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Update (Mar 21, 2022): The dropdown menu for the answer-sorting options is now live.


Update (Feb 9, 2022): I've added an additional question in the Feedback section below.


Last week, I posted proposed changes to the answer-sorting menu. The changes I originally suggested were easy things we could do to make the existing implementation incrementally better, but they weren't the result of us taking a holistic view of how to improve the sorting menu. Based on your feedback, I asked our Design team to take a deeper look, and they went back to the drawing board (literally, ha ha) and came up with new ideas:

  • Keeping the menu right-justified and making better use of space.

  • Condensing the sort options into a dropdown menu. 

  • Introducing ascending and descending sorts for most (if not all) of the options.

  • Having clearer descriptions that eliminate the need for info icons and tooltips.

  • Adding a “Sort by” label to describe what this UI element is for.

We will run an A/B test to make sure that this new design doesn't dramatically suppress clicks on the answer-sorting menu. Assuming no negative impact, we will implement these changes in the coming weeks across all of our Stack Exchange sites.

Here is what the current menu looks like:

Screenshot of current answer-sorting menu with Active, Oldest and Votes as menu buttons

Here is what the new menu looks like: New answer-sorting menu with sorting options in a dropdown

Making better use of space

I originally stated that we would run an experiment to test moving the menu from its current position — right-justified next to the number-of-answers header — to a new position underneath the header.

What was I thinking? Turns out you didn't like it, Design didn't like it, our own devs didn't like it... You get the (bad) idea.

So, we are NOT going to experiment with moving the menu. It's staying in its happy place on the right, and the menu now takes up less space overall.

Moving the sort menu into a dropdown menu

We took a number of things into consideration when settling on this new approach:

  • A dropdown menu is a much more common pattern across the web for sorting menus.

  • It scales better, allowing for a larger number of sort options. We are planning on introducing a Trending sort on Stack Overflow in the near future, and this change allows for more flexibility when it comes to adding additional sort options, without risking taking up too much horizontal space on the screen.

  • It gives us future flexibility to separate sorts and filters on other areas of the site. For example, we could (eventually) have separate dropdowns for filters and sorting that would allow you to more easily control the sorting on filters – like unanswered or bountied questions – all in one interface, rather than both the button bar (which includes a dropdown) and the separate filter dropdown. (This is a future idea that is not yet on our roadmap, but highlights the consistency that a dropdown menu could help bring.)

  • It gives us more room to explain how each sort works, without needing to rely on info icons and tooltips (more on that below).

We are aware that it has a couple of drawbacks, but we feel the benefits outweigh the inconveniences:

  • It will now take two clicks to change the sort: one click to open the dropdown menu and another click to choose your desired sort. Currently, only about 0.25% of visitors click the existing sort buttons, so this isn't a common action that will greatly inconvenience a substantial number of users. In addition, even if we kept the existing buttons, we would have been heading into two-click territory anyway; one of the top suggestions from last week was to have a single button for Oldest/Newest, but to click twice to toggle between the two.

  • You can no longer see the entire menu of sorts on the page at all times, but we don't feel we will lose much by tucking them away in a dropdown. We will run an A/B test prior to graduating the change to make sure we don't dramatically suppress clicks.

Introducing ascending and descending sorts for all of the options

We announced last week that we are creating a Newest sort to complement the existing Oldest sort. We decided for consistency’s sake to create ascending/descending versions of all of the existing sort options: Highest score (default), Newest modified, Oldest modified, Newest created, Oldest created, and, potentially, Lowest score.

Per the Feedback section below, we have some concerns about the Lowest score option and would love to hear your thoughts.

Having clearer descriptions

With more space, we are now able to write longer, clearer descriptions for each sort. This eliminates the need for tooltips and info icons. The new descriptions are:

  • Highest score (default) – renames the previous "Votes" sort

  • Lowest score

  • Date modified (newest first) – renames the existing "Active" sort

  • Date modified (oldest first)

  • Date created (newest first)

  • Date created (oldest first) – renames the existing "Oldest" sort

New answer-sorting menu with dropdown expanded, showing the available options

Feedback

I’ve posted this primarily to give the community advance notice on changes that are coming. We have settled on the dropdown menu as our preferred path forward, and aren't considering doing additional design work to come up with alternative solutions.

