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Final Update (2020-4-22): This experiment has concluded and is now turned off. Thanks for your feedback.


We have just made an observational experiment live on Stack Overflow that will test out three ways of integrating links or content from other Technical Stack Exchange sites. (Even though the experiment is only going up on Stack Overflow, we are posting about it here since it also relates to Technical Stack Exchange sites. We have made a related post on MSO as well.) This experiment will be live for two weeks, through April 22, and will then be turned off.

This experiment will show three different variants to a small number of users (anonymous and logged in). The first two variants will add three links to Technical Stack Exchange sites to the left sidebar on every page, either above the Teams section or below it.

A and B sidebar variants

The third variant will show a new section on the homepage labeled as Technical Communities Recently Active Questions that will contain links to two or three questions from other Technical Stack Exchange sites that are pulled from the Hot Network Questions list. If you are part of a Team, then you already see a similar section with recent questions from your team.

Variant C - Homepage content module

This observational experiment is part of a larger discovery process that we are in the middle of that is exploring potential ways of allowing more integrations between Stack Overflow and other related sites on the Stack Exchange network. These specific variants were chosen because they allow us to (relatively) easily test out different basic ways of integrating links or content to other Technical Stack Exchange sites. The goal is to see how users react to seeing these new paths of content integration, and to use this as one factor in deciding if (and whether) to proceed with other efforts in this area.


Frequently Asked Questions

What are the goals of this initiative? Why is it good for users?

While we do not know the final form that this initiative will take, the general goal is to find new ways of integrating content between Stack Overflow and other Technical sites, and to give users more options in this area. We have found that the average SO user is either not aware of other Technical sites on the network (which often include content that is relevant to them) or would support a closer integration between SO and technical content from other sites. Increased awareness can also help leading to fewer off topic questions on SO (where “this is an SF/SU question” is a common off topic reason) As plans begin to take more shape over the next few months, we plan to keep the Community up to date as well.

How are you choosing which Technical Sites to show or to draw content from?

If a user has pinned Technical Sites in their site switcher, we will use the first three from there. After that we will prioritize Technical Sites where the user has an existing account. Most users (who do not have sites defined in the site switcher or accounts on other sites) will see links to or content from three of the most popular technical sites.

Why are you telling us about this? Won’t this skew the results?

Since this is something that is going to be publicly visible, it is inevitable that users will be asking questions about this, so we wanted to preempt any confusion and share what we know up front. That said, overall the reach of this experiment (around 10% of homepage visitors seeing the content module there, and around 1.5% of users seeing the left sidebar variants) should go far beyond the users who will be reading this post, so we don’t anticipate foreknowledge having a significant impact on our results.

How can I see the variants if I'm not selected or if I want to see the other versions?

We've included the screenshots of the three variants here for you to see but, you can't have it turned on (or off) or change groups. The experiment will only be shown to a small percentage of users for a limited time. Update 1: functionality has been added that will allow users in variant C (the home page content module) to be able to collapse the module. When collapsed, this state will be observed on subsequent page loads in the same browser for one week. Update 2: An additional button has been added that will appear in the Collapsed state for Variant C which will allow you to [hide] the section completely for the duration of the experiment (in the same browser).

  • 5
    What are the "technical" sites? Is that small enough to enumerate or is it simply what is listed under technology on the sites list? – rene Apr 7 at 11:21
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    Why am I not surprised to see "Teams - first 10 free" in the main menu? – John Dvorak Apr 7 at 11:24
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    I have a very clear bias, unscientifically for option B :D – Journeyman Geek Apr 7 at 11:27
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    I also like option B better - the other sites are hard to notice in option A – John Dvorak Apr 7 at 11:29
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    Why isn't this simply the customizable site list proposed since the left navigation bar's very inception? – Christian Rau Apr 7 at 11:30
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    @ChrissaysReinstateMonica because technical debt – rene Apr 7 at 11:32
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    @rene Technical sites are almost a complete overlap with those on the sites list. Over 50 of them included here, so not going to enumerate them at the moment. – Yaakov Ellis Apr 7 at 11:32
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    How about improving the search system, and implementing cross-site search? I think the biggest benefit is to be had there. – Luuklag Apr 7 at 11:52
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    @Gimby I wonder how taking option B and swapping the community and teams block would be in comparison. – Journeyman Geek Apr 7 at 12:05
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    @YaakovEllis Without having actively opting out as an option, how will you measure people like me that hide this with ublock? Will you filter those out when evaluating results? – Tschallacka Apr 7 at 13:14
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    @Tschallacka we record an event on the server side for the links being shown, and on the client side for links being clicked. So you hiding it with ublock will lead to a lower CTR (or the same as if you just never clicked). Don't have any logic in there to detect this right now. – Yaakov Ellis Apr 7 at 13:16
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    Yaakov, could you mention what percentage of users have checked "Hide left navigation" in their Preferences. Since it was implemented I've only seen a couple of screenshots showing someone using the left navigation, usually people have it disabled (myself among them) - so that reduces the participants in groups A and B. Thanks. – Rob Apr 7 at 14:18
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    @Rob I also switched it off immediately. However, there are over 10 million visitors to Stack Exchange sites per day, so a few hundred upvotes for disabling a feature does not mean that any meaningful percentage of users has disabled it. When you look at the kind of people that post screenshots on Meta sites then the percentage will be much higher of course, but they are not the main targets for the current experiment (because they already know other sites exist and what is on topic where). – Marijn Apr 7 at 17:14
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    Update: functionality has been added that will allow users in variant C (the home page content module) to be able to collapse the module. When collapsed, this state will be observed on subsequent page loads in the same browser for one week. – Yaakov Ellis Apr 7 at 23:08
  • 3
    I was in group C before but apparently got booted from it now. Is that an expected behavior? Is the group assignment supposed to change during this experiment? (I’m in no group now) – poke Apr 8 at 8:02

