File Under Internet Neuroses:
I had been planning on writing a post on Warnock's Dilemma for a while, and then I came across this post from classy.dk, which summarizes it so nicely that I'm tempted to crib the whole thing. But I guess I should do my own work (or at least crib from the original perl post by Warnock). Warnock's Dilemma is basically the problem that bloggers, posters, internet chatters, etc, come upon when they receive no comments or reactions to their posts. It can be disturbing as a blogger, but it can be downright ego-shattering in other community posting situations. It was, in fact, the impetus for my first community creation in Orkut (the friendster/myspace-esque social networking website that Google created in response to the aforementioned sites and was actually much more entertaining - "was" because it gradually became a mere carbon imprint of a shell of itself). The community was called Thread Killers and the community description was "Do you find that your name/photo is the last in a thread a disproportionate amount of the time? You're a Thread Killer. Come practice your art here." The first six months of TK's existence were pretty glorious, with an assortment of oddball outcasts coming together to create some hilarious and bizarre threads. As all good things must come to an end though, TK eventually filled up with hundreds of truly boring people without a shred of comic sense. I wouldn't soil the VTK with examples of the type of drivel that passes for conversation on the TK these days. It's like watching your child grow up to become a child molester. or Tony Danza.
But I'm digressing. The point is that Warnock's Dilemma is a real phenomenon originally described by Bryan Warnock in this perl post, as follows:
The problem with no response is that there are five possible
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.
Most of the time, there's not even a group consensus on the reason. It has to do more with the individual psyche than anything else. (For instance, I tend to take no replies to my posts as #5, #4, #2, or #3, in that order.)
The real issue is that the problem may not go away. Most of time, the #2s and #4s of the world don't realize why they're being stupidiotic, and how to best unhork themselves for all's concern.
To slightly contradict something Larry posted earlier, there is oftentimes help in a message as simple as, "No."
Wikipedia offers a few additional explanations for the non-response:
perhaps writing a good reply would require doing research that the reader lacks the time to undertake. Perhaps one has a mild interest in the topic raised but doesn't feel qualified to comment. Or perhaps an overly insightful reply would commit one to additional work (common on software development lists, where the people who display the most knowledge about a feature often find themselves volunteered to implement it) but the reader doesn't want to get involved.
The reason it's elevated to the level of a dilemma is that not knowing why no one is responding creates an unsettling and irrational insecurity. The lack of response could represent multiple and opposite realities and this fact causes a psychological dilemma for the poster. This insecurity of blogging is also analyzed nicely by the nonist, in the post Frailty, Thy Name is Blog, which I posted to VTK back when it was just a drooling infant. In it, the nonist discusses the broader problem of le raison d'etre du blogue, the nature of the relationship between blogger and blog readership, the nature of creativity, the legitimacy of blogging and "digital arts" within a perceived continuum between high and low arts. Some excerpts:
"blog-life crisis [is] different from [its] counterpart in a human life, the mid-life crisis, mainly because a blog’s life span is indeterminate, and so a blog-life crisis must present itself more frequently as not to miss it’s mark...
creating physical art leaves you with an object but guarantees no audience. creating a websites offer you an audience but guarantee no substance. if in fact as i believe “you create for no one but yourself” then one method seems much more straight forward and to the purpose wouldn’t you say? but then their is this to consider: i love the nonist somehow. why? to what purpose? i can’t say. is it a vast off-white and orange self portrait? i hope not. is it self absorption manifest? i certainly don’t want it to be. is it art? no fucking way...
an interesting fact about blogging- a blog is like a child. your own child. you pass your dna on to it. it has your strengths and your weaknesses. i’ve found that all the over analyzing i do in regards to my own function and purpose, i now do to the the nonist as well. i worry about it. i am disappointed by it. i admire it from across the room. the site is often depressive like it’s father. also as it gets older, as possibilities narrow each day and it becomes itself, i find it harder to control. as it has grown and brought in more readers i have had a harder time with it. a harder time understanding it. a harder time guiding it. i’ve always wanted it to strike out on its own, but it remains the strange, uncommunicative child who lives in the basement, drawing it’s allowance but rarely confiding in me.
...years of doing art in a vacuum have cured me of the pathological need for an audience. those same years in a vacuum though have fostered a desire for community. it’s a weakness i suppose, but there it is. the truth. if art is done for me alone, and a blog is not art, then it must have a different operating principle. and it must! because i certainly don’t see any value anymore in maintaining this sort of thing for no one but myself.
so there’s the source of the angst i suppose...
...i find myself wishing the site didn’t exist. wishing i weren’t so prideful as to keep it going just out of spite. wishing no one read the site at all so i could just update once a century. wishing it were better and brought people forth from the anonymous crevasses of the web to do more than look. wishing i had two lives to accomplish everything i’d like to. wishing i could paint and shoot and blog at the same time. wishing i lived in a shack on a mountain and never heard of the internet. wishing that my efforts to reach out were more successful. wishing any number of silly thing really..."
Now those are the cries of a blogger wracked by Warnock's Dilemma. Fortunately, VTK is not as big as the nonist, so I don't suffer to the same extent as this poor non ist. (should anyone else out there find themselves suffering from Blog Depression, you might take solace in the nonist's illustrated pamphlet, What Everyone Should Know About Blog Depression) I just can't allow myself to go that far down. I mean, it's just a blog fer chrissake. right? right? right? Answer me, damn it! oops. There I go again. So anyways, what is to be done about this Warnock's Dilemma? Thread Killer attempted to create community out of alienation, but that eventually collapsed under the weight of idiots. Or under the weight of it's own nothingness. The Dadaists abandoned Dada once they realized the true meaning of nothingness (Tzara at least). What about confronting WD? Well, classy.dk (and justblog) launched a grassroots campaign to stamp out Warnock's Dilemma back in 03, but as far as I can tell, it consists of commenting on their post and posting this image:
which I'm happy to do, though I don't really understand how this is supposed to stamp out the dilemma. It seems to me that the dilemma will exist so long as human insecurity exists. Because, it's not really a dilemma if you don't give a shit if anyone comments or not. The question of why no one commented lacks meaning if you don't ever get to the point of wondering why. But that I guess is another branch of the same dilemma. Figuring out how to not give a shit is probably as daunting a task as to figure out how to ascertain why no one responded. Warnock's Dilemma is truly an existential quagmire. Maybe Bob Pollard had it right:
When you clean out the hive
Does it make you want to cry?
Are you still being followed by the Teenage FBI?
Someone tell me why.