Lowest score sort: We are debating internally whether or not to include lowest score as a sorting option. Because we remember your sorting preferences, we are concerned that someone could set “lowest score” as their sorting preference, forget they chose it, and then be utterly perplexed as to why they are seeing so many low-scored answers.
Do you see any value in having a lowest-score sort? Why or why not? When and how would you use it?

How to handle deleted answers (for mods and users with 10K rep): See the answer below that suggests that deleted answers be segregated from other answers in the Date Modified and Date Created sorts, appearing at the bottom instead of being mixed in with the other posts. (For the Score sort, deleted answers are already sorted below visible answers.) Is there any reason we should keep the sorts as is, with deleted answers mixed in? Why or why not?

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    This seems like a huge improvement over the previously suggested change. 👏 Feb 8 at 17:30
  • 4
    What can I say - bravo! This definitely looks and feels like an improvement. And special thanks for keeping the dropdown on the right to reduce vertical space taken by the layout. 2 cents on the lowest score option - please, please do add it, or it will end up in the same confusion as with "newest" ("why can't I sort by "oldest first" then?" type of thing) - the stated concern about preferences is just as true for any other sort option other than the default one as with this, so it is not really something inherent to the option. Also, it has real use as indicated by ColleenV's answer below Feb 8 at 17:55
  • 4
    I think a drop-down is a great idea. Feb 8 at 18:06
  • 43
    Thank you for listening to feedback and stopping to address it before pushing changes to production. Beautiful job. This is how it's done. Feb 8 at 18:17
  • 7
    Would have been nice to use this same design approach and A/B testing for recent list updates that still have lots of bugs and functionality regression. It's been months since that project started in the activity lists and they still have lots of issues
    – charlietfl
    Feb 8 at 19:05
  • 3
    @RandomPerson Yes but that was actually the second stage. The first stage was New responsive Activity page that started but never finished a month prior
    – charlietfl
    Feb 8 at 19:14
  • 1
    @charlietfl Or maybe this: Now live: A fully responsive profile Feb 8 at 19:22
  • 1
    Thanks for featuring this post in the first revision itself :) Feb 8 at 19:52
  • 1
    Anita, what's the last date for feedback? Feb 8 at 20:01
  • 9
    I really don't understand why all changes are not handled the same way. While this one does the - IMO - correct thing (ask for feedback before changing, A/B testing, etc), another changes are made in a totally different way (changing before asking, ignores feedback, etc). Why is that?
    – hkotsubo
    Feb 9 at 11:34
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    Anita, what is your rationale to post an "Updated" at the top of your question. There is an indicator that shows recent activity, and there is versioning available to see what changed...
    – Luuklag
    Feb 9 at 19:40
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    @Luuklag It's a long post. There is versioning info, yes -- waaay down the page (I had to scroll four times for it to display). There is Activity info, yes -- which may or may not have anything to do with the question itself, as it also includes answer activity. I think recurring visitors will appreciate having that Updated notice right at the top of the post, so they know there's new content in the question. Heaps better than scrolling down, realizing there's been new edits since the last time you visited, and scrolling up again (or going to Revisions) to (try to) identify the new bits.
    – walen
    Feb 10 at 9:00
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    I love everything about this except the <select>
    – Shog9
    Feb 10 at 23:52
  • 1
    @Shog9 I guess I don't follow. While the current sorting options are indeed a elements, they don't behave like standard anchor links... they act like toggle buttons. The only real change I see is that you won't be able to see all available options without clicking at least once (which I agree is unfortunate, but ultimately necessary if we're to add several more options to the list).
    – TylerH
    Feb 14 at 17:33
  • 3
    Huh? No, they're totally links @tyler - I can open them up in tabs, bookmark them, the whole bit. That isn't always a good thing: there are a bunch of past bugs involving sort options sneaking into permalinks for instance. But it does mean that the behavior matches the element used to trigger the behavior.
    – Shog9
    Feb 14 at 19:03

