Today Shel Israel and Robert Scoble stopped by at Amazon to present their book Naked Conversations in our Fishbowl series. As you can read in Shel's observations and Robert’s they appear shocked that we used a critical voice to address their work. 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. We have a long history of promoting customers to use their voice about our products and our operations, so if you come to Amazon to tell us our business is going to really suffer if we do not blog, you better be prepared to defend your ideas with very strong arguments and hard evidence. We expect that from anyone, externally or internally, who wants to promote an idea within Amazon.
This was my approach with challenging Shel and Robert at our lunch meeting. 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. I have been a promoter of weblogging for a long time, so I didn't feel particularly bad to challenge these two authors to tell me why customers would get a better Amazon product if we would institutionalize blogging at a wider scale around Amazon. Beyond "a more human face" and "conversations with individuals from Amazon" there was no real response how blogging will make the product named Amazon.com better for our customers given all the techniques we already use from soliciting customer feedback to discussion forums to snooping weblogs and comments sites, etc,. In my mind they had no solid data-driven answers to these challenges, which I would have expected from two seasoned evangelists. I myself actually knew some of the answers to my questions, but I was surprised to see that these guys were not prepared enough to slap me around with solid answers.
What I am a bit disappointed by is that these two smart guys did not understand what was going on, even though I clearly said that I was challenging them to a response. And they make the suggestion in their responses (at least Shel does) that Amazon doesn't "get" blogging. They are wrong. Amazon is a long time pioneer in the space of involving their customers with our product. And we really listen to our customers; any Amazon employee who encounters an issue on a forum or weblog or at any other place is empowered to escalate those issues internally immediately until they get fixed. Customer feedback is essential for Amazon and we will use all effective means to get it.
I left with the personal sense that it will be a tropical day in Seattle before any blogging between companies ad customers is forthcoming from Amazon.
Well it will certainly not happen because Shell and Robert convinced us with solid evidence of the tremendous benefits. If it does happen at a wider scale than it happens now, it will be because our customers have given us feedback that they think blogging is an excellent approach to interact with Amazon. Amazon will continue to innovate with involving customers with our sites, some of those may be weblog or wiki related techniques, many of those will be completely new approaches as people have come to expect from Amazon. We will do this because our customers want us to, not because "everybody else is doing it".
Update: In various comments and follow-up posts the authors express that they feel the questions at the presentation were rude, and that my response to their description of the meeting is not accurate. I am very sorry they feel that way, and I am sure there were people in the room who agree with them. I hope they do not hold my (perceived) rudeness as the test against which to hold those Amazonians. That said, I have also heard enough views by now that do not support Shel & Robert’s recantation of the event, and there were several people who feel it was appropriate to question them hard and deep. Most people seem to agree that my line of questioning was somewhat unforgiving when I felt they didn’t come up with the right answers. I promise to be nicer to our next guests …
Update 2 I think I prefer Nick Carr's characterisation: refreshingly blunt.
Update 3 If you read the posting well, you will find that ROI does not appear in it. That is on purpose as the questions about innovation and about providing value need to be answered first before you can talk about at what cost.