Stack Exchange's Greatest Hits

by Jeff Atwood

on February 24, 2012

We have a lot of Q&A; sites in the Stack Exchange network now. 84 at the current moment. That's … a lot of Q&A; sites. But most people* don't find us by browsing the site directory; they find us by encountering a Stack Exchange page in their web search results.

So that may lead you to wonder: what are the most freqently found questions on a given Stack Exchange Q&A; site? In other words, the "Greatest Hits" of that particular topic.

(Trivia: did you know that the Eagles' Greatest Hits doesn't include their most famous song?)

How do we, as community members, tell which questions are getting the most airplay, are the figurative "Bicycling's Greatest Hits" or "RPG's Greatest Hits" of our community? We have a page for this:

stackoverflow.com/questions/greatest-hits
superuser.com/questions/greatest-hits
serverfault.com/questions/greatest-hits
gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/greatest-hits
askubuntu.com/questions/greatest-hits
apple.stackexchange.com/questions/greatest-hits

Yep, just add /questions/greatest-hits to the address bar of any Stack Exchange site.

The [Greatest Hits page] divides the number of page views on a question by the total amount of anonymous question and answer feedback received (adding a bonus for high view counts). We exclude questions with less views than the median view count for the entire site.

For better or worse, these questions are what the world will see and remember your site for, and a big reason why popularity can be surprisingly troublesome.

We haven't been publicizing the Greatest Hits page much to date because it relies heavily on a feature we only introduced about 6 months ago: anonymous user feedback. If you visited a Stack Exchange question as an anonymous user, there wasn't much you could do other than answer it. So we added a feedback option under each post.

What we quickly learned is that anonymous users aren't particularly, uh … talkative. Statistically speaking, they very rarely click these feedback buttons -- and when they do, it's often because the post itself is getting a lot of views. So you need quite a bit of time before you can even begin looking at anonymous user feedback, and it's frequently only useful on large sites, or the super popular questions.

We now have a reasonable amount of anonymous user feedback after 6+ months. Enough to take action. We ought to be looking at the Greatest Hits for our sites every so often and actively tending to these highly visible questions and answers -- because they truly represent how the world sees your site!

I sometimes go through and "touch up" the questions on the Greatest Hits list to make sure they're as great as they should be. I'd encourage everyone in the community to do the same. Periodically check the Greatest Hits and see if these questions should represent what your site is all about; edit, vote, comment, and flag to ensure that the quality and relevancy of these questions and answers is making your site look as great to the outside world as you know it is.

Remember, if you're not careful, you could end up like Chuck Berry -- a rock legend who will forever be remembered for his only number one hit … "My Ding-A-Ling".

  • this is hardly new news, but for the year of 2011, Google delivered 91% of all incoming traffic to Stack Overflow. It's not quite as high for Stack Exchange, "only" around 70-80%.