11 Answers 11

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Looking at the lowest scored answers lets me find posts that may need to be flagged, try to help authors getting downvoted improve their answers, or quickly see the least popular option in a meta discussion, which might challenge my perspective. (I seek out opinions that are different from mine, because I like confirming that my certainty I'm right is warranted, and like to know how certain I should be before I open my mouth ;))

I would use both "lowest" and "highest" score sort orders, and would be mildly uncomfortable by the lack of symmetry if "lowest" wasn't there.

I really like the switch to a dropdown, and the explicit highest/lowest, newest/oldest type options instead of the ascending/descending toggle.

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    More than just flagging, 20k users can also use it to review what answers, if any, need to be delete-voted. Since I reached 20k reputation on Stack Overflow, I do this often enough that a lowest-score sort would be a time-saver... so long as it kept deleted answers at the end rather than putting them at the beginning. I don't like that current sorting of score puts deleted answers in line where they would be if they weren't deleted... it misleads me into thinking I've reached the end of the non-deleted content.
    – TylerH
    Feb 8 at 17:53
  • 3
    @TylerH That's not quite correct. When sorting by votes, deleted answers are always at the bottom. It's only the time-based sorting that interleaves the deleted answers with the non-deleted ones.
    – Catija StaffMod
    Feb 9 at 19:48
  • @Catija Thanks; I knew there was one sorting method I used frequently that had that problem, just couldn't remember which one it was and rolled the dice from memory.
    – TylerH
    Feb 9 at 20:18
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    Based on this feedback, we will offer a Lowest score option. Appreciate you weighing in! Feb 10 at 16:45
  • 1
    @AnitaTaylor great news, thank you! Keep it up - the ream is doing an amazing job at addressing community concerns and feedback (can't stress this nearly enough) Feb 10 at 16:47
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TylerH makes a good argument in a comment. When changing the sort order, deleted answers should remain at the bottom. The current behavior of mixing them in when sorting on date ("active" or "oldest") is confusing.

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    We are having some internal debate, with some people saying there is value when sorting by date to having the deleted answers mixed in, and others saying there is no reason we shouldn't move them to the bottom like we already do on the Score sort. I get that it is confusing to have different behaviors for different sorts. Does anyone have any strong argument FOR keeping things the way they are? Why? Feb 9 at 16:52
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    @AnitaTaylor It is nice to be able to see deleted answers, to see what has happened on a page and so on, but deleted answers are not really part of the page any more, 99.9% of users cannot see them, and so mixing them into the visible answers causes confusion. I can imagine a toggle for "show deleted answers", or a toggle to keep them at the bottom or not, but I doubt that'd be useful. As I see it, if they're always at the bottom, they're easy to find when you need to see them. Feb 9 at 18:39
  • @AnitaTaylor I don't see myself ever wanting to see deleted answers sorted in-line where they would be, but for anyone who might, how much trouble/work would it be to have that be yet another sort option or two in the fancy new drop-down menu being implemented, and only make that option visible to 10k users? It could be named the same as the others but with (10K) at the end, and have a tooltip show on hover that says something like "shows deleted answers in order as if they weren't deleted"
    – TylerH
    Feb 9 at 20:22
  • @AnitaTaylor or to keep it simpler, don't change default sort behavior, and make the new 10K sort options the ones that pin deleted posts to the end, with the tooltip saying, e.g. "moves all deleted answers to the bottom/end of the answers list". Having the label appended with (10K) would make sense in my opinion since only 10k users would find use in that option. Other users will not see deleted posts, so won't need a "10k" option to keep the answers list clean.
    – TylerH
    Feb 9 at 20:23
  • @AnitaTaylor Personally I don't really see the point to keeping deleted answers mixed in. Then again, I can't see them anyway so it doesn't affect me :P
    – Clonkex
    Feb 10 at 0:18
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    Based on your feedback, we will go ahead and force deleted answers to the bottom of all sorts, as Cris suggested. Feb 10 at 16:51
  • 4
    @TylerH Thanks for the suggestions, but I'm going to consider creating new (10K) dropdown sort options out of scope Feb 10 at 16:52
  • @AnitaTaylor Thank you for the consideration and for considering the re-sorting of answers as well!
    – TylerH
    Feb 14 at 17:33
  • It seems that deleted answers are sorted last now. Very nice!
    – Martin R
    Mar 2 at 10:11
  • The thing I liked about having deleted answers keep their position is for when as a 10K user you are prompted to refresh the page after an answer is deleted I'm used to the deleted answer staying in the same place on the page (since I default to date sort). I'll have to see whether I find the new behaviour annoying or not; it probably won't happen often enough to make a difference. (Ideally as a 10K user I'd prefer deleted answers to just change colour rather than being "replaced" by the prompt to refresh.)
    – Neil
    Mar 3 at 9:21
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Do you see any value in having a lowest-score sort? Why or why not? When and how would you use it?

