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March 30, 2006

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This is a ridiculously, over the top characterization. Do a quick scan of the other track backs at scoble’s posting and you will find that Werner’s questions were justified and people enjoyed them. They were hard questions, but certainly not rude. And Werner’s blog was a response to Shel and Scoble writing that Amazon was one of those Corporate America institutions that didn’t get blogging.

BTW I believe he did give some form of an apology in comment at Shell’s second posting, although probably not the kind you are looking for.

in case you did see what Werner wrote in comments on Shel's blog:

If we had promised you a warm and enthusiastic meeting, then I apologize. We frequently get authors to present at Amazon, and if for example this would be a book presentation about a certain economic theory we would expect to have a spirited discussion about the thesis. Not just a presentation but dive deep into the relevant issues and sometimes that means confrontation. You are the first ones to be surprised about that.

After our back and forth online other people are putting up suggestions how blogs could be useful to Amazon, beyond the standard “get your employees to blog” approach. That was the discussion I was expecting to happen in the meeting, but it didn’t. You’re saying it was because of me not being a good host (might be), I believe you guys just didn’t bring the convincing arguments.

...

I respect both of you for the work you are doing. But corporate blogging is a very different game, and in that world you need to be prepared to answer hard critics to make headway. If you can’t handle me (who is actually a proponent), you may have a lot harder time at other places.


Mark: who are you? Looks like you linked to the Google blog. Does Amazon condone leaving anonymous comments that link to your competitors blog sites? A couple of employees, while we were signing books, whispered that they were suprised to see us get that harsh a treatment and apologized, so not everyone in the audience thought it was common behavior.

I personally didn't mind it. I do wish he didn't interrupt us as we were trying to give him an answer. That, I thought, was rude, in retrospect (I have been in front of dozens of audiences and this was the first time I'd experienced this kind of rapid fire, antagonistic, questioning). Ask a tough question, yes, but then sit back and let the guy answer and if they can't, or won't, well, then, that'll reflect poorly on them.

It's extremely hard to be in front of 120 people as it is, without getting bashed continually by a very powerful person in the audience (the fact that Werner was the CTO made me uncomfortable in engaging, and I know that when I told Shel, on stage, that Werner was the CTO that I could tell that he changed his answers too). I didn't know whether to really engage in harsh debate or not. I didn't feel comfortable doing that because I wasn't just there as a book author who had a point to make, but I was there as a Microsoft ambassador and people would make judgments to how I responded and apply those to their beliefs about Microsoft.

Did I not answer the questions as well as I'd like? Yeah, I have to admit I didn't.

But when you're up in front of 120 people, thrown off of track of what you thought you were going to be doing, it's very hard to think clearly or crisply.

Well, if we did one thing, it's to warn other book authors that they better be prepared for harsh, antagonistic, questioning when they visit Amazon.

Rick,

Thanks for this. I justr love your style. Mark, we'll respond to you once you come out from the shadows an identfify yourself and where you are coming frm. Or won't your boss authorize you to do so?

Rick,

can you use this image instead, it might serve your purpose better: http://www.flickr.com/photos/27564530@N00/120556654/

Hi Mark.

I don't believe it is over the top for pretty simple reasons. The guests felt it wasn't nice, the people who were there didn't think the CTO was nice, and the CTO has a responsibility to represent the company in a proper manner.

And, the larger reason? What the heck was this whole internal meeting thing doing in the CTO's blog? The first place I saw this was Scoble's blog with nice comments about Amazon.

As for the sorry, don't really care. The better thing to do would be to either update the original post or make a new one with, oops, guest got mad, my bad and be done with it.

In a science conference, heated exchanges are the norm. Indeed, that is considered desirable - the ideas there are intended to withstand incoming fire, and failures are looked upon as opportunities to make corrections. So far, so mediocre.

Invited guest speakers for a corporate presentation are in a very different setting. The context is not much different from an author reading extracts from their latest work in a bookstore. We're not talking hard science, we're certainly not talking peer-reviewed work that will be in next-year's University entrance exams. Regardless of whether it was intended or not, it is generally considered rude to burn philosophers at the stake.

As for "sorry" - I tend to take the line that, yes, everyone is human and everyone is going to do stupid things from time to time. However, when you are the Amazon CTO (or the Italian PM), the consequences can be substantially worse than for other people. In consequence, such people need to be substantially more careful about what they say and do. If that sometimes means locking yourself in a room for a few days (Sir Winston Churchill is said to have done so when in a dangerous frame of mind) - there are far worse things you can do and history is littered with the charred reputations of those who discovered what those worse things were.

In the end, it matters little who was right and who was wrong. That never matters, really. What does matter is that nothing on the Internet goes away and will almost invariably re-emerge. Usually at times you really wish it hadn't, often out of context. It is an absolute golden rule that you NEVER put something in electronic print in an attributable way that you wouldn't be seen dead associated with in twenty or thirty years time.

(Job applications and even court cases have been decided on the results of what can be found in electronic archives such as The Wayback Machine or the corporate e-mail database. Again, it is irrelevant as to what was meant, intended or whatever. It has been indexed and archived the world over. The Internet is exceptionally dangerous for the unwary and the brave.)

