Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Warnock's Dilemma

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, 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, (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.


Sean said...

Numbers 1 and 5.

Dan said...

I'll take those over # 2.

Duffless said...

FINE, here is a resonse to your post. Happy now? Jeez all you had to do is ask!

My weird blog trend is I get emails from friends laughing about a recent blog post, and I'm like, hey why not just post a comment you dumb sack of shit?

I need a new job, I spend have my day reading and checking friends blogs as break from the banality of trying to look busy. Keep blogging good sir, and i'll keep posting comments unlike a dumb sack of shit.

Dan said...

and I guess the lesson is that you're a dumb sack of shit if you do and you're a dumb sack of shit if you don't. now that's a dilemma.

Claus Dahl said...

Well, the logo won't cut it. The logo was just to remind lurkers to leave their mark in the comment section...

Dan said...

I tried. your site wouldn't let me. a Warnockian paradox perhaps?

Dan said...

Wakka Wakka Warnockka:

Dan: I tried to leave a comment twice, but it wouldn't let me: "Your comment has been rejected. You need to enter the checkcipher in the checkcipher field to continue Return to" I would be glad to comment on your post, if you would tell me what a checkcipher is. (if you're a C list blogger, I'm a G or an H).

Claus: Yeah, that particular post is kind of broken commentwise - such is the irony of Warnock's Dilemma.

Dan: oh well, I enjoyed your post anyways.

Claus: Thx - there's another blog post there to be written: What happened was that the Warnock post generated intense amounts of comment span - and in a spam clearing craze i deleted the comment. The one up now was diligently reassembled from Google's cache and is just a static image of the original post.

Claus Dahl said...

Should have said [...]craze I deleted the post[...] but I guess the meaning was clear.

Dan said...

In the throes of Warnock's Dilemma, a few word selection mistakes are to be expected.

Dewy said...

As one of your more frequent commenters I’ll tell you a few of the reason I have when not posting a comment. Thinking of the last month of posts of yours you had 2 on ‘Sons and Daughters’. I think you had so few comments on that because hardly anyone (myself included) watched the show which is probably the reason why it was cancelled. I was thinking of writing something about how it is hardly surprising that a television network cancels a quality show simply because of poor ratings. I’m still not over the cancellation of “Cop Rock”. On your post about “Democracy Now” I decided not to comment because I have a slightly critical, highly nuanced criticism of the show which I haven’t totally worked out in my head yet. You and I have a bit of a history of our occasional political disagreements turning into incoherent food fights. I think the root of this is that our politics are around 90% in line with each other and neither of us can understand the other’s point of view when we disagree on the 10% difference. (Also I refuse to let a Yankee fan lecture me about imperialism and fair trade). So basically I didn’t respond because I just wasn’t up for a fight although if I had I would have gone Pedro on your Zimmer ass. Lastly I didn’t comment on “LobstahFest 06” because I was there. I think that blogging is so new that relationship between blogger and reader just hasn’t been figured out yet. To what extent are we viewers or participants? I dunno.

Dan said...

First of all, let me say that this Warnock's Dilemma post was not supposed to be a complaint, bitch, or plea, as much as it was an analysis of a pretty interesting and real psychological phenomenon, which I thought I would share. While I love and appreciate comments, I certainly don't expect comments and don't blame anyone for not commenting (occasional whiny pleas for comments notwithstanding). I'm happy enough that people (and some robots) are reading what I have to say. To demand thoughtful, witty, or otherwise gratifying comments on top of that readership is kind of arrogant. And I guess this is where the blogger-reader relationship is different from the co-commenter/participator relationship in a chat board, online community, or things like that. In the blog, I am playing the role of informer/editorialist/entertainer/ass and everyone else is playing the role of reader and/or commenter. The more people comment, the more the blog takes on characteristics of a community. In some blogs, the commenters actually end up changing the direction of the blog, so that it's no longer just the blogger's blog, even though the blogger is the admin and actually initializes all threads, posts, conversations. For instance, and I don't know if this is a good example but this blogger is a die-hard Yankees fan while many of my readers are either indifferent or Red Sox fans. So I can write a post about how Pedro is a pathetic wimpy scumbag for viciously throwing an 80 year old man to the ground and, at a minimum, dewy24 will comment with an honest (though factually incorrect) smear on a poor old 80 year old guy who got bodyslammed by a 30 year old athlete. So he has changed the tenor of the post (assuming people read the comments) from 100% pure Yankee truth and righteousness to something else. And I welcome that (assuming that the rest of my readership recognizes the original truth and righteousness). The blogger should allow the readers to comment at will and should only edit spam and patently offensive statements (and yes, the blogger decides what is patently offensive, but I think you all know there is a pretty wide berth in VTK as far as offensiveness goes). Ultimately, the blogger decides what to post and the reader decides whether or not to keep reading. Ultimately Part II, the blogger should recognize that no one cares about the blog as much as the blogger does, which is probably why Warnock's Dilemma exists.

BrianMcC said...

Is this a good time to mention that I mostly view your site because I am too lazy to bookmark the CelticsBlog site and I know you have a link to it?

Dan said...

*quietly sobbing*

Dewy said...

did you watch the clip on gerald greens dunks on the celticsblog? he is sick.

btw brian, that was harsh what you said about the celticsblog link but if dan could find a way to get a commission from every time i use his deadspin link he might not need to find another job.

Dan said...

That last one was pretty crazy. I guess when you don't have to worry about making the playoffs you can try crazy dunks like that.

Assuming they have no chance at Ben Wallace, that would be pretty sweet if they could pick up Nazr Mohammed as a free agent.