On Business Blogging and Character: Panasonic Redux

(Don’t miss the next update in this unfolding story…)

A few days ago I wrote about Panasonic’s odd new weblog DefPerception, which attempts to engage video technology enthusiasts on high-definition video topics, especially Panasonic products in that field. This is a “character blog,” in which authorship is attributed to a fictional character: video geek “Tosh Bilowski.”

As I’ve said before, I’m not opposed to character blogs. Honestly so far I’ve only seen one done well: Crabby Old Lady,” the occasional alter ego of blogger Ronni Bennett in Time Goes By. Still, I do think the concept can be effective and beneficial, and it could be used more widely – as long as it’s done with good motives, and with care.

…That said, I found Panasonic’s approach to publishing a character blog rather odd and suspicious, as well as highly counterproductive. In short, I think they tried to do a character blog for all the wrong reasons. Now, I am glad they tried blogging, and do I hope they try again. However, I think they would have been much better off with a real human blogger than this bland, banal “Tosh Bilowski” golem.

Anyway, today Jan Crittenden Livingston from Panasonic responded to me via e-mail. Here’s what she had to say – and here’s why her response indicates that Panasonic really has a great deal to learn about weblogs…

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My Mistake: Panasonic Isn\’t Backpedaling

(Don’t miss the next update in this unfolding story…)

IMPORTANT UPDATE: When I originally made this posting, I based it on an error. I thought Panasonic had deleted some content which they actually hadn’t. (Details below.) I’ve corrected that error, and I apologize to my readers and Panasonic for that error. I’ve modified the headline for this posting accordingly but left the URL intact to honor inbound links. I still think this character blog represents a deeply flawed approach, although I’m not categorically averse to character blogs.

(And here’s Another update, Oct. 31)

Read the corrected post…

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Who is Tosh Bilowski? Corporate Blogs and Authenticity

(Don’t miss the next update in this unfolding story…)

CONTEXT: I published this article before it was completely evident to me that Tosh Bilowski is indeed a fictional character. Some people spotted this ruse immediately, but I didn’t – and I suspect my experience isn’t particularly unusual.

CORRECTION: I made a mistake concerning the following text, which I’m marked with strikethrough formatting. For an explanation and update, see my followup posting.

(UPDATE 3pm MDT: Well, I guess someone over at Panasonic said “Ooops!” and is trying to backtrack. Since I posted this article, they’ve heavily re-edited This posting on the DefPerception blog, removing a story about how this “blogger” had an Indian mother and a Polish father, etc., and replacing those “personal” details with vague “wink wink” references implying that this is indeed a character blog. If you see that, bear in mind – that’s not how they were presenting this blog until just a couple of hours ago. Cute. Oh – and whoever’s moderating that blog never approved the comment I tried to post there, asking them about this.

(FURTHER UPDATE 7pm MDT: That DefPerception article I linked to above now bears a couple of comments which focus solely on technical issues. My comment, where I inquired whether the blogger was fictional, has not been published. Now, notice something – the names of those comment authors link to e-mail addresses. That’s pretty unusual, since usually comment author names link to URLs. However, Tosh’s name links to the blog home page – a URL. Again: Cute. …More updates, as warranted, will be in my followup.)

(And here’s Another update, Oct. 31)

This morning, in Blog Herald News, I stumbled across this announcement: “Panasonic Launches Blog To Discuss AG-HVX200 And HD” (translation: a new high-definition video camera and high-definition issues in general). This sounded interesting: a corporate blog that specifically targets video geeks. In my experience, video geeks have very high expectations, and they enjoy debate. I figured, wow, Panasonic would really have to prove itself to that crowd, and work hard to engage them. Not easy.

So I checked out the blog, DefPerception. I was initially pleased to see something that appears much less stiff yet more informational than most corporate blogs I’ve encountered. Panasonic apparently hired a video geek named Tosh Bilowski to write this weblog. On first glance he sounds knowledgeable, and he seems blog-savvy.

…Still, though, it always helps to get some background on the blogger to understand the blog – especially in the case of sponsored or corporate blogs. What’s his blogging track record, I wondered? So I did what any geek (including video geeks, probably) would do: since this guy has a pretty unusual name, I Googled him.

Nada! As of 8:50 am MDT today, zero results. No matches. I kid you not. Not for his nickname Tosh Bilowski, nor his full name Pratosh Bilowski

OK, that’s odd… Would Panasonic really hire someone to write a corporate blog who had no apparent online track record, at least under the name he’s currently using?

I did some further poking around…

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Amateurs Deserve Respect: Evelyn Rodriguez Nails It

For about as long as I can remember, the cult of officialdom has grated on my nerves. Why is it that we’re only supposed to accept information, perspectives, and art from experts who bear certain stamps of approval? (Certain degrees, job titles, social position, mainstream media recognition, awards, etc.)

The unspoken tenet of officialdom is that if you haven’t been “vetted,” you have no right to express your views or present your information. Or rather, that people who are enraptured by officialdom and trained to ignore alternatives will automatically consider whatever you have to say meaningless, a waste of time, unworthy.