Well, Scoble, I have to say, you don't have thick enough skin yet. Give it a couple of years on the author circuits, and you'll realize Werner was not singling you out for bad treatment, it was the other audiences that were unusually nice.

You should listen to what Mark has to say. Not agree with it, but listen to and learn from it.

Rick, Shel, Scoble listen up. Blogging has a serious weakness, and we have just seen a good practical example of it.

I think this type of response is typical of Amazon. They are one of the most pompous companies in existence and will not be swayed by external forces. You either drink their Kool-Aid or go home.

This is why I refused to work for them after my day long grilling about how great they were and how they only hire the best people. How crazy.

"The company, generally, gets good marks for customer service" - I must disagree, the last time I had a problem with them I was contacted (very quickly I will grant) by some very nice, very eager to please Indian woman. And although she had the right attitude, she didn't speak english, not really. She truly couldn't understand the situation I was presenting to her and because of this, she was totally useless. I eventually just gave up.

Joseph: I've been to dozens of book readings with other authors and I've never seen an author questioned in such an antagonistic manner. But, that's water under the bridge cause Werner apologized. I attempted to further answer Werner's questions here: http://scobleizer.wordpress.com/2006/03/31/much-ado-about-blogging-scoble-you-didnt-answer-the-question/

Having worked for CTO's at client sites (I'm an IT contractor), it's my experience that the job of the CTO is to be quizical, discerning, agile and determined when presented with a new approach or offering. Another way to say it might be brisk: "you've got 5 minutes to convince me". I get the sense that Werner was operating in the capacity that fits his title.

Representing the company in an "always positive" light is the job of the Marketing Dept... possibily the CEO. A CTO needs to be in the thick of it, where the rubber meets the road, making right decisions in a succinct, if not rapid, manner. If I had been invited to talk up my product or methodology, I would have expected nothing less than a grilling from the CTO.

Maybe this is just a case of the right-brain people clashing with the left-brain people? Some pretty good irony that the row started over blogging and then was carried out into the blogosphere.

Jerry,
Thank you for stopping by. I think the issue is one of where do you do this. Having been a CTO, I agree with you, but I don't think you would hammer a guest, regardless of your job title or style. You'd be nice, or at least polite.

Your irony is dead on.

Thanks for stopping by.

There are some pretty serious issues here Rick - speaking as one coming from the hard assed world of bean counting. But if I've understood Werner's post correctly, it seems he wanted to hear a specific answer. That's pre-determined and biased in favour of not getting an answer but making the respondent look like an idiot. We can all do that if we're minded. However, what really concerns me here is Werner's application of logic to the situation, espeically in the light of Amazon's history.

Correct me if I'm wrong but just how many billions did Amazon spend building its business model? Scoble/Shel's argument is based on ROi not roI. Fundamentally different and I can see how that *might* threaten Amazon as an incumbent web 1.0 company. But as they say, Amazon has included many of the features of blog/wiki in what they already do. So where's the problem? It seems Amazon is of the view it needs to respond to customers. Sure. Blog is one way. It may not be right for them.

But Werner, please don't try and tell us that you are revising Amazon's history in todays' conversations. No-one had a clue about the concepts enshrined within Amazon until Bezos showed the world. And it continues to do great work innovating the space. Did anyone believe Bezos when he first pitched up on what, at that time, was a compeletely untested formula?

At least give Scoble/Shel the opportunity to try. And if they don't measure up, let them get back to you with facts and figures.

Werner's post has a heavy emphasis on demanding "data-driven answers" and "very strong arguments and hard evidence", which strongly suggests that the only way that Amazon will adopt naked conversations will be a bottom-up, grass roots effort.

Werner's hard as nails approach reminds me of the PC back in 1983. If you had taken a PC to the average IT executive back in 1983, they would have responded *exactly* as Werner has responded to the concept of naked conversations. Instead, the PC "movement" spread like wildfire and then the IT guys had to deal with the results. It seems like this might be what will happen with the Amazons of the world over the next five years.

My suspicion is that there are vast legions of employees at big companies like Amazon who would love to engage customers and other stakeholders in "naked" conversations, but there are unfortunately far too many Werner-like executives and managers who act as misguided gatekeepers who are all too happy to throw out all manner of potentially good ideas on the off chance that *maybe* one of them *might* by a bad idea. There are other approaches to dealing with innovative concepts.

Note: It's not that the technology of blogs is particularly innovative, but it's the concept of a naked conversation that is a quantum leap forward and for which no amount of "very strong arguments and hard evidence" will ever overcome a Werner-like attitude.

The implicit corporate message from Werner's "performance" is that Amazon is only too happy to fossilize itself as a classic Web 1.0 business.

-- Jack Krupansky

Amen for someone challenging all this blogging BS. Blogs are nice and all but they are hardly a requirement for online business success.

Rick -

Great POV. Thanks for bringing a smile to my face with your link to the Naked Conversations book. I was fully expecting a link to Amazon... Nice touch.

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