Risk and empathy

Here’s why risk is hard to think about: It is deeply distributed across a population, so lightly does risk fall on everyone that it is easy to dismiss its impact on others. But when risk actually strikes, it comes like a nail driven through your flesh, it can feel like the sky falling on you.

Keeping an open mind to the potential risk in any endeavor, learning not to resent when risk strikes, and sharing the burden of unanticipated risk when possible are the key practices that allow a businessperson or bureaucrat to retain their humanity. Otherwise, it is easy to forget that risk is always shared in any relationship or endeavor.

Fragment: Botching your death

I’ve been reading a lot of E.M. Cioran this past week. With some writers I discover and devour their work in a week or two, then they sit with me for years. Occasionally, sometimes frequently, I return to them. In Cioran’s case, he’s pessimistic, cynical and cutting to the quick, like this passage from The Heights of Despair:

Those who ask to be surrounded by friends when they die do so out of fear and inability to live their final moments alone.  They want to forget death at the moment of death.

Of people who take this tack, avoiding the ultimate challenge of living one’s death, Cioran says they “lack infinite heroism.” In his book, The New Gods, our fallen nature, which he seizes on like a Manichean heresiarch, is our defining characteristic: “Who could help concluding that existence has been vitiated at its source, existence and the elements themselves? The man who fails to envisage this hypothesis at least once a day has gone through life as a sleepwalker.”

What would it be like to botch your death, I thought? And here is what I came up with:

I asked everyone to leave and, finally, my dear wife. we sat together a moment without words, gazing into one another’s eyes for the final time. alone, the door closed and room silent though I was fiercely aware of my breathe and pulse, I came face to face with oblivion and determined to speak the truth that it was living aligned with the moment, adrift in the sense that an Olympic kayaker is adroitly adrift on the rapids, at the collision of then, now and then again that makes existence bubble and foam on the edge of oblivion, but I only blurted out “Jesus,” an exclamation, and not the faithful cry it sounded like with my last breathe. crap, blew the line and came across as repentant at the end. I regret nothing but that last word, so I’ll have to come round again on a hook of cosmic recurrence until I can get off again. off? Godel always gives us an exit to the next frame of reference.

The problem with this story is that it is improbable: The last word will not necessarily be followed by a reflection, though it certainly could be commented upon silently as your brain flickers to off. It’s our desire for closure that makes the reflection necessary to the story, for the character to know the results of its error, when, in fact, things will simply shut down and silence will reign. Our story only ends with a conclusive thought if it is lived through heroically. For Cioran, that’s dying alone, undistracted. There are, however, many forms of heroics.

Great baseball tale

ESPN’s Paul Lukas relates the story of the “futuristic” game between the Mariners and Royals.

ESPN Page 2 – Uni Watch: Looking back at the M’s future:
• The ball for the ceremonial first pitch was delivered to the mound by a robot, which was constructed at the University of Washington. “We named the robot Mr. Scraps, because it looked like a garbage can on wheels,” recalls Martinez. “Not exactly what we were expecting, but it served its purpose.”

James “Scotty” Doohan, who now lies in state in space, threw out the first pitch…..

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Nicely turned view of Pete Rose

The Hit King Sits On The Strip: I think this is good writing….

I stroll past thirty yards of items I can’t afford and don’t want. Then I see him.

It’s Pete Rose, signing autographs for money in front of a memorabilia shop.

Rose, resplendent in a University of Miami sweatsuit and ballcap, doesn’t seem to be doing much. He checks his watch, makes some small talk with the security guards, then sneaks another peek down at his wrist. There are three teenage girls wearing Reds jerseys that have been paid to wave advertising placards. They appear to be the closest he’s going to come to an adoring public.

In person, Pete Rose looks much like he does on television — you get the feeling that he’s waiting for someone to challenge him. He seems defiant and yet slightly bewildered, like a bull that doesn’t yet realize it has been castrated. In a way, Pete’s the perfect man for Vegas, and not just because of the obvious. In a town built for oddness and isolation, he appears one of the oddest and most isolated men around.

Just wanted to say that this is well written, one of the best pieces of writing I’ve run across in blogs for a while.

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Movin’ on up…

I’m heading out of the country (hello Leipzig and Frankfurt) for the rest of the year and will be blogging lightly until the New Year, when a big change will come upon this blog.

ZD Net’s Dan Farber has invited me to join the blogger corps over there. I’m very honored and look forward to working with Dan and the ZD gang, again. Beginning on January 3rd, I’ll be posting technology, media and business at a new blog over at ZDNet.

I’ll post short excerpts of ZD Net postings here and in the RatcliffeBlog RSS feed, so you can keep track of my tech stuff, and doing more with political and social postings here.

This creates two opportunities: First, Dan knows how to turn writing into revenue, and I can certainly benefit from being in his camp; Second, it lets me turn to more political posting on this blog, which I have been expecting to grow with the mid-term elections and 2008 just over the horizon. If you want just the tech stuff, the ZD blog will be for you. Should the rabidly acid postings against the abuse of the Constitution jangle your spurs, you’ll want to keep your RSS aimed squarely at RatcliffeBlog.