16 Answers 16

45

I’m an option 3, and it’s seriously obnoxious. I have a Team first, then this new panel, and I have to scroll down 1.5 screen heights before I see the questions I came to see.

Really bad UX.

edit: I'm no longer on any of the test groups. Can't say I'm unhappy about that.

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  • 2
    You can now collapse the variant C content module. See update in the question above for more details. – Yaakov Ellis Apr 7 at 23:10
  • @YaakovEllis any reason why the Teams section didn't get the same treatment? – Jamiec Apr 8 at 8:58
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    @Jamiec That’s a decision only the Teams PM can make. It’s out of Yaakov’s ... jurisdiction... if you will. If a collapse button would be good, I’d invite anyone to suggest it on MSO as a feature. :) – Catija Apr 8 at 13:59
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    @Catija I went ahead and created a feature request on Meta SO for it. I did originally want a collapse button for the Teams panel(s) as well, and was surprised when it wasn't. Out of Yaakov's... jurisdiction, eh? – Spevacus Apr 8 at 17:27
  • Please see Update 2 in the last FAQ above. I have added a [hide] button (which you will see in the collapsed state of the content module for variant C), which when you click (and confirm) will hide this section for the duration of the experiment (on the same browser). I am really on vacation now, came back to put this in. Hope this works for all of you who are interested in an opt-out. Thanks for all of the feedback that you have given. – Yaakov Ellis Apr 13 at 21:13
38

Update: functionality has been added that will allow users in variant C (the home page content module) to be able to collapse the module. variant c collapse When collapsed, this state will be observed on subsequent page loads in the same browser for one week.

Add a way to entirely disable or collapse the large Technical Communities Active Questions panel.

It takes up ~45% of the landing page, when I'd rather see the rest of my question list.

Don't get me wrong, I do NOT mind being able to see technical site recently-active questions, but I would also like the ability to collapse it if the ones that pop up do not interest me.

If there were a one-click way to to at collapse this panel (by clicking the header/title bar of the panel, perhaps?), it'd be much less in-your-face. As it is right now, it takes up a rather large amount of space on the main page.

I would ask the same for the teams panel that used to be here for me (was trying out Teams at my workplace). Their style is the same.

