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In the announcement of changes to the Hot Network Questions list (HNQ), it says:

We're putting the power in the hands of our moderators to remove questions that don't set a good example for their sites. I recommend each site have a meta discussion with guidance for moderators about when - if ever - a question should be removed.

I think it would be worthwhile to put the community's thoughts on removing questions from the HNQ in writing instead of relying on the general network-wide guidance. Removing a question from the HNQ prevents it from ever being eligible for the list again, so it is one of the few moderator actions that can't easily be reversed.

We've had some discussion about the HNQ in the past (Do we have any control over what gets on the Hot Network List?) and about questions receiving a tremendous number of daily views (What do 100k views in a day mean?) but we haven't decided what criteria we would like to have for questions that take up our five (I think) spots on list.

I know we already have a discussion going about a question that was removed from the HNQ. I think it would be better to start a new policy discussion than to try to repurpose a discussion about how a specific question was removed when the network-wide policy seems to indicate it shouldn't have been.

What sorts of impacts does a question becoming "hot" have on the site that would cause us to want to remove it from the list? Here are a few reasons I've dredged or paraphrased from past discussions across the network.

  • (The HNQ algorithm) "optimizes for controversy, not quality. Sensationalist questions draw lots of rapid response, which feeds the HNQ algorithm, and then once it's on HNQ it gets even more rapid response, which keeps it there (and also distorts Q&A on that site)." (Source)

  • Questions on the HNQ are essentially an advertisement for EL&U. The questions should be of the sort that will attract (or at least won't discourage) the type of audience EL&U wants to cultivate. There are questions that are on-topic, but that are maybe not the sort of questions that we would want to present as typical of the site's content. Because these questions often generate a lot of edits and comments, they tend to end up on the HNQ more often than a great question that is well-formed when it's posted.

  • Questions on the HNQ attract votes and comments from users who aren't familiar with EL&U's norms. Users that have 200 reputation on any other site in the network are awarded 100 reputation on EL&U which allows them to comment and upvote. This can cause incorrect or low quality answers to end up with far more votes than they might have if they weren't hot.

See also the formula for determining hotness

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    A meta-meta point: the criteria will inherently be vague, needing judgement to enact, and the action should be reversible, just like for close and delete votes.
    – Mitch
    Apr 4 at 21:01
  • Clarification needed: how (and why) does a question get on the HNQ? What effect does being on the HNQ tend to do for ELU? What are the questions from ELU that tend to go on the HNQ and do they tend to serve any good results for us? (I think @Mari-lou had a good link for stats that help with this last question)
    – Mitch
    Apr 4 at 21:05
  • I don't pay any attention to "Hot Network Questions". Though at the moment, the only ELU post on that list was "What is the suspension of finer particles in the air called when a powdery substance is poured?". Apr 4 at 21:54
  • 1
    @mitch There’s probably a lot more that needs to go into this post to make it a useful discussion starting point. I wanted to toss it out to see what the reaction was before I put too much into it. I don’t know how often ELU questions end up on the HNQ, or whether the added attention causes any problems. I have a feeling that our site specific stance will be don’t remove questions unless they’re very disruptive. Feel free to edit this post. I’m just trying to get a ball rolling, not take a position.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 5 at 1:30
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    @ColleenV I added an answer to represent the full range of answers.
    – Mitch
    Apr 5 at 14:02
  • @Mitch It's worth noting that the mod tool removes questions permanently from the HNQ. Closing a question is a way to temporarily remove it from the list (as reopening makes it eligible again if it's still hot), though we shouldn't abuse that just to remove questions from the HNQ.
    – Laurel Mod
    Apr 5 at 14:27

5 Answers 5

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Questions from ELU are rarely of the sort that need to be blocked from becoming hot questions. If a question is somewhat disruptive, the mods have other tools like temporarily locking comments.

In the unlikely case that there is question that that clearly has to be removed from the HNQ, moderators should post on meta explaining why this extraordinary action needed to be taken, and why no other tool was sufficient to deal with it.

This answer written to provoke discussion of different possible viewpoints. Feel free to edit it.

