Is Amazon supporting Open Social? If they are, that would be big news. If they have decided not to, that would be big news too. We reported last night that Amazon was announcing support for the Google-led protocol, along with a number of other smaller announcements.
We've been on the phone and email with Amazon's PR department all day today. It's been a great example of the challenges any of these huge companies face in trying to be either Open or Social, much less both.
The long and short of it is this: Amazon has nothing to say; they told us they did, but they don't. If they do have anything to say they would like to say it through words put into my mouth. Thanks, Amazon. I don't think you've got much Openness to bring to my Social even if that is what you intend to do.
Here's the time-line.
1. Amazon approached us a week ago with a draft press release. They told us this release was "big news." It was announcing support for Open Social, the "first ever" access to Unbox and MP3 files for affiliates (actually not true, it's been months since that happened) and the availability of new RSS feeds for things like most popular items in various categories. Did you know that there's been no RSS feeds for top selling items in categories at Amazon.com? Well, there is now - and they were so excited that they figured it out, that they wrote it up in a press release.
2. The press release, though clearly a draft (not uncommon, PR people send us draft releases all the time), is dated November 15th. So 12:00 AM EST on the 15th arrived last night and I wrote up a post - after figuring out at the last minute that the claims in the release about "first ever" access to MP3s are the kind of information that uninformed journalists fall for and power users laugh at us for printing. Typical of too much PR practice, someone's trying to trick me, not make both our jobs easier. I added snark to my post about this, but I took it out just to be decent - it was clearly a draft release and there's no need to be nasty more than I really need to be.
3. Post went up, I had a nice night vacuuming my living room floor.
4. In the morning I woke up to a flurry of emails. According to an email sent to one of our writers at 11:59 PM EST the night before one minute before the release time - they threw on the brakes. Our writer wasn't awake and didn't see it until the morning, when we both received more emails insisting that we remove the post, that the release "was never issued," no statement's been made, it's not true and it's still under embargo anyway. Frustrating, but funny.
5. I then put up an update reading:
"Update: Amazon contacted us this morning to let us know that though they sent us a draft press release, they are not in fact making any such announcement, they are not supporting OpenSocial and if they were it would still be under embargo anyway despite the date on said release."
I twittered about the absurdity of it all and Valleywag picked up the story. It was Read/WriteWeb's second appearance on Valleywag today and we felt naughty by association.
6. I talked to various Amazon people throughout the day on the phone, refusing (very nicely) to take down the story or remove all references to Open Social. They did not like the update I posted.
They were not happy, but they were nice enough about it. What can you do when dealing with a blogger? We are so irrational and hard to communicate with!
I offered to post a different update if they'd like to send me a statement. I meant a statement from them.
7. They sent me the following.
"Since the publication of this post, an Amazon spokesperson contacted me to clarify that no announcement was made in regards to support for Open Social. The Amazon spokesperson went on to say that Social network developers have been using the Amazon Associates Web Service to merchandise Amazon products (and earn Associates commissions) for some time. She indicated that Amazon would continue to provide developers with tools that allow them to choose the platform that makes the most sense for them regardless of the Social networking site they are building on. She pointed out..." blah blah blah.
I cannot believe they'd send me text written in the first person and expect me to post it under my own name! Not to mention the really uptight language they've got that puppet named Marshall using! I tried to mock them coyly but without cruelty at the top of the original post.
The Grand Finale
The conclusion of this ridiculous story is that I've put up this post here.
In some ways, this isn't about communicating with bloggers at all. When one billion dollar company is considering interacting formally with other billion dollar companies - why would you tell press about it before everyone is sure and why would you just generally drop the ball like this?
In regards to this particular situation, though, Amazon is probably not alone in a group that includes Google, MySpace, Bebo and a long list of other giant companies in not understanding what it means to be Open or Social. If these people can't communicate like human beings with a blogger going out of my way to be nice to them, why on earth should I be excited about their finding religion and embracing the OpenSocial Brand Platform?