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  • 7
    You can use ublock to block it for now ##.qlist-wrapper--boxed:if(div:first-child:has-text(Technical Communities Recently Active Questions)) – Tschallacka Apr 7 at 13:03
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    @Tschallacka I really should learn to use :has-text. I spend way too much time hunting down IDs and classes... – John Dvorak Apr 7 at 13:05
  • @JohnDvorak id's and classes is much lighter on the browser. This takes longer to evaluate. Although most computers are so fast you wouldn't notice it. Classes and id's are usally also less likely to change. – Tschallacka Apr 7 at 13:06
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    @Tschallacka good point - though my last selector for uBlock was along the lines of ..sidebar > :has(iframe[src *= "twitch"]), which ... isn't great. – John Dvorak Apr 7 at 13:08
  • @JohnDvorak that's a nice workload to do a table scan for the correct string. We are so lucky to have fast pc's. If my first real pc of 128 mb ram and 120mb hard drive would have to handle that... – Tschallacka Apr 7 at 13:11
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    Thankfully the site in question isn't heavy or dynamic. Collapse/Expand all folders is the heaviest of actions, and it's not even animated. – John Dvorak Apr 7 at 13:37
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    I wouldn't mind the option to collapse these panes for Teams, too. They can take up a lot of space if you're on several Teams. :) – Catija Apr 7 at 17:45
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    @Catija Status-pretty-please-with-a-cherry-on-top? :) – Spevacus Apr 7 at 21:10
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    @Catija, Yaakov, & whoever else, thank you for implementing this toggle! Big improvement to those in group C! – TylerH Apr 8 at 15:16
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    "Add a way to entirely disable or collapse..." why oh why oh why did you add "collapse" to that? Now I have the header for it, and a header for the questions. Fail! – Andrew Morton Apr 8 at 15:35
  • @AndrewMorton Provided they applied this to the teams headers, it's a very helpful change for those who have multiple teams as Catija mentioned above. As far as the Recently Active Tech Questions specifically... I don't think it's going to go through in this manner. There's been a LOT of backlash. I don't see variant C going through at all after the feedback that's been given. – Spevacus Apr 8 at 16:43
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    Please see Update 2 in the last FAQ above. I have added a [hide] button (which you will see in the collapsed state of the content module for variant C), which when you click (and confirm) will hide this section for the duration of the experiment (on the same browser). I am really on vacation now, came back to put this in. Hope this works for all of you who are interested in an opt-out. – Yaakov Ellis Apr 13 at 21:14
35

How do I opt out of this? The third variant is getting in the way of my list of SO questions :(

If I were to use the Stylus browser add-on, or similar, to make it invisible via CSS, SO wouldn't know I couldn't see it.

The "collapse" option does not have the same effect as not being subjected to the third variant because it still leaves the bones of the experiment to interfere with my previous view.

This is not a small UI change: it is putting something I do not need to see in the prime viewing location.

Perhaps it could affect only users who are not aware of other SE sites? Anyone whose SE profile encompasses more than, say, three, SE sites could be deemed to be aware that there are more sites available and so don't need the extra hint.

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  • 1
    You don't, as per OP: "... you can't have it turned on (or off) or change groups. " – Luuklag Apr 7 at 11:51
  • Figure out a rule to hide it with your ad^H^Hcrapblocker. With luck that should be as easy as using the element select tool. – Dan Is Fiddling By Firelight Apr 7 at 12:35
  • @DanIsFiddlingByFirelight I'd use the Stylus browser add-on, but for now it has gone away for me. And then they wouldn't know I couldn't see it. – Andrew Morton Apr 7 at 12:58
25

All variants are fine as long as you don't choose variant C.

I am in favor of variant B. Variant A is also fine as difference is minimal.

But variant C with other technical sites on top of SO questions is absolutely, totally, fully and completely unacceptable.

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  • 1
    You can now collapse the variant C content module. See update in the question above for more details. – Yaakov Ellis Apr 7 at 23:10
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    I'm still up-voting, but I think C is probably borderline okay. But I haven't run into it yet, so maybe I'll feel differently if I do. – Chipster Apr 8 at 4:14
  • @YaakovEllis Thanks for the update. But I cannot give you my opinion on collapsed variant C because I no longer see it (I don't see any variant now). Anyway, one week is too short period, since I really have zero interest in visiting other sites regularly, and when I do need them I know how to find them I still think the B is the best one. – Resistance Is Futile Apr 8 at 7:26
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    @Chipster It makes you wanna punch your monitor ;) very annoying... – Resistance Is Futile Apr 8 at 7:27
  • Please see Update 2 in the last FAQ above. I have added a [hide] button (which you will see in the collapsed state of the content module for variant C), which when you click (and confirm) will hide this section for the duration of the experiment (on the same browser). – Yaakov Ellis Apr 13 at 21:14
23

Option 3 leads to a duplicate ID attribute on the homepage.

enter image description here

It doesn't seem to lead to any anomalous behavior, but it's not valid HTML, and might lead to trouble down the line. If the ID was unique, that would also make styling/hiding it a bit easier.

For some context, see Why are duplicate ids not allowed in HTML.

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    "It doesn't seem to lead to any anomalous behavior" - if you use the pure ID selector in jQuery, it only ever returns one element. Any other selector - including *#foo - will work though. – John Dvorak Apr 7 at 13:06
22

Related: Block migration if user is suspended/question-blocked at destination

I would very much appreciate if system would hide such links from users who recently (say, within a week or a month) hit some asking limit / block.

