35

I answered the question If 32-bit machines can only handle numbers up to 2^32, why can I write 1000000000000 (trillion) without my machine crashing? with a quick off the top of my head answer because the three answers at the time where really more comments than answers and I wanted to give the asker a better answer.

As of the time of this writing the queston has existed for two days and has had 53.7k views. I have the most upvoted answer with 476 upvotes, this makes my answer the sixth most upvoted answer on the entire site.

  1. What happened that made that question so extremely popular? (The only theory I have is it was linked by some popular news website or similar)
  2. Why is my answer so popular, what magic did I perform so I can bottle it and try and recreate it in future answers?
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    I don't know where it was linked from, but it still is on the Hot Questions list for the third day in a row now. Blame it on the faulty algorithm that calculates the hotness of a question. – slhck Jan 10 '14 at 7:09
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    The magic was/is, you found a funny metaphor for Not-So-Tech-Savvy people which were attracted through Hot network questions. The shortness of your answer is the eye-catcher for them. The other two answers are too long for them » So in short: Jump in, get a laugh, upvote, leave – nixda Jan 10 '14 at 9:59
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    Your answer also was the first, actually. Or at least one of the first with a good explanation. So a case of FGITW. – slhck Jan 10 '14 at 11:20
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    I think it has some of the magic that draws clicks because it has numbers in the title. People have to stop and click on 10 Ways to Make Your PC Faster – Kevin Panko Jan 10 '14 at 22:46
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    I wonder if, once there are enough votes, people are inclined to "agree" with what they think must be a good answer because of the number of upvotes. Which is probably more likely, if the answer is short and clever, like the other commenters have said. – Andrew Jan 11 '14 at 5:25
  • You have 16k now, anything you touch here is Gold. – user46649 Jan 12 '14 at 18:04
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    Although I frequently check SuperUser, I found it linked from the front page of Reddit... so I suggest that would be a good starting point. From there, without suggesting your answer is wrong, people often upvote because so many others have already done so. – Paul Jan 13 '14 at 19:25
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    @Paul can you include the reddit link, I am curious to what is said there. – Scott Chamberlain Jan 13 '14 at 19:34
  • I've looked, but stuff there falls off so fast that I could not find it on my lunch break. Sorry! – Paul Jan 13 '14 at 20:01
  • @Paul only thing I found is reddit.com/r/shittyaskscience/comments/1uybhb/… – user13107 Jan 16 '14 at 4:56
  • That question also has 30 downvotes, unfortunately Not every SE member who came across the question liked it :-) – MDMoore313 Jan 16 '14 at 16:39
  • As a sidenote to @slhck's comment regarding the hotness algorithm, WOW is the "Related" algorithm sucking even harder when it comes to that question. It seems obsessed with 32-bit vs. 64-bit OS and app questions. (And one genuinely-related question, "How many memory addresses can we get with a 32-bit processor and 1gb ram?") I suppose that may be the fault of the question tagging, which currently consists entirely of the woefully inadequate [64-bit], [32-bit]. – FeRD Jan 16 '14 at 21:39
  • +1 for "bottle it" – A. Donda Jan 20 '14 at 13:59
  • You make nice answers. – Chris K Jan 22 '14 at 10:39
23

I can think of a few things. The question as is seemed rather silly at first, but resulted in awesome answers with lots of geeky technical things. The former got it eyeballs initially and the latter got it votes.

The answers were extremely good, and got upvoted as well. This resulted in it being added to hot questions, where network effect took over.

So... the magic is take a silly seeming but secretly intelligent question. Post an awesome answer. Cross your fingers and hope folk notice.

Another thing I'd suspect is that if both current answers were not that good, it makes your answer look better.

Finally luck. Can't bottle that ;p.

  • 10
    The hot questions list is where I first saw it. I was on Stack Overflow at the time, so it brought viewers from there to that question. – Kevin Panko Jan 10 '14 at 22:42
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    BTW, can someone explain why some user nuked it into a CW? – Braiam Jan 11 '14 at 22:31
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    @Braiam: The question has more than 15 answers (see revision history). On other SE sites, more than 30 answers will convert the question to CW. – bwDraco Jan 11 '14 at 22:57
  • @DragonLord wait, SU have different ruleset? – Braiam Jan 11 '14 at 23:36
  • @Braiam: Only this particular rule, AFAIK. – bwDraco Jan 11 '14 at 23:44
  • I think it might be cause we're a more popular site/part of the trilogy – Journeyman Geek Jan 11 '14 at 23:59
  • @Braiam Yeah, a few different rules. On Stack Overflow you need three votes to approve or reject a suggested edit, but only two on Super User. Little details like that are different. – Kevin Panko Jan 15 '14 at 21:02
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    Good point! But may I add a final step, as nixda pointed out? After becoming hot, the question got posted on Twitter/Reddit; there, for less-tech-savvy people, your quick and catchy answer got upvoted even more, because it easier to read and understand than other deeper but longer answers – Lorenzo Dematté Jan 16 '14 at 11:42
  • So the trick is: silly but underneath geeky question, good detailed answers -> hot inside SE, catchy and simple answer -> hot on the Internet. Boom! – Lorenzo Dematté Jan 16 '14 at 11:43
13

In general, an interesting question that inspires curiosity among readers is going to be a hit.

My question, "Why do computers count from zero?", proved to be a success as well (to a lesser extent). Once you start getting a lot of hits, the question naturally gets spread around, causing it to get even more hits, and the cycle goes on until the question runs its course.

A popular question starts with a title which poses a seeming simple question that makes people curious. Then you follow that with a well-written question body which expands upon the title, further inspires curiosity, and invites long answers with personal experience backed by factual evidence without being too subjective. A widespread phenomenon with less-than-obvious explanations, such as the fact that many computer languages index arrays from zero, is often a good basis for these questions.

A well-researched, highly-detailed answer on an inspiring question can make it take off. When people find a question that makes them curious, and they find an insightful answer to it, people are naturally going to say "wow" and start spreading the word on it on places like Twitter and Reddit (think /r/TodayILearned).

Best of luck to you in bringing more high-quality content to the Stack Exchange network.

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