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  • I think that closing and immediately opening the question doesn't do anything for hotness; it would be immediately put back on the list exactly where it was (if caching was even that fast to notice in the first place).
    – Laurel Mod
    Apr 6 at 12:51
  • @Laurel is there a link to a description of what the criteria are for getting on the HNQ?
    – Mitch
    Apr 6 at 13:09
  • @Laurel I thought it would have a period where it was ineligible, but now that there is a tool to remove a question entirely, that may have changed.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 6 at 13:18
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    @Mitch Here's the formula. See also the 2019 tweaks which made some changes such as adding the mod tool.
    – Laurel Mod
    Apr 6 at 13:24
  • I went ahead and removed that bit to make this a little more definitively "don't take things off the HNQ unless it's a really extreme case".
    – ColleenV
    Apr 6 at 13:25
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Mods should proactively monitor the HNQ and be more willing to remove questions that they judge to be disruptive. Highly recognized to usually be poor questions, single word requests and such tend to be unnecessarily provocative, jumping onto the HNQ, making us look like Urban Dictionary. We don't need rep from casual visitors.

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Even though it is rarely necessary, the mod team should use their judgement to remove questions from the HNQ if they anticipate the question will disrupt the site. A question doesn't need to be on the HNQ to be successful.

This answer written to provoke discussion of different possible viewpoints. Feel free to edit it.

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    Can you explain what you mean by a question 'disrupting' the site? While a question's becoming a HNQ may often produce awkward and annoying results, I have never seen them do anything that I would call disrupting the site.
    – jsw29
    Apr 5 at 14:42
  • @jsw29 The mod team usually deals with it before most community members see the problem.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 5 at 14:50
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    O.K., but I still can't imagine what would it be for a question to disrupt the site. Yes, HNQs tend to get traffic that is disproportional to their real importance, some unhelpful comments and low-quality answers, and they and their answers are often upvoted excessively (compared to what is usual on this site). None of that can be described as disrupting the site.
    – jsw29
    Apr 5 at 15:00
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    @jsw29 Although t may not disrupt your use of the site, things like excessive flagged comments, low quality "joke" answers, a flood of users engaging with the site that would usually get more on-boarding from the existing community, etc. interferes with the normal operation and purpose of the site and puts pressure on the mod team, active community users who do moderation activities, the review queues etc. Whether that disruption is significant enough to merit intervention varies.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 5 at 15:09
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    How would a moderator judge if a post creates too much of a stir before it actually does? If the title or topic is controversial I would imagine that would automatically exclude it from the list. Maybe the controversial question or its controversial answer(s) will attract fierce, divisive and passionate views but I think it (they) would also attract a fair number of flags. What about the question that was taken off the HNQ list? I didn't see any comments that criticized any one answer. The OP found that quote because Putin and the war in Ukraine is topical.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 5 at 19:33
  • @Mari-LouA Mods are elected to use their judgement. It doesn't take long for a moderator to learn what is going to cause an issue on their site. That said, I put these answers here to give folks something to vote on, not because I particularly support any of these views and want to defend them. I would encourage you to write an answer that reflects what you think the policy should be... I have a feeling it would be popular.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 5 at 19:35
  • Does that mean we should exclude questions that have any connection whatsoever to current and harrowing events? EDIT: Moderators should seek to respond to questions asked by users on meta.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 5 at 19:35
  • @Mari-LouA I don't think the mods should be responsible for explaining the meaning of my hastily worded attempt to capture a possible viewpoint someone might have. I was hoping that the community would add what they think the policy should be. This post is a solicitation. It isn't for mods to answer questions about what is or is not. It's for the community to express what should be. It is apparently failing miserably :)
    – ColleenV
    Apr 5 at 20:58
  • There, done, see my answer. @Mari-LouA I expect it to align with your own point of view as well.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 5 at 22:03
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    I don't think the following is actually persuasive: "A question doesn't need to be on the HNQ to be successful." How does SE measure success? I thought it was by the number of votes a post attracts? And posts on EL&U are not nearly upvoted enough by the community itself, it's only when the HNQ is involved do we see increased voting, comments of praise, high number of views which indicate popularity, interest, and engagement by users and visitors alike. I would remove and replace it with a compelling argument.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 6 at 7:11
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    Re: 'A question doesn't need to be on the HNQ to be successful.' I think it's important that we put some products on our store front display to attract passerbys in to our store. More customers mean chaos, sometimes, but also means a thriving business. And chaos, we are well equipped to handle.
    – NVZ Mod
    Apr 6 at 7:48
  • @Mari-LouA I don't really know a good argument for the position that ELU mods should rely solely on their judgement to remove questions from the HNQ because removing a question doesn't really do much harm. I was just trying to provide a range of options for people to vote on.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 7 at 12:47
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We should almost never proactively remove questions from the HNQ. If the attention from being on the list generates a significant amount of disruption, we have already tools to deal with that. Attracting new users to the site far outweighs the inconvenience of a few flags or a pile of comments.