It is known that such users are often inclined to (ab)use other technical sites with sole purpose to circumvent asking limits at Stack Overflow. As evidenced by the feature referred in above link the issue is bad enough to warrant changes made to the system to address this.

As a side note, in case if you don't know whether it is possible to find out about asking blocks recently experienced by a user, this information is available in the system. It was even used to obtain statistic data requested in a related discussion at other site meta: How many questions do we get from users recently blocked at SO, how many of these are closed / deleted?

approximately 23% of the users asking question on Programmers had hit a block on SO... Blocked users asked approximately 24% of questions...


Alternatively to hiding as proposed above, you could implement functionality helping target sites in expedite closure and removal of inappropriate questions, for example as proposed here: Perform automatic checks for question block at SO when post enters close queue

If you make a feature having a distinct side effect of polluting other sites with questions from users willing to circumvent asking limits at Stack Overflow, it would be only fair to do something to help target sites handle this, wouldn't it?


See also:

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  • 1
    I wonder if there are means to estimate amount of coding help off-topic questions leaking from Stack Overflow to target sites from users participating in the experiment – gnat Apr 14 at 12:46
17

It's option C I have a real problem with. I don't see how A or B actually help vs the HNQ, bu they don't cause any real harm either because the left sidebar has plenty of room available.

C commits what is IMO the biggest crime in modern web layout - and the main reason I create new rules for my adcrapblocker; it adds a large block of content other than what I came to for that I need to scroll past to get to what I actually want to see.

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    You can now collapse the variant C content module. See update in the question above for more details. – Yaakov Ellis Apr 7 at 23:10
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    Please see Update 2 in the last FAQ above. I have added a [hide] button (which you will see in the collapsed state of the content module for variant C), which when you click (and confirm) will hide this section for the duration of the experiment (on the same browser). – Yaakov Ellis Apr 13 at 21:14
10

Since the goal of letting users know about the existence of and question on other network sites is the same as for HNQ, how about an option D: put n technical questions on top of HNQ, for example 5, or all, either adding non-technical questions if the available number of technical questions is not sufficient to fill the list, or make the list shorter if that happens. Or make two parts of HNQ, "HNQ tech" on top, "HNQ all" below, to be switched on or off individually.

That would also work for people that switched off left navigation, although I expect that people that do that are usually already aware of the other sites in the network. It would not help for people that have switched off HNQ (again most of those will know about the other sites), but I expect those people might be interested in switching HNQ back on if only technical topics are shown (more or less an uncustomizable version of HNQ filtering that is currently ).

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10

I got punished with option C. I rarely come to meta.se but it's so annoying that I was forced to look for a fix. Apparently the options are: post a complaint here and hope you get removed from the test (like Jamiec did), or use an ad-blocker rule. Since I already have AdblockPlus installed, I was able to add a rule to block it:

stackoverflow.com##.qlist-wrapper--boxed.s-card.p0.mb24

(This goes in ABP's settings under Advanced > My Filter List, if you are looking for where to put it.)

UPDATE

I added another rule to also hide the “Stack Overflow Recently Active Questions” banner above the normal questions list:

stackoverflow.com##.p12.fs-body1.bg-black-025.fc-black-600.bb.bc-black-2.btr-sm

I think this rule probably includes some classes specific to my dark theme setting.

Anyway, I think there's a vastly less obnoxious way to include recently asked questions from other communities. Just include them mixed in with the normal questions list! Stop wasting precious screen real estate on banners and separators.

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    You can now collapse the variant C content module. See update in the question above for more details. – Yaakov Ellis Apr 7 at 23:11
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    @YaakovEllis That doesn't work: there is still the stub of the experiment sticking a finger up to us saying "not your choice to see this". I am disappointed . – Andrew Morton Apr 8 at 16:59
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    Yeah, it's a bit weird. Once you collapse it...you're left with a big block of text in the centre of the screen that has zero functionality. And if you know you will never un-collapse it, it's super annoying. Anyway, seems very unlikely they will keep option C based on all this feedback. – Steve Bennett Apr 8 at 22:51
  • @AndrewMorton so that means that, given the overwhelmingly negative feedback on option C, they'll dump it and we all move on with our lives. It's an experiment, that's all. It's not targeting us or causing us harm, and short of completely dumping C before the experiment is even over (which would be premature, and they shouldn't, given the recent problems they've had of acting before all data is in), this is honestly probably the best they can do. – FlappingAlong Apr 13 at 11:18
  • Please see Update 2 in the last FAQ above. I have added a [hide] button (which you will see in the collapsed state of the content module for variant C), which when you click (and confirm) will hide this section for the duration of the experiment (on the same browser). – Yaakov Ellis Apr 13 at 21:15
7

Add option to move the panel to the bottom; having a required "initial scrolldown" overhead for each SE site (or any site) is a bother.