The first thing I’ll be doing at ZD Net is my predictions for the coming year. My last postings of 2004 at Red Herring looked into 2005, and I didn’t do too badly:

2005 in retrospect: Microsoft’s very bad year

2005 in retrospect: Apple’s 1 percent solution

2005 in retrospect: What we’ll be talking about next year

2005: The year media will turn inside out

So, merry holidays, everyone, regardless of your creed or lack thereof. See you sporadically from Europe.

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Only Socratics plan conversations

palmit.commentary: Blogosphere Smackdown or Calculated Marketing Effort:

Cale Bruckner sort of corrects his assertions that I am a “blogger-for-hire” or PR flack, and asks whether we should come up with a name other than “viral marketing” for what transpired on this blog and others earlier this week. I agree, but we should just call it conversation. Anyhow, Cale’s off to Japan, but I think it’s a worthwhile discussion to have, because what we’ve seen is that there is a pretty classic example of defensive group-think in blogging, just like any other human society.

Here’s Cale’s amended posting:

Blogosphere Smackdown or Calculated Marketing Effort

Set the stage by announcing a product or a service that bloggers might have an interest in.
Audible – WordCast Announcement

Hire Allow somebody with zero PR skills to represent you in the
Blogosphere – somebody more interested in promoting their technorati profile than your product or service: Mitch Ratcliffe

Blogebrity (top bloggers) blog and podcast about the announcement:

• Jeff Jarvis responds 11/11:
Measuring Podcasts

• Dave Winer responds 11/12:
If it’s not MP3, is it still podcasting?

• Om Malik 11/13:
Audible’s unPodcast effort?

• Doc Searl 11/14:
The Past of Podcasting

Blogger-for-hire posts the post that really heats things up (roasting Blogebrity) and the Blogosphere Smackdown begins 11/13: See
More on the future of podcasting – the good stuff is in the comments.

Or, was this a calculated marketing effort that unfolded exactly the way Mitch and Audible wanted it to. Mitch’s inflammatory posts and comments created a ton of free buzz around the Audible announcement. Did Dave, Om, Doc Searl, and others play right into a calculated marketing effort? I guess it would be a form of viral marketing – or, does it deserve a new name.

And here is my response:

Thanks for the corrections, though you’ve chosen to be clever rather than completely accurate. It would be good, however, to discuss the meaning of what happened, because you’re correct that it deserves a name other than “viral marketing,” if for no other reason than I am clearly not a marketer.

You still seem set on the idea I am a “blogger-for-hire,” which I am not. I engaged Dave as one person working on a technology to another, he tried to bite me and I bit back. You say this the result of my “inflammatory” postings, but if you go look at the record (clearly visible on my blog home page, not just the link you provided, which is, admittedly, a pretty nasty flame of Dave, though one aiming at his claim to be able to judge a business opportunity and not a personal attack)—you will find:


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1.) I was pointing to posters, even critical ones, and just answering questions.

2.) Dave started with the first of his postings, calling Audible “shitty” and suggesting things as fact which were not correct.

3.) When I responded to him, he flamed me, I responded to him, pointing out he was really pissed off about my criticizing him for his Microsoft “leak” exclusive.

4.) Dave fired back that “if it isn’t MP3 it isn’t podcasting,” made a second posting about how poorly Audible’s business is doing (inaccurate).

5.) Dave also posted a defense of his Microsoft exclusive, amazingly repeating other people’s criticisms (including mine) as the explanation for the “leak” to justify his promoting the documents as a leaked exclusive.

6.) Then I posted the response you point to. So, is this a case of my being inflammatory or standing up to someone who could have used their position in the blogosphere to dismiss something I worked to create by burying it under false information and abusive language?

7.) Of course, fireworks followed and followed and followed.

By contrast to Dave Winer, Jeff Jarvis, another critic, and I engaged in a very constructive dialogue across both our blogs.

This has nothing to do with PR, and if you’d look at my background you will find that what I do is write honestly, granted not always politely, because I don’t tolerate rudeness, especially from folks in a position to be generous. In the meantime, you attribute to “blogebrity” a status that is out of proportion to their role in the market, as they may have traffic, but they are not invariably correct. The fact we all can talk back is what makes this a completely interesting medium, sometimes.

The outcome of the discussion—the flame war, too—is that many folks commenting on blogs are saying “Hey, wait, Dave’s wrong.” And they go on to actually start thinking and talking about the potential of MP3, Audible’s service and other approaches to allowing those who choose to dedicate themselves to audio production to make some or all of a living from it.

Finally, was it a calculated marketing plan? Absolutely not. However, I did know with whom to talk to get the greatest coverage across the blogosphere, which is what anyone who wants to succeed in society has to do in order to maximize the returns on their efforts, whether at a cocktail party or in a network conversation. That’s the art of living in conversational markets.

I would genuinely appreciate your thoughts on this….everyone. I’m thinking of writing it up as a case study on social influence networks, because it verifies a number of things we’ve been learning from data collected by the Persuadio social analytics system.

UPDATE: Jeff Jarvis says I’m throwing more wood on the fire. Well, it’s getting cold at night, so gather round for some chatter…..

