Feel a chill in the air? That’s because Shel Israel and Robert “The Scobleizer” Scoble – authors of the blogging book Naked Conversations – got the cold shoulder from Amazon.com during a recent show-and-tell about blogs at the online bookseller’s HQ in Seattle. To be specific, they apparently got a frosty response from Amazon’s chief technology officer, Werner Vogels (hat tip to Toronto VC blogger Rick Segal).
Apparently, Vogels was pretty skeptical about the benefits of blogging and challenged the star bloggers to prove that it was worthwhile for a company like Amazon, and didn’t like the answers he got. Here’s what he says on his blog:
“Welcome to life at Amazon, we set a very high bar for our own works and we expect anyone that comes to sell us an approach to actually be prepared to really defend their ideas. Just because blogs are cool and everybody is doing them does not automatically mean that we should institutionalize them at Amazon.”
He also says that:
“I wanted them abandon their fuzzy group hug approach, and counter me with hard arguments why they were right and I was wrong. Instead they appeared shell-shocked that anyone actually had the guts to challenge the golden wonder boys of blogging and not accept their religion instantly.”
Perhaps all Vogels did was challenge them, but from Robert and Shel’s descriptions of it, my impression is that it was a bit more than that. Shel – who is one of the nicest guys around – says it was a very rude way to treat someone who had been invited to Amazon to talk, like asking someone into your home and then shouting at them about their taste in music. Shel says:
“Werner, if you want to have a public debate on how Amazon could improve its customer relationships with more employee blogs or corporate blogs, please name the time and place–as well as the neutral referee. I require only two rules. (1) Let me have my say next time, without you interrupting, and (2) Let’s both agree to the same agenda before we go public with it.”
It’s fine to challenge orthodox thinking, and obviously Vogels believes that Amazon.com is good enough at getting feedback that it doesn’t need blogs. Fair enough. But it sounds like he was rude, and just doesn’t want to admit it. And as Rick Segal hints in his post, it doesn’t help that the photo Vogels uses on his blog is an unsmiling portrait that looks like something they might post on The Smoking Gun. Sounds like he has a chip on his shoulder.
There’s been plenty of blog posts – and lot of comments on posts, including this one – from both sides of this issue, including opinions from people such as Seth Finkelstein (who comments below) that Shel and Scoble should be able to take this kind of thing because it’s all part of “the conversation.”
As I responded to Seth, that’s all well and good, but it’s another thing to be sandbagged and shouted down (if that’s what happened) when you’ve been invited to speak to Amazon.com about something.
As for it all being part of the conversation, who says we shouldn’t apply normal standards of behaviour to online conversations as we do to offline ones? If we were at a party and someone was drunk and shouting or being belligerent (not accusing Werner of this, just an example), then I would have word with him, and I would hope other party-goers would too.
Scoble has posted a response to Werner here, and Werner has posted something akin to an apology here. In other news, he appears to at least be seeing the humour in what’s been going on, since he uploaded a nice mugshot to Flickr for us all to use 🙂