the best way to get the right answer on the Internet is not to ask a question, it's to post the wrong answer.
Which, I think, is not the sort of communication style I'm looking for on these forums.
Oh, sure, I have no doubt that it works well and all. I've even fell prey to it. But it seems like it comes at a stiff price in that rather than building community, it is the very sort of thing that that degrades community. Or, at least, it is my opinion that it degrades the sort of community that I like to be part of.
I suppose somebody could decide to dress this up as "being the devil's advocate" - but I don't think that is needed either. I think it is fair to state your own position, not something that you know to be wrong, or the fictitious position of somebody else.
Maybe elsewhere in the internet this works better but on permies the best way to get a good answer is to ask it in the proper forum, ask the staff to cross post it in any other relevant forum, put flags on it, and if all else fails invoke the 48 hour rule.
To be fair to Cunningham, I don't think he was proposing "post the wrong answer" as a strategy.
I believe -- although I may simply be glossing his point with my own experiences -- that he was making a comment about human nature. And it's 100% true that on most of the internet, ten people will de-lurk and go through a complex registration process for the simple pleasure of telling you how wrong you are, where only one person (or nobody) would volunteer the information if you simply asked politely.
I'm seeing this in a sort of enhanced and sharpened way in the blog world nowadays. Blogs have become old media, most people do their casual internet chit-chat on something like FaceBook, and so there are few people left who comment on blogs in the chatty and casual way that they used to. Except for a few very special blogs that have managed to build and maintain valuable commenter communities around them, blog comments are empty except for spam, hatefulness, and the very special people who post whenever you make a mistake to tell you how wrong you are.
Permies, of course, is not like that. But the human impulse is still there. I did it yesterday. I probably wouldn't have had more to say about the osage-oranges-as-hedge-trees sub-thread in this thread until someone posted a very awesome comment that contained one statement at sharp odds with my own experience. He was not "wrong" of course; he's in a different place with different animals and the same tree growing under different conditions. It's just that I didn't imagine I had more to say on the topic until somebody posted an observation that was at odds with my own (and I remembered that I even had a photo of mine to share).
So I would say -- if I'm not being too kind to myself -- that even Cunningham's Law can work for the good in a community with sufficient goodwill.
As for the rest of the internet? That vast cesspit of anonymous hatred and rage, love it so very much though I do anyway? My own theory to explain Cunningham's Law is that some people feel like they are "scoring points" or "winning" whenever they can point out an error, however trivial. It actually seems to make them feel good about themselves. For many, the little pulse of pleasure is intensified if they get to be rude about it. It's never "I'm pretty sure Albania didn't have jet fighters in World War II" if it can be "LOL you dumbnut, stop eating paste and learn to check your facts before you post." That part, I still don't have a theory to explain.
now now its not all beep-holes and trolls out there...
some people might not be bothered to give a whole explanation when one is needed.
but they may feel more inclined if you've got yourself half way there.
it shows you've done a bit of research and they don't have to start from scratch.
In that sense the law still works and people aren't..... <words i'm sure i'm not allowed to use>
I'd propose a corollary law, whereby newcomers to an internet community (be it a forum or Facebook or whatever) are assumed to be more or less entirely ignorant of the subject at hand. Doesn't matter if the newcomer establishes a big long list of bona fides, we're already here, we've been here, and we've got this, thanks. Acceptance from the group doesn't come through an understanding of one's knowledge, but merely through a gradual familiarization with one's name. It's a curious thing, and indeed I have to be careful not to do it myself.
And so a big thanks to all the fine folks behind Permies who simply don't allow it to be that sort of place.
Cunninhams Law I think gets more accurate with the bigger the forum, but then again that plays into the Law of Big Numbers too! I belong to a site that will not be named, but typically has 5000 logged on at once; it also has the most insane answers to questions I have ever read.
Permies is pretty big, but people tend to offer sound advice.
This is not limited to the internet though. Ask a question about starting a project and for every positive response, 15 will be regarding why it can never be done. There is benefit to that process, taking each point, mulling it over, then working to see if it has merit, but the biggest thing is to start. There is a sort of momentum that builds from that; just starting, so often that is the best thing to do. Sure in the middle of the project there is disappointment when people see how much work has been put into the job already and they are only halfway done, but if they can keep moving beyond that inevitable doldrums, they will soon see the end and push to the end. That is where you save all your energy...finish strong!
So that is my project strategy, whether it is building a short swale, or land clearing forest into field:
Just start, even if it is a small, slow start
KNOW there will be a lull in the middle with no enthusiasm and be prepared to push through it
Typically the best answer is one that is in between the two extremes given in the replies.