I spent a while reading through IPS's old meta discussions on the HNQ - the two you linked to (1, 2), as well as some slightly older stuff (3, 4). After sifting through them all, I've isolated some of the main concerns with being on the HNQ that have been popping up again and again:
- While we got more traffic from the HNQ, we got too much - and, moreover, a lot of it was problematic, including way too many comments and answers.
- Some people have concerns about the site itself that get magnified by the HNQ (e.g. uneven application of our admittedly somewhat arcane policies because of the flood of content).
- The content we're generating isn't necessarily high-quality, and obviously poor questions shouldn't make their way to the HNQ, ideally.
- Many sites on the network are technical/professional sites, and some segments of their userbases don't want or need to see our questions.
The benefits to IPS, of course, seem reasonably well-agreed upon:
- The HNQ would be getting us more traffic, and currently, things seem kinda quiet. Obviously, we don't want to stay this way long-term, and we've heard plenty of testimonials over the months (years?) about how the HNQ has drawn users here.
- More activity means that existing users are more likely to stay. We're retaining many core community members, but we need to keep new blood coming through, and the HNQ is arguably the best way to do this.
Back last fall - and, arguably, last month - I think there was a substantial feeling that the cons outweighed the pros, or at least that the cons were not insignificant. The question we have now is whether the new HNQ improvements can nullify enough of them.
First, let's talk about the question cap. A site can now have a maximum of 5 questions on the list at a given time. Catija suggested considering taking that down to 1-2; I'd be great with a max of 3, but I think we should first have a trial period of maybe 30 days with 1-2 questions to see how the site deals with a dash of HNQ seasoning added to the mix. If we only have a couple questions on, as opposed to the (if memory serves) 6 or so we often had, then it's going to be much easier to fight the flood - partly because it'll be more like a trickle than a flood.
Various internal issues are . . . well, not going to be fixed by getting on the HNQ again. My pet project would be figuring out how we can write awesome titles - a failing which partly contributed to the October fiasco, given that out of context, a conservative interpretation of the relevant questions might make someone flinch. (I also think that reducing clickbait is awesome, although we're getting better at that.) Regardless, though, every site has problems with scope, question quality, answer standards - you name it. I'm going to completely subjectively argue that we're okay in that department.
I've lurked in the Awkward Silence during the past week or two, and I've noticed that people are getting really good at improving and editing questions. I'm super happy to see that, and it's gone a long way towards making the site's content more awesome. Plus, this is happening quickly. We have vigilant editors and commenters, and I don't think those folks were quite so busy 6 or 12 or 18 months ago. We're getting good at closing low-quality posts while turning middling questions into great ones. Also, the mods now have a new hammer as a way of disaster control in the worst cases: removing a question from the HNQ entirely.
Finally, I love the option to turn off the HNQ. I wouldn't mind some tweaks to it (I'll be back in a second; I should write an answer on the main Meta question about that. . .), but it can definitely go a long way towards reducing concerns about the more professional sites being exposed to . . . well, whatever you want to classify us as. Going forward, this is definitely going to reduce negative attention from other SE sites - not sure I can say how, though.
To make another subjective analysis, I think that the new tools/changes do significantly fight many of the historical objections towards us being on the HNQ. I think we're ready for a tentative moderate increase in the level of traffic we get, and if we can deal with 2-3 HNQ questions at a time, then maybe we can one day deal with 5. I'm ready to try it out.