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Naked Conversations - Book Review

1 March 2008
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

"Naked Conversations" explores the realm of blogs, primarily focusing on non-organizational blogs that contribute to businesses in the Internet world. Authors Robert Scoble and Shel Israel, both avid bloggers, bring a subjective perspective to the book. While they attempt objectivity, the inherent bias is evident. Nevertheless, the book offers a fresh understanding of the blogging world, sharing numerous blog stories that convey blogs' familiarity, significance, and potential impact.

Despite the limited content guarantee and the fact that it was written in 2006, considering the evolving landscape, this book comes highly recommended for any organization contemplating the encouragement of employee blogging, whether from senior figures on behalf of the organization or junior individuals representing themselves.

The book's summary, although not presented chapter by chapter, effectively captures the essence of the issues discussed:

The topics covered include:

  • What constitutes a blog?

  • How can a blog benefit businesses?

  • When is it not advisable to start a blog?

  • Guidelines for Proper Blog Writing

  • Supporting technologies

For me, the book provided an additional perspective on comprehending the world of Web 2.0 that surrounds us. It persuaded me that blogs have business potential, though it acknowledges that success is not guaranteed for everyone. Microsoft and Sun are cited as exemplary organizations in the blog world, while Google and Apple represent the opposite end of the spectrum.

Wishing you an enjoyable reading experience!

What constitutes a blog?

A blog epitomizes WEB2.0, representing the new generation of the Internet. Essentially, it is a site structured chronologically (based on dates) rather than thematically, deviating from the conventional format of regular websites. The term "blog" is a fusion of two words - WEB-LOG. Blogs are reminiscent of personal diaries, characterized by a subjective and personal tone, setting them apart from typical websites. A distinctive feature of blogs is the talkback mechanism, facilitating engagement where the broader world can respond to blog content.

In the blogosphere, a blogger, an enthusiastic contributor, writes and navigates through fellow bloggers' entries. As of the end of 2006, the Internet boasted 76 million counted blogs, offering a glimpse into the vastness of the blogosphere.

Key features that contribute to the added value of blogs compared to other channels include:

  1. Ease of writing and distribution.

  2. Ease of discoverability. Specific search engines prioritize blogs, and search engines are dedicated exclusively to them.

  3. Promotion of a sense of socialization, fostering a community spirit.

  4. Rapid dissemination.

  5. Ease of tracking. (Refer to the Technologies section for an explanation of RSS).

  6. High connectivity, facilitated by the simplicity of blog-to-blog links.

Notably, some organizations, like Mascaw in the Netherlands, have cultivated such a developed blog culture that new employees are encouraged to open their blogs alongside their email accounts and user codes.

How can a blog benefit businesses?

Let's begin with the bottom line: Blogs, indeed, have the potential to benefit businesses. The proliferation of blogs is rooted in the growing distrust of large corporations, where there's a prevailing perception that these entities are guided by impersonal legal and financial professionals devoid of humanity. Once among the most disliked companies, Microsoft managed a significant image turnaround in recent years, primarily attributed to its embrace of blogs. Microsoft permits its employees, including the book's co-author Scoble (currently a Microsoft employee), to blog about personal and professional aspects, showcasing a human side contributing to image enhancement. The transparency afforded by blogs, allowing employees to express opinions that may differ from management, adds credibility and, consequently, improves the company's image.

Within organizations, blogs similarly foster transparency, enhancing communication with customers and suppliers. Blogs become a valuable avenue for gauging public sentiments and preferences and promptly addressing issues. Bloggers note that user comments aid in refining ideas and creating a collaborative environment.

Blogs also offer a competitive advantage through their humanizing effect. The authentic portrayal of executives and employees fosters a sense of identification, even on a personal level, significantly shortening the path to new sales. The book provides examples of CEOs sharing personal aspects that garnered increased trust and customer loyalty.

Moreover, blogs serve as a viable substitute for traditional marketing through public relations (PR). Unlike PR announcements that may face skepticism, blogs are perceived as more genuine, offering an unfiltered expression of the company's viewpoint. Blogs, if well-exposed, are cost-effective and resonate more authentically with the audience. The book highlights numerous examples of companies successfully leveraging blogs as a direct and reliable communication channel, showcasing the efficacy of this approach over traditional PR methods.

A notable benefit of blogs is improving the sense of community, whether within an internal organizational blog or an externally relevant one, such as a blog discussed in a church book. Blogs foster openness, enhancing the connection between the author and their readership or community members.

Status holds significant importance, particularly in professional domains, where being the first to adopt a blog, like the initial tailor with a blog, establishes bloggers as category leaders in their respective fields. This phenomenon is especially pronounced in consulting but extends to various industries.

