This is part two of my blog book review (the final part). Yesterday I wondered whether the authors would be able to convince me that business blogs have entered the mainstream beyond technology industry early adopters. They try by citing two main examples: a Savile Row tailor called Thomas Mahon, and an organic dairy. Yet all of the interesting discussion surrounds technology giants Microsoft, Sun Microsystems, Apple, HP and Google. More on this later.
There’s a chapter on emerging technology towards the end of the book. It brilliantly defines the early years of the web as the Age of Surf. This was followed, the authors suggest, by the Age of Search. Now, with blogs and RSS, they argue, we’re in the Age of Subscription. This succinct analysis is, for me, the best part of the book – and I’m surprised the editors didn’t argue for it to appear as chapter one. Perhaps this discussion of technology would have defeated the optimistic premise that blogs are now for all businesses.
The other thing I gained by this staggered book review, was to predict this discussion: whether public relations is about control, or about conversation. (There’s nothing new in this concept: as far back as 1984 US academics Grunig and Hunt contrasted one-way forms of communication with two-way conversations between equals.) Yet the authors appear to have decided that PR aims only to ‘command and control’ the debate, never to instigate it. They are thus able to propose, in their chapter called Survival of the Publicists, that blogs might replace news releases. Shel Holtz adds some commonsense to this chapter (‘Holtz warned us not to overrate blogging’) but it fell to Trevor Cook to defend the PR profession by responding to the early drafts of this chapter. By way of thanks, they simply disagree by restating that PR stands for ‘command and control’ so whatever he says can’t be right.
Now back to technology (and, by the way, to PR). One of the co-authors works for Microsoft. He acknowledges the image problem by talking about how the Borg got blogs (and I had thought it was known as ‘the evil empire’). Microsoft certainly emerges very favourably from this book. Did you know that Internet Explorer is one of the web browsers, along with Firefox, that supports RSS feeds? It’s a stretching of the truth to equate intentions to deeds. (And before Firefox came along, hadn’t Microsoft intended no further updates to a product that brought it no revenue, and had served its commercial purpose by replacing Netscape?).
It may be true that Apple is a cult that allows only its leader’s voice to be heard (and so suppresses employee blogs). It may be true that Sun Microsystems has turned its business around thanks to its blogging chief (in stark contrast to HP). But the depiction of Google seems to reveal some paranoia at Redmond. On page 166 the authors attempt some praise for Google: ‘someone should write a book about its remarkable technology and company.’ On page 171 they name John Battelle without acknowledging him as one such author. Google search is characterised as old style, compared to the more useful blog search engines like Technorati. And Google is clearly bad because it has few bloggers, and one of them was fired.
Companies that discourage blogging, such as Google, may start to lose talented people and already are revealing other cracks in their veneers. When we began this project, the foremost search company was undeniably one of the most admired in personal technology. Perhaps it still is, but we sense to a diminished degree. We think a contributing factor is its consistently mediocre corporate blog.
It’s a pity. This is a good book, but bias is bad. It makes the book seem like poor PR. As the authors themselves state, ‘Naked Conversations has not been an objective report.’