HNQ or change how users interact with the "hot" questions and answers which really affect smaller sites.

I've suggested a review process on this and this question because sites need a way to tailor what goes on the HNQ. If the site can get a chance to review and approve (or disapprove) a question that is a eligible HNQ before it reaches the HNQ list, it will be much better.

1
+50

I suggest one method here.

When ever you view a question via clicking its link in the Hot Network Questions and you are not a user for that site, a banner should appear above the question but below the "Sign Up" banner:

This question is a Hot Network Question due primarily to its high amounts of activity during the past few days. This question is though, not necessarily a representation of what a good question for this site is. Visit the Help Center for more information about asking good questions.

Of course, the words "Hot Network Question" could be a hyperlink to some Meta Stack Exchange Q/A explaining what a HNQ is and how it got there for more information about that. But, we could also try (not recommended at all) changing HNQ to:

Popular Network Questions

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    I don't know about this one... I feel that on smaller sites where a question to become hot will only need a couple votes, it could end up attracting downvotes. When will the notice be displayed? Only to users who follow the link, or to everyone? What if the question asked is actually highly representative of the site? Do smaller sites want the system to dictate to users that a question may potentially be off topic, affecting perceptions of the site? I don't know... but reading this has convinced me that hot network questions may just be by definition broken - and no disclaimer can fix it. :/ – Zizouz212 Jan 20 '17 at 4:32

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