Been thinking more about this, the question Cale raised was: “Was what happened the product of a ‘strategy’?” The answer is no, because it was not a chore, but honest, friction-filled human communication that was not a chore one decides to undertake as part of a product launch (see Robert Scoble and Shel Israel on how blogging does not integrate, which is another way of saying, conversations can’t be planned). I was just talking about the product and standing up to a bully—the groupthink I referred to in this posting is the tendency of people to avoid criticizing A-listers and to agree with or defend A-Listers to gain linkage.

Finally, “PR” is traditionally thought about as happy talk, getting people talking about all the good things about a product. This whole kerfuffle (great word, don’t get it use it enough), as Jeff calls it, is unPR, people actually talking. I wonder if it could be made a “strategy” (read “chore“) or whether it is essential that such conversations take place among the principals of project/product teams, which leaves dedicated PR out in the cold to a large degree.

UPDATE2: Micro Persuasion: Audible’s Black Friday: A Case Study in PR vs. BR:

Via Jeff Jarvis. Steve Rubel has an analysis of the Wordcast metalogue of last week. Please go read Steve’s piece, as I respond here.

Interesting analysis, but what is Steve’s take on the discussion as compared to his conclusion about Audible’s format? If by “recovering” he means Audible could change the offering, then the company is listening and gathered a lot of feedback in the last week that it is acting on. If by “recovering” he mean they could change their PR effort, that would be another thing, because my role was not to be the PR interface. Like Dave Winer, I just blog about stuff I help build.

There was no agency involved and my role was as a designer of the service, not to handle PR. It’s virtually impossible to brief Dave, as he has announced his dislike for Audible. What is the benefit of treating reactionary critics like the WSJ, exactly?

That said, I chose to blog about it and got exactly what I expected, which was a reactionary response rather than a constructive one from Dave.

Jeff, Doc and others engaged in a discussion about it, though, and the takeaway from comments on my blog and various other blogs is that, on the whole, Audible did the right thing to push the market toward measurement.

Of course, when we were designing Wordcast we knew the format would be an issue, but the problem it solves is one that is not solvable with the MP3 format. If the market chooses to work with Audible, then Audible “wins,” but if only part of the market does it also wins and others will come along with alternative approaches. This is the essence of competition/ What won’t happen is continued format stagnation and ad rates can start to find the appropriate price based on their auditability or the inability to audit listenership.

As a nine-year-old format, .aa’s not new, but Audible is working to make it available to everyone for the first time. How is that a mistake?

I read every posting Steve points to and many more. No one was “outraged” that the Wordcast service would require the .aa format, because everyone understands that it’s a service hosted by Audible to provide hosting and measurement, not a competitor in the MP3 market. People don’t particularly care about the same conditions when you make a call to Google, Amazon.com or EBay’s APIs—you get data in their formats and are limited as to what you can do with it—people really dont’ seem to be outraged about that. iTunes isn’t hurting, either, for that matter and by working with Audible a podcaster is in a position to penetrate the metrics black hole that is iTunes.

What people do seem to be outraged by is the fact someone stood up to Dave and others to correct a number of inaccurate statements about the product that were meant to dismiss it (such as Om Malik’s comparison to Fruitcast, which is a very different service that includes no hosting or auditing, only ad insertion).

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Confusing pollution with evolution

A List Blogger Openly RecommendS Click Fraud…Who’s Hat is Black? : SEO Book.com:

To be honest, I normally think rather highly of Mitch Ratcliffe, but this anti blogspot spam comment is off the mark…

Can you believe bloggers are openly suggesting click fraud? Who will be the first blogger to recommend automated click bots?


I don’t know what to make about the fact he apologizes for thinking highly of me most of the time—am I that disliked?—but Aaron Wall’s suggestion that I am recommending fraud is way, way off-base. And Vernon Kesner is disgusted. Pretty strong language, that suggests to me that search engine marketers are more concerned about protecting their golden goose than recognizing the goose is pouring crap over the whole blogosphere.

Aaron and Vernon say “it’ll get better, it always does.” Forgive me, but having been at the birth of the Net and seen some of the pathetic compromises made to sustain economic models, I speak from experience. It can be better, but leaving the solution to the company at the heart of the problem is sacrificing our power to influence the direction the community is going.

Splogs are pollution. Splogs, at least for now, are part of the economic system and, like the worst industrial production, represent the wasteful, toxic by-products of the information economy. Pollution warps the environment, it doesn’t get cleaned up and disappear. Pollution deserves protest.


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We should pour the pollution back into the source. Relax, Google will survive and the cash from AdSense will still flow.

Sorry, but we can break this system without doing serious damage to anything except Google’s bottom line, which is the only thing that will get Google’s attention. I’ve been saying for a long time this isn’t the gentle, non-evil little company people mythologize to justify Google’s increasingly hegemonic approach to knowledge (heck, Dave and I agree about this point); the company needs to be policed by users, even if it threatens the system of payments—largely paltry—that surround Google, because, like the neighbors of a toxic site, we’re paying a price for their success.

We can call the movement MEMEPEACE.

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