I’ve just received my long-awaited copy of Naked Converstations from Amazon UK. Rather than write a review once I’ve finished reading it (the conventional, offline approach) I thought I’d attempt a blogger’s review of a blogging book. So the review will appear incrementally as I have time and something worth adding to the debate.
The authors (Robert Scoble and Shel Israel) are smart. They address some of the possible criticisms of their project up front. Thus they acknowledge that while blogging helped propel Firefox and Skype to success, the blogging noise around the Howard Dean election campaign was just that. Noise. They’ve not yet established whether blogs are a more suitable promotional vehicle for technology products than for others (I suspect they’re going to challenge this assumption), though they suggest that blogging word of mouth recommendation works best when the product is free (and, I’d add, digital).
This book plugs into the debate around the challenges confronting conventional big marketing. This argument has many cheerleaders and they credit the authors of The Cluetrain Manifesto, Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell among them. Public relations fits well with this discussion: is it a top-down communication channel designed to control thought, or a process for welcoming debate and ‘engineering consent’? (This discussion long-predated the internet, note.)
Yet why write a book at all? And why offer it only in print? Why don’t the authors practice what they preach by offering free distribution online (as with Cluetrain, and the approach adopted by Dan Gillmor and his publishers in 2004, when We the Media was simultaneously made available free online and for a price in print). I like books; I’m willing to pay for books; books can be passed on and lent to others; I don’t like reading more than short chunks of text on screen. So I have no problem with the book in principle, only with the authors (as advocates of blogging) not offering an up-front defence of why, in this case, a book is better than a blog. And they have a great story to tell: the book was in part drafted in public view and amended as a result of comments and contributions to the Naked Conversations blog.