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Currently, this site has a penalty factor imposed on the "hotness" score used by the system to determine if a question on this site should be selected for Hot Network Questions: once a question's score is calculated, it's reduced by 45% before being compared against other sites' questions.

This was set way back in around 2014, when this site used to accept questions of a more subjective nature and there were concerns about this site's questions dominating the overall list of hot network questions at any given time, since these subjective questions would often receive lots of votes causing the algorithm to select them. This site is one of just three on the network with this type of limitation from Hot Network Questions; the only other two sites are Stack Overflow (due to its massive traffic) and The Workplace (which still sees a lot of subjective questions).

Not only has the site's nature been wholly changed due to the site scope changes from Programmers to Software Engineering, but in 2019, massive reforms were enacted to Hot Network Questions, one of which was to explicitly restrict sites to only having five questions on the list at a time, which renders any concerns about this or any other site being overrepresented in the list obsolete. The ending effect of the penalty factor is simply to increase the required number of initial activity required for a question to be selected, and given the changes to the site's nature, this is probably no longer required.

Is this penalty factor still necessary, or can it be removed?

I've been going through the global meta for site-specific overrides to this site that date from the era when this site's nature was completely different (during the Programmers era) and asking here if those old overrides are still necessary following the changes. Such changes that are still in place today include this and the block against unregistered users asking questions.

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2 Answers 2

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I don't know if it's necessary anymore. Not only have we been able to tighten and focus the scope of the site over the last 8 years, but I believe there's been a dramatic decline in people posting bad SO questions here because of either misdirection (by suggestion in comments) or stumbling across the site.

Given that it's early December, I don't think I would want to do anything now. I'd want to be able to monitor quality and have staff support. This is worth looking at early in the new year, though, to see what the impact of removing this restriction is.

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    Given the high votes to the question and agreeing answer, as well as no major objections here, can you please tag this question status-review so the team removes it?
    – gparyani
    Jan 16, 2023 at 9:08
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Penalty factor should be removed, and not only from our site. It is useless, plain and simple.

A fairly prominent example of how this factor is useless is Workplace. Over there, this factor (the same value as at our site by the way) was established in response to complaints about having 5 questions in the hot list and further observations have shown that this totally failed.

Nothing noticeable has changed, there still were frequently five or more Workplace questions in the list - and we can see the same now (except that system now has hard limit and cases of more than 5 questions are gone because of that).


It's worth noting that there is an inaccuracy in your question, specifically in the word "still". Thing is, this factor did not (and could not) make any significant impact for almost 9 years as explained here.

The problem with this factor is that it was designed having in mind ancient "collider" UI where hot questions were presented in small scrollable dropdown strictly ordered by their score. In collider design, factor value like 45% could push the question down in the list from slot like #4 to slot like #14 or #24, making it harder to reach by two, or three, or four mouse clicks which would indeed impact its visibility in a substantial way.

Thing is though, this UI is no longer with us and new UI (randomised list at sidebar) fully trashes the expectation of how such parameters work. Decreasing score to values like 45% doesn't even come close to voting differences at various sites and as a result, questions at sites with stronger voting remain in the list.

Yeah their position in hot list maybe changes, like from #4 to #14 or #24 but this doesn't matter anymore because all the questions in the list are now randomised and get equal chances to be displayed at sidebar, no matter what is their score.

Suming up, penalty factor doesn't make any useful impact here and only makes it harder for people to understand how system works. It should be removed for our site and for all other sites where it doesn't make a useful impact - that is, for all sites except for Stack Overflow.


Speaking of Stack Overflow, I can't tell whether penalty should be removed or not because there is an impact.

This is because penalty for SO is enormously huge and it survived even the change from collider dropdown (or maybe it was adjusted at the time of this change - I think this is the only site where impact of hotness score parameters is checked and tracked and controlled by dev team because of its huge importance).

But such enormously huge value makes this parameter work in rather weird undeclared way. Specifically, primary effect of penalty at SO is that their questions drop off the hot list much faster compared to all other sites as explained in more details here. The impression that SO questions appear in hot list infrequently is only because of this effect.

Anyway, because of substantial impact it is out of scope of this question to discuss whether this penalty should be removed for SO, as opposed to all other sites. One thing for sure though, if it is decided to be kept then its purpose should corrected.

Ancient original purpose was to prevent SO questions dominating hot list but as you correctly noticed, system now explicitly restricts sites to only having five questions so this is no longer relevant and only makes it harder for people to understand how system works.

If penalty factor stays for SO questions then more up-to-date description of its purpose could be like that:

a special hack only for SO questions, intended to make them drop off from the hot list much faster than questions from other sites in order to minimize risk of complaints about this feature at SO meta and therefore save efforts of SE dev team because it is so much easier to ignore similar complaints raised at smaller site metas.

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  • As far as I can tell, the penalty factor for this site wasn't enacted until after the top bar changes and the changeover from the MultiCollider list to the sidebar: it took place in February 2014. Also, with my past experience asking on The Workplace, a question of mine got lots of activity which would have almost certainly pushed it to HNQ on another site, but didn't make the list, which was likely due to the penalty factor.
    – gparyani
    Dec 9, 2022 at 22:01
  • @gparyani the defining point when penalty stopped working for sure was randomizing in Feb '14; as for three months between this event and move to sidebar in Dec '13 I can't tell anything because system behaved in a totally mad way. Regarding your Workplace question, if it gained traction fast enough - say, in first 10-20 hours then the only reason for it not getting to HNQ I can think of could be 5 questions limit - that is if there were 5 questions with even higher answering and voting activity at that time...
    – gnat
    Dec 9, 2022 at 22:50
  • ...Penalty factor just can't stop questions of that age with 3-4 answers and sum of total positive score about 10 from getting to the list - one can simply check the score of the questions near the bottom of the hot list at any given time to see that it is not high enough to block. As an example, current bottom question has score about 3.7, question #50 has about 6.7 - this is just too low
    – gnat
    Dec 9, 2022 at 22:54
  • @gparyani a side note, this parameter probably went under your radar because it doesn't have site specific overrides, however it might be interesting as it is also totally useless (and even on Stack Overflow) and having it only makes it harder for people to understand how system works: decreasing the hotness score of successive questions from the same site by 2%
    – gnat
    Dec 10, 2022 at 12:51

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