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I have noticed that while most questions get a few views or a few hundred, some rack up, over time, hundreds of thousands. I understand how this sort of thing happens on social media, where "shares" can lead to exponential growth. I don't understand how it happens on SE.

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    $\begingroup$ closed spaces and reluctance to wear a face mask? $\endgroup$ – AccidentalFourierTransform Feb 6 at 22:45
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    $\begingroup$ Here is a SEDE query listing the top questions by view count (which doesn't seem to be directly accessible on the main site), as an aid in understanding what the top of that distribution looks like. As a first observation, the bulk of the top 500 questions (45k views and higher) are five (if not eight or ten) years old, which points to a slower accumulation of views over time, driven by search-engine traffic. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 11 at 13:26
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    $\begingroup$ As an additional point: this is unknowable, but in my experience it feels like, over the past few years, the Google ranking algorithm does take SE score+viewcount into account when listing SE threads in search results. This provides one vector for positive feedback (but its effect is extremely hard to quantify). $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 11 at 13:29
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The main mechanism for this on SE is the Hot Network Questions sidebar, where "hot" questions from one site are shown to visitors across the network on other sites, whose selection criteria are explained in this mother meta post.

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    $\begingroup$ I would add that HNQ views generally max out around 10k. Anything at 100k and up is probably instead from high schoolers googling for homework help. $\endgroup$ – knzhou Feb 6 at 3:35
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    $\begingroup$ Also, since March 2019 (almost two years now!) questions are capped at 3 days on the HNQ list, which does limit the impact that this spotlight can have. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 11 at 13:17
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    $\begingroup$ ... but, on the other hand, for pre-2019 posts this cap did not exist, and questions could stay on the list for two weeks or more, driving a lot of views (and IIRC, more than the ~10k limit mentioned by @knzhou). Unfortunately, the content of the HNQ list was not recorded prior to 2019, so there is no way to correlate high-views threads with the list, and the time history of views has never been logged (and is unlikely to ever be), so there's a lot of untestable hypotheses here. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Feb 11 at 13:20

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