Subtitled How Blogs are Changing the Way Businesses Talk with Customers, by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel. I got an advance copy of this a couple of months ago, with a note saying “Can we have a quote for the cover by Wednesday?” But I didn’t get around to reading it until several Wednesdays later. Summary: Lots of people will benefit from reading this; especially “Communications Professionals”. Most people who read ongoing won’t learn much, but they might enjoy it anyhow. Read on for more details.
Good Stuff · The best thing is that there’s little abstraction or theorizing; it’s all real stories about real people and their ventures into the blogosphere. They do draw some lessons, but never at too-great length, and it never reads like they’re lecturing.
Another strong point is that there’s first-rate coverage of business blogging outside of North America. Granted, there isn’t very much of that happening yet, but some of the stories—in particular, the stories out of France—are rich with lessons that I think would apply anywhere. Some of those stories are 100% new to me and would be, I suspect, to most of my readers.
Their conclusion is bold and one I agree with, although probably a little bit in advance of all the evidence being in: Blogging is good for good companies and bad for bad companies. Disclosure: I’m pretty sure that I didn’t invent that phrase, which doesn’t actually appear in Naked Conversations; I seem to recall reading it somewhere but can’t find the reference.
My personal favorite fragment, unsurprisingly, is the one I appear in: One competitor we know about, speaking off the record, told us “We had counted Sun out. We assumed by now they would be dead or irrelevant. They’re back. I think it’s their [expletive deleted] blogs. We just went into a customer meeting and they were asking us about some stuff that Tim Bray had posted that morning.” So far, Scoble has politely ignored my whining, begging, pleading, and offers of huge bribes to find out who the competitor is. Hmm... I wonder if Maryam can be subverted?
Another really good thing is that while Naked Conversations unabashedly sings the virtues of blogging, it tries hard to avoid being sucked into uncritical boosterism, pointing specifically at cases where what seemed like a horde of bloggers turned out to be just a few people in an echo chamber.
Problems · I don’t know how big a problem this will be for readers in general, but it bothered me a lot that while Rob and Shel obviously worked together to build the book, Shel wrote it. Which means it totally isn’t in Rob’s earnest high-velocity style, but rather a cool, neutral tone with lots of commas and subordinate clauses. I’m a big fan of Rob’s writing but, given that this book is aimed at people who still need to be convinced about blogging, maybe combining the medium and the message would have been asking too much of the reader. And to be fair, Scoble does have a day job.
I was also irritated by occasional lapses into Microsoft-party-line-ism, for example: Corporate customers have long understood that in enterprise environments freeware is often expensive to use because of the problems it can cause. It would be nice for Redmond if that were true.
Oh, and a quibble. They say: ...in 1988 a couple of Stanford kids came up with Google, which dramatically improved search results by employing intelligent algorithms rather than simple keywords.... Oh, please; all search has been based on dumb algorithms since day one, and so is Google’s; their mojo is based on link-count-based relevance ranking, an idea they were the first to apply, combined with a really user-friendly UI (i.e., less is more) and outstanding operational skills (i.e. it’s fast and reliable).
Finally, I kind of wish that Rob and Shel had written a book, not about business blogging, but about blogging’s wider cultural and societal impacts. This is, at the end of the day, a good book about business blogging. But really, I think the most interesting parts of this great big complicated global Naked Conversation have nothing to do with business.