That's certainly easier than having to scroll down or even paginate when there are lots of answers. Would it be an option to not store that specific sort option in your preferences? Perhaps with a banner notifying you of this, after you select it? Or would that be too confusing?

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    I think having lowest score be the only option to not save in your preferences would be inconsistent and confusing, but our designers are considering adding a UI element (more subtle than a banner) that indicates when you have selected a sort that is not the Score default Feb 8 at 17:19
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    @AnitaTaylor the UI element sounds like a good idea, as I've seen questions on here from time to time from users that forgot/didn't realize they changed their sort order. So that's already a problem, not just something you'll run in to when adding a lowest score sort
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Feb 8 at 17:24
  • How about not saving the sort order, always reverting to the default? Would that be more confusing or less confusing? @AnitaTaylor Feb 8 at 18:07
  • 2
    @Tinkeringbell It comes up often enough that there is even a canonical dupe on MSO.
    – VLAZ
    Feb 8 at 18:48
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    @CrisLuengo I suppose that may be less confusing, but I suspect that many regulars would consider it annoying. When I set a setting, I like it to stay set, until I explicitly change it.
    – PM 2Ring
    Feb 8 at 19:47
  • @PM2Ring I agree that a setting should not change by itself but you could consider it a per-question setting instead of per-site. When I change the sort order to Active for example I usually only want to see that for a specific question, and I'm annoyed that I have to change it back on the next question I view. Or even consider it a per-pageview setting, similar to "show n more comments".
    – Marijn
    Feb 10 at 17:05
  • On the sites I'm most active in, I like my usual setting to be by activity - If I'm revisiting a question because it has new or updated answers, I just want to look through those, to see what's changed (and perhaps change a vote accordingly). It would be frustrating to have to select that for every single post. It's only when I'm seeking help that I temporarily change to sorting by votes. Feb 13 at 13:29
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Regarding the handling of deleted answers...

My initial reaction is that all three of these views have value:

  1. seeing the deleted answers in context of the other answers, sorted appropriately
  2. seeing only deleted answers
  3. hiding deleted answers

Pushing all deleted answers to the bottom is an easy way of handling #2 and #3. Leaving them interleaved for only some sort modes is a less than optimal way of handling #1.

When I was a mod, I would have liked a toggle to either include the deleted answers in my current sort, or push them to the bottom out of the way. I'm on the fence about whether hiding them entirely is a good idea. It's easy to forget you hid them and assume the question has no deleted answers. Pushing them to the end is good enough I think.

(And it would be nice if the deleted answers were sorted according to the current sort order even when they are being pushed to the bottom.)

