Warnock's Dilemma
April 24, 2005 2:39 PM   Subscribe

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.
This perfectly captures my thoughts when I see an amazing post with only 2 or 3 comments (of course, I believe everyone else is thinking point 1 as well). This probably explains why we can't equate lots of comments nor low comments with the quality of a post, since it could be good or bad in five different ways, as described here.
posted by mathowie to MetaFilter-Related at 2:39 PM (42 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

Yeah, what mathowie said.
posted by fandango_matt at 2:47 PM on April 24, 2005


Some ideas on "for whatever reason."

Number four is probably caused by people either not wanting to embarass themselves because they're afraid of looking stupid, or because they don't understand it and can't be bothered to try and rectify that situation.

Number five is probably due to the fact that there are great similarities amongst Metafilter readers, as indicated by the Metafilter survey, and thus certain topics won't appeal to most people here. Combine this with the fact that not everybody reads the blue every day and the you've probably covered the bulk of people not caring.
posted by Ryvar at 3:03 PM on April 24, 2005


I think this is also known as the Prom Dress dilemma: "I wore what I thought was a great dress to the Prom but nobody commented on it at all. This may be because..."

This is a broader state where feedback of any sort is lacking and so the value of the thing remains in a qualitative limbo.

The obvious solution is to provide a channel for a feedback mechanism that is "softer" such as has been suggested before, a [this is good] button that users click and adds to some tally.

I'm not convinced that anything is truly wrong however. I think truly great posts dont suffer from this; someone will always step in to pat the poster on the back. This dilemma is more often the fate of "pretty good" posts which also tend to point to something esoteric or that few are qualified to comment on. And a [this is good] will also not appear because "good" used in that case, actually means great.

The remaining problem is social. A user has put a post forward and all they have gotten in return is silence. The sound of the crickets is deafening.
posted by vacapinta at 3:03 PM on April 24, 2005


Sorry, clipped an "L" on the end of the survey link.
posted by Ryvar at 3:04 PM on April 24, 2005


I've seen a lot of this over at Viewropa. Posts are made, lots of people read them, some people link to them from their blog, people are generally very complimentary from a distance, and yet very few people comment on the site itself.

One thing it's taught me is that the amount of commentary that occurs on any site is not a real indicator of how much the post is valued. If you've posted something on Mefi and been dissapointed with the response I suggest you do some searching via Google, Technorati or others and see what response it's had beyond the site. You might be surprised to find it's taken on a life of it's own.
posted by dodgygeezer at 3:07 PM on April 24, 2005


I really don't want to comment on this.
posted by wendell at 3:09 PM on April 24, 2005


The utility of a public [good] tally is that similar posts may be encouraged. Just to make sure that it doesn't get competitive, you could just display the top 3 overlooked posts (with less than 15 comments) of a given date in chronological order without a tally. Keep a threshold to maintain a standard.
posted by Gyan at 3:11 PM on April 24, 2005


Speaking as someone who is chronically in the 10-comments-or-less catagory on my posts, I used to judge how interested the general MeFi readership was in my post by the number of and quality of my trackbacks.

Now, of course, I can't do that, (and this is not a plea for trackbacks to be turned back on -- god knows we need less Rod Stewart around here, not more) but I do think its an interesting data point for other types of post-related feedback.
posted by anastasiav at 3:34 PM on April 24, 2005


I think it's pretty rare to see a really good post that doesn't get a fair ration of "thank you" and "this is good" comments. MeFites seem pretty generous that way, actually.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:43 PM on April 24, 2005


#5 and #1 should swap places.
posted by mischief at 4:06 PM on April 24, 2005


[this is fantastic]
posted by liam at 6:38 PM on April 24, 2005


Well, people in general, I think, a more inclined to feel compelled to comment on something the think is so outrageously stupid/evil/insane that it can't go unanswered. Something brilliantly stated seems to stand very well by itself and most people feel silly simply saying "thanks," and "that's terrific."

That may be a sad commentary on human nature, but there you go.
posted by jonmc at 6:58 PM on April 24, 2005


most people feel silly simply saying "thanks," and "that's terrific."

So if people don't comment, where do we go for our ego stroking? Perhaps we should we take a lover. Collectively.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 7:21 PM on April 24, 2005


Back before they were disabled, I used to note the number of trackbacks to my posts and gave them far more weight regarding the quality of the link than I did the comments they received.
posted by crunchland at 7:26 PM on April 24, 2005


We need slashdot-style mod points. That's .
posted by orthogonality at 7:46 PM on April 24, 2005


So if people don't comment, where do we go for our ego stroking? Perhaps we should we take a lover. Collectively.

You first.
posted by jonmc at 7:50 PM on April 24, 2005


If MeFi had mod points, it would be Plastic.
posted by mischief at 8:56 PM on April 24, 2005


...while in its current form, MeFi is highly polished Chrome.
posted by wendell at 9:06 PM on April 24, 2005


If MeFi had mod points, it would be Plastic.

...while in its current form, MeFi is highly polished Chrome.


