Per my reading of the explanation here hotness score of successive questions from same site is penalised by 2%.

Taking into account that there could be no more than 5 questions from the same site this means that maximum possible penalty is 8%. I am looking for an explanation of how this is supposed to make a meaningful impact, because at the first glance, it looks too small for that.

To have a better idea of what possible impact it could have I sampled score of several questions in some snapshot of hot list. Hotness score values I observed were 46.422, 17.269, 10.194, 7.485, 5.825, 4.658, 3.891 for questions ##1, 16, 31, 46, 61, 76, 91 respectively (for that sample I simply picked top question from each page of the hot list configured with pagesize 15).

Distribution of the scores in above sample suggests that even maximum of 8% would "push" the penalised questions less than 10-15 places down in the list, how is this supposed to make a difference (particularly since questions from the list are anyway randomly shuffled before getting displayed in the sidebar)?

Alright, that limit of 5 is relatively recent thing - but closer look at sample distribution of scores suggests that even without it, even if system allowed 10-20 questions from same site like it did before, the effect of penalty would be negligible.

Max penalty in this case would be 20-40% - meaning that question would still have solid chance to stay in the list and get shuffled to sidebar - and this is the most penalised case, for other questions from same site the difference would be even less than that.

I really don't understand how this parameter is intended to work.

  • 10
    initially I planned to make this a feature request to either simplify things by getting rid of this parameter or increase it to make noticeable impact. But studying things made me feel more and more confused so I decided to instead ask about how it is supposed to work - because maybe I misunderstood something and maybe it's okay as is and there is no need to change anything about it
    – gnat
    Jul 25, 2020 at 16:11
  • dupe-closing per discussion in Tavern chat
    – gnat
    Aug 7, 2020 at 15:02

1 Answer 1


Okay, after more messing around and digging deeper into ancient site history I think I figured what's the deal with this parameter. Thing is, it was established really long time ago - long before there was randomizing and even long before hot questions were moved to sidebar.

Back then, the UI displaying hot questions was totally different - there was rather small scrollable dropdown invoked when user clicked so called "multi collider" (currently much reworked and known as ), see eg this old screen shot:

old screen shot

In this dropdown questions were strictly ordered by hotness score, and moving the question even a few positions lower could make real impact on visibility because questions became harder to discover, requiring the users to do more scrolling.

It probably worked even better in very very old times before Stack Overflow gained such wild popularity and hot questions got less views and upvotes so that less of this "positive feedback" allowed even subtle adjustments have a reasonable impact.

  • This whole thing broke badly right after hot questions moved to sidebar because there was no scrolling involved anymore and soon after that randomizing buried it completely because order in the list didn't matter anymore.

It took me so long to figure that because these changes happened almost 7 years ago and I totally forgot how it was before. Interesting to note that this means, old functionality of this parameter can't be fully reproduced with current UI, so that if we want something like it to work we'd have to merely approximate it somehow.

Indeed, old way was based on gradually decreasing visibility of hot question but what we have now is strictly binary: either it is in the list and can be seen just like all other questions or it's out and totally invisble. Given that now there is very heavy "positive feedback loop" from upvotes current way looks right but in the same time because of it we can only approximate how some things used to work in the past.

One possible approximation that comes to mind is to increase the value of this parameter so that successive questions from same site get a solid chance to drop off the list. This is not exactly how things used to work in the past but looks fairly close. Another option could be to penalise successive questions straight in the sidebar as was proposed here - this one looks even closer in the sense that it can roughly qualify as some kind of gradual decrease of visibility - although it's difficult to tell if it would make a noticeable difference.

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