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The front page of math.stackexchange, for unregistered users, shows the most widely viewed questions rather than the latest questions. Can the default front page format for unregistered users be changed? For a site to convey the dynamic ever-changing types of questions it gets, I think it would be better to let a new user see the latest questions being asked as the front page. The most widely viewed questions are somewhat stable (e.g., lately a "Sum of Some" and "Math is Tautology" questions are what an unregistered user sees on the front page at first) and this doesn't really put the best face on what math.stackexchange is about. A widely viewed question can be a somewhat low-quality question. Of course a new question can be low-quality too, but the new questions are often changing so there's a good chance that a front page of the latest questions will show better questions than one that has the most widely viewed questions.

Note: If you can't duplicate what I am describing as the front page, make sure to log out of math.stackexchange and then look at the site. My browser is set to clear cookies any time I log out, so I always see math.stackexchange at first as an unregistered user. If you don't clear cookies you may always be logged in to this site and thus not see what I am describing as the unregistered user's front page.

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    $\begingroup$ One can see the site as an unregistered user simply by start a "private browsing" mode (Ctrl+Shit+P in Firefox; Ctrl+Shift+N in Chrome; I don't know about IE and Opera). $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jun 4 '13 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ I didn't know that. I was trying to direct people to view the site the way a regular unregistered user does, i.e., just log out of the site and then look at it. $\endgroup$ – KCd Jun 4 '13 at 16:31
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, but logging out and logging back in a hassle (I believe that the process may nullify all logins, requiring you to log in again from other computers that you frequently use: e.g. smartphone, tablet, office). Using private mode disables all interaction with preexisting data (nor it saves the data after the session is closed). It's simpler and "safer" for those not so excited about logging out. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jun 4 '13 at 16:38
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila: I see. Since my cookies are always cleared I always log in to sites when I visit them in a new browser session. $\endgroup$ – KCd Jun 4 '13 at 18:48
  • $\begingroup$ I wish I could start bounty or something on this question — that's a really bad change that went largely unnoticed... $\endgroup$ – Grigory M Jun 26 '13 at 23:08
  • $\begingroup$ Grigory: Спасибо за поддержку! $\endgroup$ – KCd Jun 27 '13 at 1:54
  • $\begingroup$ @AsafKaragila: One of your keystroke suggestions in parentheses has an unfortunate typographical error. It reminds me of the time when a student typed in an assignment that a certain module was shift stable... but left out one crucial letter in "shift". $\endgroup$ – KCd Jun 27 '13 at 1:56
  • $\begingroup$ @KCd: Haha! Oops! :-) $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Jun 27 '13 at 8:32
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    $\begingroup$ @KCd: Is it me, or has the terrible default front page now vanished? It seems to have on multiple sites, not just math.SE. On the other hand, there's no mention of such a change here (yet?). $\endgroup$ – cardinal Jun 27 '13 at 18:19
  • $\begingroup$ @cardinal: The absurd front page for unregistered users on MSE had been there earlier today, but now I see a completely different front page. I opened and closed my browser a few times (clearing cookies each time) to be sure this wasn't an accident. It'd be good to get a confirmation from people in charge about how things have been changed. Were people complaining on other sites about that format? $\endgroup$ – KCd Jun 27 '13 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ @KCd: I seem to recall some comments on other sites regarding this as well. I'll see if I can locate those. $\endgroup$ – cardinal Jun 28 '13 at 16:01
  • $\begingroup$ @cardinal Thanks for pointing out this change. Since the arrival of the month-based frontpage was never mentioned in the Feature Changes thread, it's no surprise that it departed unannounced as well. (That thread is maintained by SE community, not developers: if you or I were so inclined, we could have mentioned these changes. I happen to be not inclined to do so.) $\endgroup$ – ˈjuː.zɚ79365 Jun 29 '13 at 13:57
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The answer below describes the frontpage for non-logged in users as it was from mid-April to late June 2013. The current state of the page is different: it is similar, though not identical, to the active question list shown to logged in users (see below). It seems that the SE team realized and corrected their mistake.

current frontpage


What do they see? Almost the same list of questions that logged-in users see when clicking month on the front page: questions with the most views, answers, and votes this month. The only difference is that closed questions are not shown. The list is preceded by most popular tags, set in annoyingly large font. I included a screenshot at the end of my answer.

