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Friday

Did you know the internet-related problem called Warnock’s Dilemma?


You post something on an Internet forum and… nothing happens. What does that mean? Unlike real life where you’re looking at the people you’re communicating with and, even if they’re silent, you can get feedback of some sort on your communication, sometimes communicating on the Internet feels like yelling out into the void.

In August of 2000, Bryan Warnock elegantly laid out the dilemma of asynchronous and (potentially) asymmetric communication in regard to posting on Usenet discussion forums with the following description of the problem:

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 dilemma took on his name and now, when you post something on the Internet and hear nothing in return, you can always comfort yourself by insisting the silence is a result of the first argument of Warnock’s Dilemma–that your post was so correct that nobody has anything to add. Or not.

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