While the hot network questions list can be entertaining, there are a few situations in which it harms the experience of using SE sites, especially when you use SE sites at work.
I know that variations of this have been asked before, but I think the way the SE network changed in the meantime does merit a new discussion about this. We have far more sites that are more entertainment than professional now, and the mix of entertainment and professional topics makes the HNQ list problematic in some cases.
There are a few situations I can think of where the presence of the HNQ list has a negative effect:
- the appearance of pretty much random questions about all kinds of topic can be a bit annoying in a work setting. The other people looking at your screen might not see that you're only trying to solve a programming issue, when there is some inappropriate content in the sidebar.
- it exposes you to spoilers or information about recent TV series, movies, books, etc. While titles are usually written to avoid major spoilers, this is not always the case, and it's still at least a distraction.
- in any case, the hot network questions are a distraction. It's pretty much their purpose, but sometimes I don't want to be distracted.
I know this can be solved by a user script, but that is not a real solution and has several drawbacks. It's seriously annoying when you use multiple devices, it only solves the problem for a tiny amount of users. User scripts are a workaround, not a solution.
We don't have any control over the HNQ list, especially on work computers where the workarounds can be disallowed. We can choose which SE site to visit, but the HNQ list is always there, mixing professional and unprofessional content.
What I'd propose is to make the HNQ sidebar collapsible, and remember the collapsed state for the user session (or forever for that user). A single click would collapse the list to only the title, and a second one would expand it again to the full list. This would make it easy to hide the HNQ list for a short time, e.g. mondays when Game of Thrones is running, or essentially permanently as well, if you simply don't care about them at all.