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    We will go ahead and force deleted answers to the bottom of all sorts, and I totally agree about the deleted answers being sorted according to the chosen sort order. A toggle to show/hide the deleted answers is out of scope for this project, but I will put it in our backlog for future consideration. (No promises) Feb 10 at 16:57
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    @AnitaTaylor I try to ask for more than I think I can get when I don't have much insight into how difficult or not difficult it would be to do :) Viewing the deleted answers in context is probably view I would use least.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 11 at 18:43
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On whether or not to mix in deleted answers:

There are an awful lot of 10k users, but I think it's safe to say that the majority of them are not super-active moderators. (If this is not true, then the remainder of my argument is moot.) I'm assuming that most, like me, are just looking for answers to their questions while also trying to give back to the community once in a while.

A deleted answer is almost never useful.

  • If it was so far off the mark that the author and/or community decided the only option was total removal, then it probably won't be useful to me.
  • If it was identical to another answer and the author felt it was not useful to have that answer twice, then it probably won't be useful to me.
  • If it was spam, then it definitely won't be useful to me.

About the only time that a deleted answer is actually useful is when a new, dejected user deletes it after the first downvote because someone else didn't understand it. It's not unheard of, but I think it's fair to call it an exception to the norm.

As a 10k user, it's fun to be able to participate in meta discussions where I can see some problematic answer and weigh in on the conversation, but I also have no way of easily turning this "privilege" off. If I'm just trying to figure out why my foo won't bar when baz is set to bat, then cluttering the answers with useless junk, just because I wanted to be helpful to others, feels more like a punishment.

Please leave the deleted answers at the bottom of the stack, regardless of my chosen sort order.

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    We will go ahead and force deleted answers to the bottom of all sorts. Feb 10 at 17:10
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Can we separate sorting a single post's answers from the remembering my preferred settings for the site? Usually, my preferred order stays the same for any given site, and on the occasions I change to something different, it's frustrating to find the next post I read isn't sorted the usual way.

I'd envision a "remember this" button near the sort menu, and some indicator in the sort choice highlighting which option is default for me (giving an at-a-glance indication of "this isn't my default sort").

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    Toby, your suggestion is out of scope for this project. We don't have plans at this time to redesign how we save sorting preferences and build new UI for it. However, we are planning to add a UI element that lets the user know when they are no longer using the Highest Score default sort. Feb 14 at 16:35
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    This'd be nice, for sure, but it's such little friction to set back to how you want on the next page that I don't think it's necessary given how much effort it would be to implement.
    – TylerH
    Feb 15 at 15:07
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Interestingly, the change from "Activity" to "Modified" may have cleared up a misconception I had about the old sorting behavior:

  • When I read "Modified," I think Post created and Post edited.
  • When I read "Activity," I think Post created, Post edited, and Post commented on.

So if the real sort behavior has been the former all along, bravo for the changed text.

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    This was called out in the previous post: "Our survey revealed that 49.6% of users were confused by the Active wording, and many thought that it meant that answers with the most recent comments would appear first."
    – bobble
    Feb 9 at 18:04
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    Thank goodness comments never bumped posts... the front pages would be even more of a nightmare.
    – TylerH
    Feb 10 at 15:07
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    @TylerH Oh, I never visit the front page. My sorting is all done on individual question pages and on my bookmarks. But you make a good point; that sounds unwieldy.
    – Michael
    Feb 10 at 15:15
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The wording of "Reset to default" is a bit misleading:

"Reset" sounds like a permanent action, but here it has no lasting effect. I clicked "Reset to default" on multiple questions before realizing it's apparently meant to be temporary and that we need to use the dropdown to permanently "reset" the sort order.

Perhaps "View as default" would better reflect that it's only a temporary view (assuming this is not a bug).

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Regarding the sorting of deleted posts:

I use "Date modified (newest at top)" sort to answer the question "Why was this post bumped to the home page?" I wouldn't expect deleted posts to be always at the bottom and it would cause the sort not to be able to answer my question when a new answer that bumped the post is deleted.

I would expect I would use "Date created (newest at top)" sort to see what answers have a fresh perspective. For that, deleted answers would just get in the way.

