Some things happened yesterday that caused a need for us to (quickly) remove a site's eligibility to contribute to the list of hot network questions. For those of you not familiar with what we've come to call the 'HNQ' list, please visit the link; the list of questions shown as 'hot' on stackexchange.com are displayed in the sidebar of most Stack Exchange sites. Here's an idea of what it looks like:
It's a list of titles, with their origins vaguely identifiable by the presence of the 'favicon' element that identifies each site. We're extremely proud of the quality of content that can be found on every single site in our network. The titles, however, when shown out of context, can be problematic. Anything out of context can be problematic.
This isn't a new problem. We've dealt with trigger words in titles that occur naturally through good-faith questions on sites like Parenting, Gaming, Christianity, Islam and more. While we probably deserve some egg on our face for relying on regular expressions as a go-to quick fix, they've been sufficient for ensuring trigger words and overt clickbait was kept out of the list for the most part.
Then we launched a site that tended to have 3-4 hot questions asked each day (by any way one could conceivably measure velocity and good reception). The titles of these questions, out of context, are just too likely to be inappropriate on our professional and academic sites, so we took the site out of the contributing list. Still with me? Thank you, because there's no way to open this discussion without background.
This is one of many times we've talked about problems with hot network questions. This isn't a new problem. What escalated the problem is that we had to take an entire site out of the mix, which isn't ideal, and I'll explain why.
What goals do we have for the hot question list?
They help with discovery. User interviews continue to reveal that folks simply don't often discover just how big of a resource we've become collectively. The list boosts engagement in quite a few ways (we'll admit some of them aren't optimal)
They often remind communities to have discussions about scope. If folks see a clear demand for certain kinds of questions, it's worth revisiting conversations about how valuable finding ways to meet those needs might be.
Hot questions are extremely great fodder for evangelists, the kinds of people that reach thousands of folks that are likely to identify with the way we do Q&A.
Let's face it, they're a jackpot and a curse. A little patch of chaos that grows pumpkins and poison ivy - just usually more pumpkins.
The list of questions is generated through a very expensive query, cached, and refreshed on a set schedule. Giving moderators or even community managers the ability to 'evict' a problematic title while keeping the system in check with what we consider performant and sane are .. mutually-exclusive goals.
Now that we have gotten to the point where we've gone from saying "Let's ignore titles with these words.." to "Let's ignore sites with these titles..", we're seeing a pattern of scale that starts to suck if you think about it protractedly.
What do we need from you?
We want some ideas on ways we can continue to meet our goals of getting the right sites in front of the right people who are likely to appreciate them and participate.
Automatic selection simply will not scale if we continue to push the limits of subjective topic spaces, and we need to continue to do that for the network to grow and remain relevant to the issues folks want to use our software creatively to solve.
We don't expect to solve this problem in one post right away.
Let's say we agree to take out the hot network questions entirely. But, we want something else in its place that continues to pull in some of the benefits, without being such a mindless pain in the neck.
In order to find out what that could look like, we need to consolidate what we want out of it. And that could be "Just turn the darn thing off and be done with it", or "I found my favorite site through that list, you gotta preserve that somehow!" -- all of this input at this stage will be equally good.
Suffice to say, the HNQ (as we know it) is now looking at numbered days, but that number is probably kind of high because it's going to take some work to figure out what voids would be worth filling if we yanked it as we know it now.
So, let's talk about it. And, if this seems like it's a continuation of a conversation, it is, from the moderator chat room. Even though the scope of the discussion is still rough, I wanted to get it out 'in sunlight' early, this isn't something to be settled in an all-mod room.
Thanks for your time, we look forward to finally (at least committing) to settle on something we can all like a bit more than what we've currently got.
And in the spirit of causing tons of people to flood into a single discussion, I'm going to feature this; I just can't help it.