This answer written to provoke discussion of different possible viewpoints. Feel free to edit it.

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If a moderator is considering removing a question from HNQ, they should raise the decision on Meta for community review¹, allow consensus to build (say, over 24-48 hrs, after which the Q tends to lose its hotness anyway), and let the chips fall where they may.


¹ If there is a clear and present danger, e.g. the title alone appearing in HNQ subjects other sites to harm, or SE, Inc., as a whole to bad PR, or otherwise in contravention of network-wide policy, then the mod should make their best attempt to address these issues using less drastic tools (e.g. bowdlerizing the title, which has been done in previous cases, though typical EL&U site policy doesn’t call for it).

Only in extreme and egregious cases should mods take unilateral action, and the decision should still be subject to community review and possible reversal. Of course, if TPTB directly mandate it for the case in question, there’s no choice, but this situation should still be made transparent to users on Meta.

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  • Re: "(e.g. bowlderizing the title, which has been done in previous cases, though typical EL&U site policy doesn’t call for it)" - I was under the very very strong impression that, irrelevant to the HNQ question, typical site policy -does- call for bowdlerization of titles (in an attempt be freer in the content of questions). Has that changed or did I misunderstand?
    – Mitch
    Apr 5 at 22:18
  • @Mitch Maybe I’m misremembering. Every year I get older.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 5 at 22:23
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    The max duration for being Hot is only 3 days, so this seems too slow for anything but "extreme and egregious cases".
    – Laurel Mod
    Apr 6 at 0:45
  • @Laurel How about instead of “24-48” hours, just “24” hours?
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 6 at 0:50
  • So let's say two users express agreement, only in the comments, and no answers are posted after 24 hours, the question stays or is removed from the HNQ list? If participation on meta were high, it would be a different matter.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 6 at 7:53
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    @Mari-LouA Nope, if people want their votes counted, they have to actually, y’know, vote.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 6 at 8:00
  • What happens after 24 hours, no answers, so the question is removed? But if 98.5% EL&U users did not visit meta, did not know that a question was likely to be removed why is that a demonstration of consensus?
    – Mari-Lou A
    Apr 6 at 8:05
  • @Mari-LouA For “no answers”, the mod could preemptively post one saying “upvote = remove, downvote = retain”. As for limited participation in meta, 1. The post could be featured and would show up on the main site sidebar, and 2. as you well know, that a small coterie of active, engaged users make most of the administrative decisions is neither specific to this situation nor new. Indeed, here or in local governance anywhere. If you want your voice heard, you have to come to the meetings.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 6 at 8:15
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    I think that when a decision needs to be made about whether to remove a question from the HNQ, it’s too late to have a meta discussion about it, hence this question. Are there any circumstances in your mind that would clearly indicate a question should be removed? It’s fine for the community to say “We don’t want mods removing questions from the HNQ.” The site survived for years without that ability and never had the sort of controversies around it that Interpersonal Skills did. Mods can’t reverse their decision to remove a question, like they can when they decide to close it.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 6 at 11:54
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    @ColleenV I can’t think of any plausible scenarios occurring on EL&U which would require that kind of emergency brake to be pulled. I don’t think the HNQ removal which stimulated this discussion deserved it (not that I found the Q particularly interesting). I’ve said before I don’t like mods grooming their pet issues via unilateral action. That said, I don’t want to tie mods’ hands in case there does arise that is “extreme and egregious”.
    – Dan Bron
    Apr 6 at 12:06
  • @DanBron The community expressing their wishes doesn't tie the moderators' hands. It just informs their judgment so they can make better decisions. No mod is going to not remove a question that is clearly disrupting the site from the HNQ because of this discussion.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 6 at 13:16
  • Given the lower voter turnout to this meta question despite clocking 300 visits, and being featured, I think we are going through a phase of reduced participation on meta. And such HNQ decisions being subject to meta would be futile.
    – NVZ Mod
    Apr 10 at 14:11
  • @NVZ You shouldn't assume the visits measure unique viewers. I'm probably responsible for 70 of those views. That doesn't mean meta participation isn't low, just that visits compared to votes isn't a reliable indicator. Maybe people just don't care much because HNQs aren't really that disruptive.
    – ColleenV
    Apr 11 at 15:16
  • I agree with ColleenV. By the time a consensus has been reached, the tenure of the HNQ candidate will have expired anyway. Nobody ever erected a monument to a committee. Let the mods use their judgment, which is what they're here for.
    – Robusto
    May 24 at 14:31

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