Direct promotion, often performed by bloggers rather than company owners, proves effective in endorsing products or services. While this effect is prominent in software or Internet-related sectors, the book highlights an example of a kitchen product whose exposure on blogs, even reaching a nuclear laboratory, expanded its applications. Conversely, negative impact can result from bloggers defaming products, underscoring the contagious nature of such discussions. Timely intervention is crucial, as detailed in the chapter on Proper Writing. The book provides an example of T-shirt sales thriving through a blog, allowing buyers to place orders directly and influence the design of the manufactured shirts.

Blogs also play a role in expanding conference boundaries. Conferences now engage bloggers to document their impressions, attracting talkback primarily from non-attendees. This widens the conference's impact and resonance beyond its immediate audience.

When is it not advisable to start a blog?

Blogs stand out for their personal and authentic nature, fostering a culture that values genuineness and reliability. The blogger community swiftly dismisses those suspected of cynically using blog tools or lacking authenticity. Blogging is ill-advised in the following situations:

  1. Lack of Visionary Leadership: Blogging is only recommended when a manager has a clear vision.

  2. Poor Writing Skills: Individuals with inadequate writing skills may struggle in the blogosphere.

  3. Inferior Product: Attempting to promote a subpar product is challenging, as authenticity is crucial in blogging.

  4. Absence of a Sharing Culture and Transparency: Companies like Google and Apple, lacking a culture of sharing and transparency, may find it challenging to establish a successful blog. Conversely, countries like France and Japan have flourishing blogging cultures, while others like Germany and China exhibit conservative cultures that impede blog development. Spanish-speaking countries show a lower level of blogging.

  5. Lack of Real Commitment: Blogging is not suitable for companies that lack a genuine commitment to the subject.

  6. Hidden Information: Companies with something to hide, such as Enron or those dealing with security issues, may find blogging inappropriate. As discussed in the book, criminal organizations may also refrain from creating blogs for their employees.

Guidelines for Proper Blog Writing

People inherently possess a desire to share, as emphasized by insights from Yossi Vardi, also associated with ICQ. The book underscores the suitability of blogs as a tool for fostering communication and sharing. Here are some guidelines for effective writing:

  1. Engage in Conversation: Prioritize dialogue over selling.

  2. Consistent Writing: Aim for frequent posts, ideally daily.

  3. Passionate Writing: Infuse passion into your writing to make it interesting and captivating.

  4. Authority in Writing: Write with authority on topics you understand and are passionate about.

  5. Embrace Sharing: Don't shy away from sharing information; openness is critical.

  6. Tolerance for Comments: Be open to comments, including negative ones. Genuinely listen to feedback, acknowledging criticism and new ideas. Recognize that comments may not represent the entire perspective, considering the limited number of contributors.

  7. Present a Balanced Perspective: Avoid portraying a utopian view; present a balanced picture of the world.

  8. Respond to Slander: If slandered, respond by genuinely examining comments and providing clear conclusions to the public. Prompt and truthful responses are crucial.

  9. Adherence to Company Policy: Avoid writing content against company policy, such as revealing confidential information or defaming managers. Uphold organizational values to avoid repercussions.

  10. Active Participation: Regularly read and comment on other blogs before starting your own.

  11. Generate Links: Cultivate links from other parts of the blogosphere to enhance visibility.

  12. Choose a Relevant Name: Select a name that reflects the topic, aiding discoverability by search engines.

  13. Simplicity and Focus: Keep each post simple and focused.

  14. Additional Communication Channels: Offer alternative communication channels (phone or email) for those who prefer it, proving effective for sales promotion.

  15. Narrative Writing: Craft stories, not just presenting facts—the writing style matters.

  16. Time Dedication: Understand that a successful blog requires considerable time and dedication.

These are just a few tips, and the book provides a comprehensive blogging charter with additional insights.

Supporting technologies

Supporting technologies are constantly evolving. Although the book, written in 2006, may now seem commonplace to many, the authors initially highlight the progression in users' browsing habits—from traditional browsing to search engines and now to Syndication: alert-based focused reading. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) technology, a protocol enabling users to subscribe to desired content, is discussed. While not exclusive to blogs, RSS is a unifying and distributing tool within the blogosphere.

A notable advantage of RSS over traditional content subscriptions lies in user control. Unlike past subscriptions where the content provider retained control, with RSS, users maintain control. They can easily disconnect from content requests, allowing them to stop receiving information. This ensures user privacy, as the content provider remains unaware of who sought or received their content.

The text introduces Podcasts, a technology associated with audio blogs, providing an additional dimension for interested individuals. Moving beyond, the book explores VLOG (Videoblogs) technology, deemed entirely new at the time but now familiar, thanks to platforms like YouTube. Notably, blogging tools are progressing to accommodate mobile devices like Palms. The development of blog software products, such as monitoring tools that analyze blogosphere mentions of customers, products, or markets, reflects the evolving landscape.

Lastly, the significance of tagging technology in the WEB2.0 and blog world is acknowledged. Users can tag their content or others', creating mini-networks for specific topics of interest. The text emphasizes that this is only the beginning, urging patience to witness future developments in the dynamic technological landscape.

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