Warnock's dilemma, named for its originator Bryan Warnock, is the problem of interpreting a lack of response to a posting in a virtual community. The term originally referred to mailing list discussions, but has been applied to Usenet posts, blogs, Web forums, and online content in general. The dilemma arises because a lack of response does not necessarily imply that no one is interested in the topic, but could also mean for example that readers find the content to be exceptionally good (leaving nothing for commenters to add).
On many internet forums, only around 1 percent of users create new posts, while 9 percent reply and 90 percent are lurkers that don't contribute to the discussion. When no users reply, the original poster has no way of knowing what lurkers think of their contribution.
Warnock's dilemma leads to online writers and publishers adopting more provocative writing strategies in order to ensure that they will get a response. However, this can also lead publishers to avoid producing the kind of content that might fail to generate comments due to its high quality. This problem arises particularly with sites that focus on viral content, such as Buzzfeed and Huffington Post.
The problem with no response is that there are five possible interpretations:
- The post is correct, well-written information that needs no follow-up commentary. There's nothing more to say except "Yeah, what he said."
- The post is complete and utter nonsense, and no one wants to waste the energy or bandwidth to even point this out.
- No one read the post, for whatever reason.
- No one understood the post, but won't ask for clarification, for whatever reason.
- No one cares about the post, for whatever reason.— Bryan C. Warnock, 
- Holiday, Ryan (2012). "Can't Stand the Silence". Trust Me, I'm Lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator. pp. 101–103. ISBN 1101583711.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)
Notes and references
- Holiday 2012, pp. 101-103.
- Holiday 2012, p. 101.
- What is the 1% rule? by Charles Arthur, The Guardian, 20 July 2006
- Holiday 2012, p. 102.
- Rosenberg, Scott (2009). Say Everything: How Blogging Began, What It's Becoming, and Why It Matters. p. 259. ISBN 0307451380.
- Holiday 2012, pp. 102-103.
- Re: RFCs: two proposals for change -- Original description of the dilemma
- Re: Warnocked? -- Post to the Perl 6 language list explaining history and uptake of term