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    You can now collapse the variant C content module. See update in the question above for more details. – Yaakov Ellis Apr 7 at 23:11
5

Options A and B both look good with a slight preference for A. There is so much unused real estate there. It'd be nice to also include meta (and while on meta, SO). I find it really awkward trying to get to it from the menu bar.

Update:

I just experienced option C. It seems terrible. It's a bit hard to understand why you would give over the absolute most prime real estate on site X to promoting sites Y, Z and W. Even the collapsing isn't enough - now there's a big chunk of completely non-functional wasted space, again, right in the middle of prime real estate:

enter image description here

If this becomes a thing, I'll definitely use UBlock Origin to remove it. (Just like I removed the "hot network questions" which are impossibly distracting for me.)

(Unrelated: dark mode is awesome. Thank you!)

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3

So I just realized I am in group getting the third variant, but only because I deliberately did something I rarely do, which is go to the "home" page of Stack Overflow. SO is already a fire hose, and the last thing I want is to be blasted with even more stuff to look at, so my opinion of the change was negative. However, I use SO almost exclusively by searching for an answer to a specific question, and that search is not usually limited to just SO, so I'm probably not your target audience for these changes.

Just out of curiosity, why are y'all going down the "make everything an advertisement" path instead of really integrating the sites? All of three of the test cases are going to have the same problem as most web ads. The ones in the side bar are going to be quickly rendered invisible by habituation and the one that inserts irrelevant content into the middle of the relevant content is going to quickly get blocked because it's annoying.

Some examples of really integrating the sites would be returning the most relevant search results from other sites in a box along with the Stack Overflow results. Or showing "Related" links from other sites. Or searching other sites for "similar questions" when someone is posting a new question to one of a family of related sites.

Those are just a few off the top of my head, I'm sure there are other creative ways to integrate the sites that ensure that the existence of the other sites and their content is relevant to the user in the context of their current interaction with the site.

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    We are exploring different options for integrating. These test variants were chosen here for their ease of implementation. Other possibilities that are being explored, especially those that involve deeper integrations of content between communities, are out of scope for the amount of time we had to implement this observational experiment. – Yaakov Ellis Apr 9 at 17:53
  • I understand how that goes, especially when you're just testing. I think it would be interesting to test mock-ups of the other integrations instead of trying to get them working on the live site. I've found that if you put too much work into an idea, it's harder to admit it's not as great as you thought it was initially. Do y'all have a focus group you can use for mock-ups? If not you may want to look into assembling one - they are very useful when you just want a quick external perspective on various ideas, especially if you have them sign NDAs. – ColleenV Apr 9 at 19:12
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    @coleenv there are a number of full mockups that have already gone through one round of feedback, involving many community members. The feedback and results of this observational experiment will be one ingredient (in addition to that feedback) going into the development of the next round of refinements here. Thanks! – Yaakov Ellis Apr 9 at 19:33
2

I think I found a bug with how you apply which group a participant belongs to. I was enabled for variant 3, then switched to a different PC, now I don't see variant 3 on either machine.

It's not a big deal but maybe it will skew your results if a person can change group midway through the experiment.

Works for me, since option 3 is incredibly obnoxious, especially for the homepage. I come to Stack Overflow for... Stack Overflow. Don't force the network sites on me.

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2

As long as you're playing with the left side content bar, would you consider putting watched tags over there someplace? I find myself looking for it there all the time anyway. Perhaps make it an option that people can turn on or off so my idea doesn't get thrust upon everybody including people who may not want it.

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1

It does save some clicking having your communities in the lower left...That could be handy, I like the idea.

I would choose option A maybe with "Communities" written as a heading - like it's in option B. (Would the "Teams" users be at a disadvantage if "Communities" showed above "Teams"? Could the order be configurable in preferences? Which "Communities" to show being fully configurable would probably be preferable for the majority.)

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0

Are there any plans to try something like this beyond the technical sites. I can think of various site clusters where there might be shared relevance/interest, just like between Stack Overflow and other technical sites. Some examples:

  • Literature, Movies & TV, and Science Fiction & Fantasy
  • Biology and Medical Sciences
  • Mathematics, Math Overflow, and Mathematics Educators
  • Christianity, Biblical Hermeneutics, and Mi Yodeya
  • The Workplace, Academia, and Interpersonal Skills
  • Etc.

I, for one, would find this interesting.

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