On Oct. 24, writer Evelyn Rodriguez tackled the cult of officialdom head on – and I think she nailed it. Check out An Internet Fed Mostly by Amateurs is Fascinating. There, she asks:

“[Where do people] think talent comes from? Does it plop up wholly formed in the sea foam like greek goddess Aphrodite? Or does the granting of a degree from an accredited film school or art school or journalism school now stamp one with the Good Housekeeping seal of approval? Should Bill Gates or Steve Jobs meekly crawl back and complete their professional degrees? Or does it sometimes come from passion, gumption, inspiration, and the sheer love of it?

Why whine that the talent pond got bigger? Whatever happened to that little old adage, ‘Let the market decide?’”

Amen, sister.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I definitely still value expertise and quality…

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Journalists and Weblogs: Three (No, Four) Basic Attitudes

…And I thought I was hard on journalists who don’t yet understand why weblogs are becoming so important to media – and why they should learn how to read blogs, follow them, and search them.

Check out this new article by Paul Conley: Learning the basics of conversational editorial. He describes three classes of journalistic awareness of weblogs…

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\”Google Base\”: Rumors, Denial, and Ineffective Business Blogging

Rumors abound that Google is setting up a new service that might blow away Craigslist, eBay, and – of course – newspapers in terms of classified advertising. It’s allegedly called Google Base.

(UPDATE: Dave Taylor managed to get some screen shots of Google Base. Also, after I posted on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits about Google Base, Steve Outing also shared his perspective.)

In a nutshell, users of this (free, of course) service could upload any kind of content directly to Google’s servers, where it would become public, indexed, and searchable. If your content resides on Google’s servers, then Google can create a far more powerful and accurate index than is possible when relying on data gathered by crawling the web. They also could syndicate your content in any number of ways.

So if you wanted to, say, sell a used bicycle, you could upload text and images of the bike to Google Base. The service then would index those files in many ways, including geographically. Then they could deliver that content in search results and syndicate it out to, say, web sites and forums about biking in your city.

Yeah, I can see why eBay, Craigslist, and of course newspapers might shudder at that…

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Blogs and Feeds: What\’s in It for Science Writers and PIOs? (audio)

On Saturday, Oct. 22, I was honored to be part of a panel at the 2005 conference of the National Association of Science Writers. This panel, “Blogs and RSS” was organized by my friend and feelow content strategist Merry Bruns. (Thanks a bunch, Merry!) My fellow panelists were:

With permission from all panelists and NASW, I recorded that session and I’m now podcasting it as promised. Sorry it’s taken me a couple of days longer to post it than I’d planned, but my original recording wasn’t that great so I had to do a fair amount of editing to make it listenable.

LISTEN NOW! Right-click or click-and-hold that link to download the MP3 audio file. Its about 17.8 MB and runs about 80 minutes long.

You can download my handout, too. It’s a one-page pdf document.

Public information officers and PR people please note: Although this talk was geared mainly toward science journalists, much of what we had to say applies as much to (if not more to) public relations.

Show notes, including an important correction I need to make: I was wrong about how I described a tool for monitoring web site statistics…

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Verbal Abuse: \”Impacted?\” Ugh….

This morning I’m relaxing with my friend and colleague Catherine Dold before we both go down to see what’s happening at the National Association of Science writers conference in Pittsburgh. In the dead-tree version of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Catherine stumbled across a column on page 1 of the business section which had us both cheeing and groaning.

The column by business counselor and writer Andrea Kay, “Workers Need the Write Stuff to Succeed,” bemoans the deterioration of writing skills in the business world. Since I provide writing coaching, and Catherine and I both edit lots of poorly written business content, we were both cheering this message, especially since it was being delivered so prominently.

…And then, the fumble.

In the version of this article published in the Tribune-Review (which doesn’t appear to be online as of this writing), Kay includes this quote from Beth Zimmerman founder of the business consulting firm Cerebellas: “The intense reliance on e-mail to conduct business has negatively impacted writing ability.”

At this, Catherine dropped her coffee and ran screaming into the bathroom. Her fine grammatical sensibilities, honed by the efforts of her mother (Peggy Dold of Venice, FL, proud winner of the 8th-grade English medal) were grievously assaulted by witnessing the brutal torture of innocent verbs.

So what’s wrong with that sentence?

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When is Google Going to Confront Blog Spam?

(UPDATE OCT. 21: Well, apparently Google HAS done exactly what Chris Pirillo recommended. See Mark Cuban’s article from his blog today.)

I’ve gotta tell ya… As far as I can recall, virtually every slap-dash spam blog (also called search spam I’ve ever seen has been a Blogger or Blogspot blog. Here’s the latest spam blog I stumbled across this morning – which today happens to be scraping content from a weblog I contribute to, Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits.

Spammers use the Blogger/Blogspot service because, well, it’s free and easy. It’s especially fast and easy to build sites that contain lots and lots of Google Adsense ads. And who owns Blogger/Blogspot? Well, um, Google does.

Hello, Google? I know you like it when people use Adsense, but this really is a problem and you should do something about it. And you can…

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