When Is a Blog Not a Blog? When It's a Book

Joined By 100 Voices Around the Globe, Bloggers Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton Begin the "Age of Conversation"

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Three months ago, agency execs Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton agreed to add "publisher" to their resumes. Having struck a deal with 103 authors eager to lend their two cents about today's marketing-communications landscape, the boys feverishly compiled essays, baited a vendor and hooked a PR firm to rep the title.

On Monday, the book will be released in three formats: e-book, paperback and hardcover. Its editors won't be raising a glass together anytime soon, however. You see, David, who hails from Des Moines, and Gavin, based in Sydney, have never met. In fact, with the exception of a single, garbled Skype exchange, they've never even spoken.

Welcome to the "Age of Conversation." McLellan first conceived of the open-source literature idea after spotting a similar project, titled "We Are Smarter Than Me," on a Wharton School of Business web site. He excitedly blogged about the concept on DrewsMarketingMinute.com, also the homepage for his branding consultancy, McLellan Marketing Group.

Heaton, director of interactive at Aussie shop Creata, was the first to comment:

"Great concept! And it sounds like it could be fun ... but you know what, Drew? I reckon between a few of us we could knock out a short book, publish it using Blurb and as an eBook and do the same. All we need is a theme and a charity."

In 10 days, the ad men had their theme (then "The Conversation Age"), thoughts from 100 fellow marketing bloggers and a pro bono relationship with Variety Children's Charity, to which all proceeds of the book purchased on Lulu.com will be donated. The editors set a three-week deadline for copy, and by the end of the process had drafts from some of the most innovative names in the industry. Logic & Emotion's David Armano and Crayon's Greg Verdino are among the contributors. Even Roger van Oech, of "Creative Whack Pack" fame, makes an appearance.

The book has a definite gravitation toward blogs as today's purveyor of conversation. Below each author's entry title and byline is the URL for his or her space in the blogosphere. McLellan says the drive to showcase the blogging community directly relates to how the book was conceived -- as a dialogue.

"All of the sudden we find the marketer's monologue is going away, and there's this sort of immediate democracy," said Mr. McLellan. "It made sense to Gavin and me to connect with that community."

For the "unconnected," as the book refers to those without internet access or an active online voice (read: RSS feeds aren't enough), Heaton sees opportunity to gain an audience.

"The blogging scene is much more pervasive in the U.S. In Australia, blogging is a marginal sort of pastime -- people look at you like you're from another planet," said Mr. Heaton. "After engaging with Drew, I started to reach out to other Australian bloggers. I realized this 'Conversation' is just a digital extension of the traditional French salons from the original Age of Conversation."

While the hundred-plus voices carry insight from Italy, India, Oman and beyond, one word appears (or is implied) in each essay: listen.

Historically, the best way to start a conversation is by introducing yourself. "Conversation" advises winnowing down those RSS feeds and tags to find your target community of peers and interest. But beware the disclaimer: Until we as bloggers can tune into that target reader and make a habit of responding to his or her feedback, we truly haven't entered the realm of engagement.

"Feedback through the comment section of a blog gives the author reason to continue," according to contributor Bob Glaza. "Keep in mind this is a sharing age and a learning environment."

Heaton and McLellan also toss their thoughts into the mix, forgoing a lengthy preface for the one-page format of their co-authors. Heaton's charged theory of the "promiscuous idea" is perhaps the book's center of authority and influence. Where storytellers once provided readers a beginning, middle and end, he says, our linking habits today mean relationships can end mid-sentence, producing a transient, anonymous piece of intellectual property.

If we're going to converse in this faceless space, Heaton says, we need to willingly accept the concept of borrowing, even disowning.

For brand marketers, this open-and-embrace clause is a relevant one. Faris Yakob, a senior strategist at Naked Communications in London, uses his page to urge brands to loosen their grip on consumer creativity. Consumers must be able to remix and reimagine brand impressions, he writes, much like a song can be reworked for different musical tastes. Otherwise, "the brand's solo will be drowned out."

Traveling through the "Age of Conversation" is an odd and ironic experience. Readers are essentially bombarded with 103 polemics scolding their resistance to interweb engagement. All this via a medium that only allows you to shut up and take it!

(A text anchored in dialogue wouldn't be a just offering, though, without a chance to participate. Readers are encouraged to blog their reactions on the authors' sites.)

What the authors do illuminate is the existence of a separate, albeit inexclusive, conversation happening online and with speedy access to relevant data and networking ties. The longer you wait to join, the more isolated and insular your global perspective will become (not to mention the rustier your writing skills).

"The currency of conversation has extraordinarily high value at the moment," added Mr. Yakob by phone. "A strong desire exists to rebuild relationships."

Whether or not the "Age of Conversation" prompts you to log on and jump out of your comfort zone as voyeur, you'll at least be able to take your pick of 103 new links to change up that morning Gawker-Jarvis-Drudge routine.
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