When did this change happen? Hard to tell because it was never mentioned in the meta.SO thread Recent feature changes to Stack Exchange. But I think it was in April 2013, after the introduction of new banner for non-logged-in users. Here is a screenshot of Physics site with the banner, but with the normal front page.

Why do these questions have the most views, answers, and votes? Because at some point they drew attention of users of other SE sites, either through hot questions feature of the Multi-Collider™ in the upper-left corner of the screen, or by being mentioned outside of SE. Since the rest of SE network is many times larger than Math.SE, it is quite likely that the most-viewed (-voted, -answered) questions will usually be questions of the kind that people outside of Math.SE find interesting. Note that many of them had to be protected from worthless answers by passers-by.

Is this a problem? I think yes. If I did not know Math.SE better, the impression I would get from the screenshot below is that of a decaying math site akin to later days of sci.math. The front page filled with vague or discussion-y questions that are primarily voted up by passers-by is neither an accurate representation of Math.SE nor a good advertisement for it.

What can we do? Ask SE to revert this change. An exception already exists: StackOverflow does not show the Month view to non-logged-in users.

Related recent Meta.SO threads: The frontpage for anonymous users is too static and The association bonus should not enable users to vote on every site.

month

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    $\begingroup$ Your placement of the change in April sounds about right to me. I've had my browser set to clear cookies for much longer than that, so I've seen the new user front page for quite a while when I come to MSE in a new browser session, and my sense of when this (bad) front page change happened for new users is about 2--3 months ago. It'd be great if a moderator on this site could write something about this change on meta and tell us whether it can be reverted back to posting the latest questions as the front page for new users. $\endgroup$ – KCd Jun 5 '13 at 2:31
  • $\begingroup$ @KCd It certainly can't be reverted by moderators, and I don't think moderators have much say in site design in general. By the way, SE employee recently explained their rationale for the new frontpage on meta.MSO. "This may be a controversial change, but we didn't make it without lots of discussion and measuring". $\endgroup$ – ˈjuː.zɚ79365 Jun 5 '13 at 10:34
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for that meta link. Do MSE moderators as a group share my concern with the poor reflection on MSE based on what rises to the top as questions under the "month" ranking? At least since this is based on the month there is hope that some of the rather ridiculous questions will go away next month, though I fear they'll be replaced by equally ridiculous new questions for a whole month after that. Ugh. $\endgroup$ – KCd Jun 5 '13 at 14:09
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Here is what was posted on meta on Mathoverflow.net, which is transitioning to the Stackexchange network, emphasis is mine:

Stack exchange PM here. A few words about the homepage.

First, the only changes we have made are to the anonymous homepage. If you are an actual registered user who is logged in, you will never see the changes that we've made.

The changes, including the sort, were made to give drive-by traffic a better idea of what the site was about. We added the banner explaining the Q&A concept, moved the top tags for the site front and center for those who scan for familiar terms, and we did change the sort on the question list.

The old sort was "newest", which I would argue does not reflect a representative sample of questions from the site. Further, most of these newest questions are unanswered and thus not as interesting as some with answers.

We wanted to convince visitors that there was valuable content on the site and it was worth joining and contributing.

Currently, the sort is something very similar to "Best by month", which pulls in slightly more popular questions with answers.

This is not at all our final algorithm, and we plan to continue testing various other combinations of highly rated content, popular content, and unanswered content.

I'm afraid all I can say at the present time is that the homepage sort is very unlikely to remain as it is, but also very unlikely to return as it was.

I interpret the boldface part as there being some possibility to customize the first page for unregistered users. Given that the "Sum of Some"-question is still showing up, we should definitely change something. I'm not sure I would have ever joined MSE if I would have considered the current page representative.

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