So MeFi could be Cory Doctorow, but is currently William Gibson?
posted by Sangermaine at 11:40 PM on April 24, 2005


I was very surprised to see that a (funny, to me) silly link to images of penguins walking through airport security got 20 times more comments than a post about Galileo's compass and 4 times more comments than a post about Pico della Mirandola and the Kabbalah -- it's all fair of course, but that's why I was very surprised to read in that recent college essay about MeFi that a high number of comments is somehow related to how good a post actually is.
posted by matteo at 8:10 AM on April 25, 2005


I was very surprised to see that a (funny, to me) silly link to images of penguins walking through airport security got 20 times more comments than a post about Galileo's compass and 4 times more comments than a post about Pico della Mirandola and the Kabbalah

Well, I'm sure that all that stuff is interesting, matteo, but it also takes a fair amount of esoteric knowledge to appreciate (and often the poster makes the assumption that all of MeFi possesses that esoteric knowledge) which cuts the number of participants right off the bat.

To appreciate the penguins, all you need is eyes and a sense of the absurd.
posted by jonmc at 8:22 AM on April 25, 2005


that's exactly why the high number of comments is, if anything, an indicator of a possibly problematic thread -- it's not a coincidence that the "fuck you" / "no, fuck you" exchanges inflate the comments number a lot without adding much to the site
posted by matteo at 8:26 AM on April 25, 2005


There's a reason that's kind of a combination of #3 and #5, and that's timing. Sometimes, by the luck of the draw, a post that might otherwise have garnered a lot of attention is posted just before a goofy or silly one, so that the latter creates a kind of "attention shadow" across the previous one. I've seen this happen both as a poster of the former and the latter type. Dunno what the solution is, other than: Read all the posts and see if they're interesting.
posted by soyjoy at 9:08 AM on April 25, 2005


Please let's not use [this is good] verbatim, it's unique to that particular site. MetaFilter can find another way to something is good without using TEH brackets.
posted by riffola at 9:35 AM on April 25, 2005


I think a better option is to add a "Thank the poster" type link, where on clicking that link, the count for number of people thanking the poster increases by 1. You can show a line in the thread page saying "X number of users thanked <username> for this post." or something along that line.
posted by riffola at 9:37 AM on April 25, 2005


Or people could just do without the ego stroking.
posted by anapestic at 9:59 AM on April 25, 2005


It's not necessarily about ego stroking but about ensuring that we encourage the best and discourage the worst. Right now, the only gauge a poster has to know if someone enjoys the links they posted is by comments. So even though we say it's not the case, a post with lots of comments *feels* like it meets with greater approval, and a post with no or few comments *feels* like it sucks, and probably even more so to a newer member who may be less confident than us grizzled vets.

I'm a grizzled and prolific poster, but when I make a post that just sits commentless for hours, I get that icky "everyone thinks it sucks" feeling in my tummy. BFD, for me, I've been here long enough not to shrug it off. But a newbie might just give up.

I like your "thank you" idea riff - I'd use it a lot.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:36 AM on April 25, 2005


*hugs madam jjj*
posted by matteo at 10:48 AM on April 25, 2005


[ madamjjj is good ]
posted by soyjoy at 11:06 AM on April 25, 2005


*gives matteo and soyjoy big hugs back*

...say, is this the start of that collective lover thing that stupidsexyFlanders was talking about? Whee, let's have a [this is good] orgy!
posted by madamjujujive at 11:29 AM on April 25, 2005


if only it was technically possible, I'd like to have sex with all my favorite MeFi users, women and men, in all my favorite threads.

that's a pony I'd really like, Matt -- MetaOrgy!
posted by matteo at 11:39 AM on April 25, 2005


Orgyfilter might be less taxing, mentally and physically.
posted by liam at 12:11 PM on April 25, 2005


I'd like to have sex with all my favorite MeFi users, women and men, in all my favorite threads.

*begins slowing creeping towards door backwards*

Wow, would you look at the time?!
posted by jonmc at 12:27 PM on April 25, 2005


It worked!
posted by soyjoy at 12:33 PM on April 25, 2005


Sometimes the trainwrecks are actually more entertaining than reading up on compasses. *shrugs*
posted by haqspan at 12:49 PM on April 25, 2005


*gently bonks haqspan's head with an antique compass*
posted by matteo at 1:48 PM on April 25, 2005


*then proceeds to sodomize jonmc with same compass*
posted by matteo at 1:49 PM on April 25, 2005


I think the lack of comments conveys a kind of silent awe.
Like that post i did about the British toilet association.
posted by sgt.serenity at 2:42 PM on April 25, 2005


a clickthrough count on the primary link?
posted by warbaby at 3:16 PM on April 25, 2005


jeez, matteo, buy me a drink first, talk dirty to me...a reacharound at the very least.
posted by jonmc at 3:18 PM on April 25, 2005


sgt.serenity, you are always awesome - good to see ya!

warbaby, that's an idea - might give an interest reading for posts & topics without becoming a popularity contest.
posted by madamjujujive at 7:21 PM on April 25, 2005


better warnock's dilemma than mine.
posted by quonsar at 7:51 PM on April 25, 2005


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