On the Stack Exchange network sites, at the front page there are following main nav pages available:

Questions | Tags | Users | Badges | Unanswered

At first, there's no nav tab selected, and displayed as content is a list of "Top questions", with tabs:

active | featured | hot | week | month

where active is selected.

But if the user selectes the "Questions" nav page, another list of "All questions" comes up, this time with tabs:

newest | featured | frequent | votes | active | unanswered

with newest selected. Note that there are two duplicates: Featured and active are both available on either page.

Added to this, there the unanswered tab on "Questions" page, but also the "Unanswered" -page with it's own four tabs

my tags | newest | votes | no answers

The only way to get back to the front page, is to click on the site logo - although a very common and recognized nav feature, it is somewhat obfuscated by the fact that the user has an alternative path to a list of questions, the "Questions" page, which even contains some of the same tabs.

The front page shows on any of the tabs only a limited number of posts, and at the bottom a link to the "Questions" -page instead of pagination. This seems to be profiling the front page as a sort of "Featured" -list, like front pages often are, and the topic of "Top questions" would also point towards that.

But to me it seems this model gets confused by the fact that both of the pages are browsed through filters or sorts, and the "Questions" -page even has some of the same filters.

Now, for the non-logged-in user, the views are different. There the front page has no tabs, and only a small selection of questions, with a "browse more questions" button or other link leading to the "Questions" page. This does make it much more clear, though the some of the navigation tabs are lost (hot, week, month).

It also seems to me the two different pages mix the type of content filtering and sorting they have in tabs. The front page does seem to have somewhat of a time-based model, where there's selections for current (active), for the entire week, and for the entire month. But there's also featured (which I suppose is there to make it prominent on the site) and hot, which is a some kind of a mixture of sort and filter.

The "Questions" page repeats some of the tabs, and seems to use somewhat of a sorting model, with time sort (newest), view-count sort (frequent), vote sort (votes). But this also has featured (again, probably to make it prominent), active which is just a duplicate of the front page and doesn't seem to be sort-based, and unanswered which is more of a filter.

My question: What is the idea behind this navigation scheme?

It seems to me having these mixed models is a not good for usability, and makes the user feel lost in the navigation. I do know the Stack Exchange sites have a strong focus on UX, and show serious consideration to usability in many of the features, so I would assume there is some considered point behind the navigation scheme to.

So, what is the point I'm missing here? Are there some positive UX considerations which I haven't noticed that outweigh the confusion? Or perhaps I'm just approaching this from my perspective instead of the basic user's perspective, maybe the model isn't confusing?

To illustrate my point: The way I see it, navigation would be much simpler if there was one "current" type page for different filter/sort combinations (active, featured, hot, week, month, unanswered) and antother "archive"-type view for unfiltered simple-sorted views (newest, frequent, votes).

This is not a rant. I'm genuinely trying to understand what's the idea here.

  • I do admit this ended up feeling kind of ranty, sorry. But I felt it's needed to explain what I consider the confusing parts, those being the parts I'm asking about. Jul 10, 2013 at 6:38
  • 2
    Feels like a meta question.
    – rk.
    Jul 10, 2013 at 14:53
  • 4
    @rk I don't agree. I did consider posting to meta, but it's an usability issue that could be about any site. Up to the community, of course. Jul 10, 2013 at 16:58
  • 1
    Please note that the Home and Question lists present different lists of questions and that the Home page is not paginated but has either a button at the bottom to take you to the questions page or some other text inviting visitors to participate. For example Stackoverflow has the text, Programmers has the button. The point of all these tabs is that they are preset filters and sort orders. Have you hovered over the tabs? You'll get a hint explaining what the list on that "tab" will contain. Jul 10, 2013 at 16:58
  • @rk, don't agree. Question is more about usability of this type of navigation than of the functioning of one or more stackexchange sites. Jul 10, 2013 at 16:59
  • I would appreciate any points on what to edit to make this more appropriate. The question is genuine: What is the model they're going after? SE have a clear commitment to usability, so I'm sure this has been considered. Jul 10, 2013 at 17:01
  • @MarjanVenema Good points. I'll include them in the question. Jul 10, 2013 at 17:04
  • 1
    @IlariKajaste Granted it is an usability issue for such sites, it is still localized to this example and since it is the design of a SE site, it is better suited to meta (in my opinion).
    – rk.
    Jul 10, 2013 at 17:04
  • @rk. Even though I disagree, I do consider yours a valid opinion. Jul 10, 2013 at 17:49
  • I would appreciate an explanation for any close votes. Jul 11, 2013 at 6:03
  • 1
    @IlariKajaste Sorry for the misunderstanding, but the close vote was actually for migrating it to the meta site like I mentioned in the previous comments.
    – rk.
    Jul 12, 2013 at 19:19
  • Sure, figured as much. I was more asking for the other three - um, four. Jul 12, 2013 at 20:38

1 Answer 1


I would say that I generally agree with your criticisms, and I appreciate you taking the time to write them up.

I'm not going to get too deep into historical reasons for why things are the way they are, but sometimes things just evolve instead of being intelligently designed at the beginning :)

I have taken some time to try to outline a solution to the problems above, and each time it just wasn't quite right. Since browsing questions is the most important thing that the site does, the bar for changes is very high.

As a result, we've punted a bit and are working from the outside in instead.

Though, as general principles, I think the homepage should be something more/other than a differently sorted question page. We are throwing around ideas that involve integration of the mobile feed idea that we have developed as we work on our android app.

In addition, the duplication of functionality between the questions button and the unanswered button continues to annoy me, but until I can figure out how to combine all previous functionality into the question button, it will probably remain as is.

It's on the list, but you're likely to see changes in the top bar in the user profile before we get around to this.

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