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    The method you use is unreliable, because it will not work if the reason the post was bumped to the home page was not due to a new answer or existing answer being modified. You should be using the "Active" link under the title to find that information, instead.
    – TylerH
    Feb 10 at 15:05
  • The only other reason that things get bumped that I find is when the community user silently bumps the whole thread because it has answers all with zero score. Feb 10 at 15:06
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    That's not correct. Edits to the question, changes to status (e.g. closed/open, duplicate target adjustments) and bounties also bump posts, as I recall.
    – TylerH
    Feb 10 at 15:52
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    Based on feedback from other users, we will force deleted answers to the bottom of all sorts. Feb 10 at 17:11
-2

Would it be possible to remove the sort option altogether when there's only one answer available? The option is meaningless in that context and it clutters the page

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    It's not that big IMHO, and for consistencies sake I'd rather keep it.
    – Luuklag
    Mar 4 at 12:41
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    Maybe it makes sense, but it goes against the stated design philosophy of SE to show all controls at all times regadless of context to reduce confusion. Whether it does achieve the goal is debatable but the point is that this is highly unlikely to change Mar 4 at 12:50
  • @OlegValteriswithUkraine that's fine, I wasn't aware of that specifically, makes sense Mar 7 at 8:58
  • You do have a point. Most user interface standards dictate inactive (e.g., signalled by being dimmed out), but visible. Not removal. Whether that is technically possible is another question. Mar 21 at 16:17
-6

I am not sure if this is a good idea, but I would like to propose it.

I certainly agree with ColleenV's answer. But, I also understand your concern about "someone could set “lowest score” as their sorting preference, forget they chose it, and then be utterly perplexed as to why they are seeing so many low-scored answers."

I am not sure if this concern would be valid to users who have spent a good amount of time in Stack Exchange and know how things work in Stack Exchange. But, it might be a problem to low-reputation users.

I propose that the Lowest score sort feature be available as a privilege to users only above a certain reputation (250 seems like a nice number). Of course, the exact reputation required for this privilege is debatable.

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    Why would sorting be a rep-gated privilege of all things? It is just a sorting option on a field, just like all the rest. If we go by the logic that someone could forget they did something when it is clearly indicated in the UI, we should get rid of everything that can be forgotten: you can forget you posted an answer, that you edited, sorted, filtered, ignored, watched, suggested - this is no ground for getting rid of those features, isn't it? The same is true for sorting options. Feb 8 at 19:06
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    Preventing people from using a feature because they might get confused by it is not the right answer. People should only be prevented from using a feature if they are likely to do some kind of harm by using it improperly. If users are often baffled by the way a feature behaves, it's better to improve the design of the feature or its docs. I think SE suffers from the lack of a dedicated support site for the public side. If I go to support.xbox.com, it shows me a page of the most common problems and some categories to narrow my search. Meta.SE is much harder to use for non-veteran users.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 8 at 20:37
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    With the current sorting buttons it's exceptionally easy to click on them by accident and change the sorting order without even knowing you did it. It has happened to me multiple times. The first time it lead me to this MSO question which explained what sorting was and how to change it. The second time I also had to go there - this time at least I knew what it was, I forgot where you change it from. And in both cases I had not consciously clicked the buttons.
    – VLAZ
    Feb 9 at 16:43
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    Since then it has happened other times but now at least I know where the sorting buttons are. And moreover, I occasionally change the sorting order, when I need to. A dropdown is not really that easy to accidentally click on and change the value. Not impossible but harder than a simple button.
    – VLAZ
    Feb 9 at 16:43
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    I also see a problem with what happens when you go below the reputation threshold and lose that privilege again. Will the sort order be kept or will it be reset to the default? Feb 10 at 12:23
  • @SebastianSimon I guess reset to the default. Feb 10 at 14:43
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    Agree with Oleg that sorting shouldn't be a rep-gated privilege. We will, however, work on adding an indicator that the user is no longer using the default sort to hopefully help avoid confusion. Feb 10 at 17:13

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