Amazon has ongoing series of internal events known as the Amazon Fishbowl where people stop by and promote their new album, book, or whatever by talking to or performing for a set of interested Amazonians. For example, Monday had Ben Harper stopping by to promote his his new album. Unfortunately I missed Ben Harper while recovering from jet lag, but I was able to attend today's talk from Robert Scoble and Shel Israel about blogging and promoting their new book on the subject, Naked Conversations.
Overall I thought it was an interesting talk, and it was definitely fun to read Robert's take on the talk afterwards, including the ribbing he got from our CTO. He even posted a pair of pictures on Flickr from the event. The observant might find part of my head in the second to last row one from the left in the second picture.
The talk was, as might be expected, a "rah-rah, go team" about blogging and why everyone should do it. Fair point and obviously apropos. Despite the fact that I generally liked what they had to say, I think they missed the mark on two things.
First, Robert and Shel got a great question about Apple and how they are an example of a company that is extremely closed lipped but still gaining momentum and generally well loved by bloggers. Their response was a pretty quick dismissal of Apple as a flash in the pan. Robert even made the statement that he thought Microsoft had a better chance of being around 100 years from not than Apple does. The stock market agrees, but what made it a non-answer is that they ignore the fact that Apple is well loved and does have a teflon reputation despite doing some not very nice things.
Apple has sued bloggers, runs a monopolistic music business, and has produced products that break easily or even light on fire. Still the next time that Apple calls everyone together for a "fun" announcement, Gizmodo will once again be there, blogging it live. The question of how they can do this is an interesting one and flies in the face of what Robert and Shel are trying to promote. I don't expect them to necessarily know the secret behind Apple's mystique, but that they seemed uninterested in even addressing it left me disappointed.
The second issue I had was their example of a small online bookstore in Japan (I'm sorry I don't recall the name) that saw their sales increase when they started blogging about their thoughts on books. Shel encouraged us to do the same. With all due respect to my co-workers, most are not literary geniuses. In fact I would say that, on average, most Amazon employees (myself included) are poorly suited to commenting on most books, so this felt very much like square peg pounding to me.
Are Amazon employees really the best people to be informing you about books on, say, Russian literature? If they are, is a blog the best format to do it? I would answer 'no' to both of these questions.
One beauty of blogging is that because the barrier to entry is so low, it allows anyone to participate. This, of course creates an attenuation problem that the reverse chronological ordering of blogs are poorly suited for. Customer reviews that are ranked on usefulness (see my still open reputations jobs) seem like a much better format.
This isn't to say there is no place for the blog-style communication on Amazon. In fact with AmazonConnect I think we found a great place for it.
When Amazon employees write informative reviews of books they will naturally float to the top, just like any other customer of ours. This makes sense to me, a blog on the subject doesn't.
This sounds like a lot of criticism. In reality, as I mentioned above, I thought it was overall a good talk and it was nice to meet Robert and Shel. But in the spirit of open communication, I know that Robert and Shel will be happy to read my thoughts.