The soul-baring, anything-goes, free-for-all phenomenon called the Web log has come to this:
"This is the first of many commentaries I will make on this forum," wrote General Motors Vice Chairman Robert A. Lutz in January when he first started his blog, fastlane.gmblogs.com, "and I'd like to begin with, surprise, some product talk -- specifically, Saturn products."
Web logs -- or blogs -- started as a way to talk about new technologies, vent about life and interact in a no-holds-barred forum. Since blogs became the next big thing, an increasing number of companies have come to see them as the next great public relations vehicle -- a way for executives to demonstrate their casual, interactive side.
But, of course, the executives do nothing of the sort. Their attempts at hip, guerrilla-style blogging are often pained -- and painful.
"Looking back before the dust settles on 2004, it was a great year of building momentum for BCA [Boeing Commercial Airplanes]. Our orders went up, with 272 in '04 compared to 239 in '03. It was a super year for widebodies for us," wrote Randolph S. Baseler, Boeing Co.'s vice president of marketing, on Jan. 17 in his first entry at boeing.com/randy.
With blogs like that, who needs news releases? Some Internet watchers wonder if a blog that sounds like nothing more than a corporate press room is worth the effort.
"Repositing marketing materials on a blog is a waste of time," said Rebecca Blood, author of "The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Blog." "I would advise them to just stop right now. Those materials already exist. The blog that is powerful is when it is real."
Ideally, blogs can provide companies with a connection they don't otherwise have with the public, employees and clients. But it may take some time before executives figure out how to best use them.
"Success in blogging is exactly the same as success in conversation, where if you stay on message, you're being a bore," said David Weinberger, a research fellow at Harvard Law School's Berkman Center for Internet and Society. "It's very hard to wean yourself. You stay on message then congratulate yourself for staying on message. Then what you do is alienate readers."
Although corporate blogging gives many readers what they want from a company -- an avenue to listen to and talk to decision makers -- it also loses that edgy, voyeuristic feel of personal blogs about bad bosses, annoying roommates and flings. As much as personal bloggers blithely ignore the conventional boundaries of etiquette, corporate bloggers edit themselves to avoid disclosing a company secret or representing an organization in a way not intended by the marketing department.