July 10, 2003
New grassroots campaign on classy.dk - promises to stamp out Warnock's Dilemma

Warnock's Dilemma is the situation you face when people don't comment on your postings:

The problem with no response is that there are five possible interpretations:
  1. The post is correct, well-written information that needs no follow-up commentary. There's nothing more to say except "Yeah, what he said."
  2. The post is complete and utter nonsense, and no one wants to waste the energy or bandwidth to even point this out.
  3. No one read the post, for whatever reason.
  4. No one understood the post, but won't ask for clarification, for whatever reason.
  5. No one cares about the post, for whatever reason.

The origin of the dilemma is this post to a perl developers list, and Bryan Warnock provides further historical commentary in this later post to another perl list.

The dilemma captures so precisely the fear and loathing of blogging that it has inspired some intensive retroactive continuity on the cultural origins of the dilemma.

We C-list bloggers (a group completely distinct from the A-List bloggers) suffer Warnock's Dilemma on a daily basis, and this is why classy.dk in a joint venture with Justblog has started a grassroots campaign to stomp out Warnock's Dilemma for good. For this purpose Just has designed a neat campaign graphic:

To participate in the campaign steal the graphic and use it to your hearts content when encouraging people to speak up when spoken to. Spread the word, but always ask to have it back again. But first, before you do anything else: Comment this post...

Oh, and by the way I am now fully TrackBack enabled so the fight against the Dilemma couldn't be simpler.

Posted by ClassyDee at July 10, 2003 04:11 PM | TrackBack (11)

Sure, I'll comment on it, though I couldn't be bothered reading through it... nah, just kidding, I just had to read about that TrackBack stuff first :)

I think one other reason (apart from what you listed) that some people don't comment on everything they read in blogs is that not everyone goes right ahead and writes something.

Coming from me I know that I usually need to take a moment and think about what I want to say and what I actually mean about what I just read. If people read a lot of blogs or news sites they will often have surfed on to the next site and the next stories, just like flicking through the channels on the tube. Just a small theory of mine though, based on not much anything but my own habits.

One way some sites/blogs have of getting more feedback is setting up some kind of rating system, where you can quickly and easily let people know what you feel about their articles if you don't feel compelled enough to post your actual thoughts. This leads to the problem of the feedback not being very detailed of course.

Posted by: Krag on July 11, 2003 05:34 AM

Maybe you can get Mr. Just to expand on that campaign graphic with a couple of quick-vote buttons, "brilliance" and "stupidity" :)

[missed the last bit due to lack of pasting skills]

Posted by: Krag on July 11, 2003 05:38 AM

Thank you for supporting the good fight!
Voting buttons is an option - BUT it is rarely the case that the subject of the post is really 'votable'. Not that I haven't considered the idea; I find 'quickpolls' to be mostly useless.

Posted by: Dee on July 11, 2003 09:14 AM

My problem is this. I comment too much. If there is a post and a comments box, I comment. On my own blog I have no comments box. I would love to have a comments box. In fact I did at one point and then something technical happened - the host went to jail, or whatever. What I would like to see on my blog is a wiki comments box.

Posted by: bmo on July 23, 2003 02:00 AM

Nonsense deleted by blog owner

Posted by: rechki weinstone on July 27, 2003 09:49 PM

One "weak form" solution or resolution to the dilemma as relating to blog comments might be the elimination of the comment section altogether, ie, no one can NOT comment if there is no comment section to allow them to NOT comment (again this is a weak form resolution). A second "weak form" solution might be to program a bot that comments on every uncommented comment section of a blog after some predetermined (or random) period of time. Now the dilemma becomes not the absence of a comment, but the quality of a comment given.

Posted by: fishrush on August 27, 2003 06:16 PM

Fishrush: You are joking I imagine? Let's apply your solutions to the problem of spam (since the problem may be seen as a dual the the problem of spam):
Solution 1 is analogous to the 'block all senders' solution to spam. It is true that you then receive no more spam - but you don't get any messages at all.
Solution 2 is strange when translated to spam. I think it would correspond to sending yourself spam in order to get better spam recognition statistics for your filter.

The comments issue as well as the spam issue is a problem og "signal to noise" ratio. While it is true that the signal to noise ratio improves both if you turn of the signal (Solution A - in this case the signal to noise ratio is really undefined, but call that 0 if you like to) or if you add a very strong signal yourself - AFTER reception through the noisy channel. (Solution B - in this case your noise free signal unfortunately drowns out the weak signal you really cared about)

Posted by: Dee on August 28, 2003 01:39 PM

>>Fishrush: You are joking I imagine?

Actually, most of what I write is a joke, intentionally intended or not...

However, with solution 2, I was thinking more of the instances where solutions exist to a blog post, question or problem, but are kept hidden from the poster. Let's consider a blog post consisting of the question "what's one plus one?" In this case, the bot, or WarnnockAngel for lack of a better term, could respond with the comment "2" or point to a link where the answer is discussed.

I'm beginning to think (perhaps incorrectly) that there's some similarities between Warnnock's problem and the Wikipedia "stub" problem. (I'd like to think of "twigs" rather than "stubs"). The discussion is said to end with a stub if it is a short and incomplete thought or article. Howewver, if we view it as a "twig" on a tree instead of a "stub", the discussion can be:

1. Pruned (terminated for some "valid" reason?)
2. Turned into a flower or leaf - (its a poem or paradox something unkowable, but is beautifully ended nonetheless)
3. Grown into a "branch", the discussion hasn't been fully explored and is continued, leading to more fruitful discussions.

The analogy to spam might also apply to many of the existing comments or noise produced in blog comment boxes. If someone simply writes "I feel so sorry" or "LOL" or "Man, I know what you're going through, my sisters hair dresser went through the same problem" ... some may perceive these types of mindless comments as spam, others a gems or fulfillments to a act of stomping out Warnnock's Dilemma on a web blog posting.

I'd like not to think that if/because the solution to spam is insolvable that the resolution to this dilemma is also unresolvable.

Clearly, I'm no expert, but do enjoy thinking about this.

Posted by: fishrush on August 28, 2003 04:36 PM

grrr. please excuse the numerous grammatical ellipses above...

Posted by: fishrush on August 28, 2003 07:24 PM

Yip. I'll respond to your post, just as soon as you respond to mine.

In other words, for Warnock's dilemma to go away, no thread would die. Mutate perhaps, merge on rare occasions but never die.

Posted by: John Carter on September 16, 2003 08:30 AM

Clearly the first two possibilities underlying Warnock's Dilemma are unadulterated bosh, piffle, and humbug.

There may indeed be Internet discussion boards wherein the denizens not only feel no need to waste bandwith posting "Yeah, tell it brother!" or "What the hell are you talking about, you blithering idiot?" in response to a post but actually refrain from doing so. As of this writing, however, God has not seen fit to bless this particular planet with such an oddity.

Therefore, the only remaining possibilities are rightly #3 (obliviousness), #4 (cluelessness plus hubris), and #5 (apathy). All three of these can be found in great abundance on the Internet, and are hardly worth concerning oneself over. :)

--- Ajax.

Posted by: Ajax on March 29, 2004 11:56 PM
Warnock's Dilemma
The act of choosing whether the lack of response to a discussion-list post is because of its brilliance (there's nothing to add) or because of its stupidity (it doesn't deserve comment).
Help the campaign to stomp out Warnock's Dilemma. Post a comment.

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