The “Fake Chuck Westfall” was a blip on the blogosphere — until Canon USA got wind that its “camera evangelist” had an anonymous doppelganger. Then Canon’s lawyers tried to have Fake Chuck’s blog shut down — and failed miserably.
In the process, Fake Chuck’s blog traffic jumped from 350 visitors per day to more than 25,000.
Over the weekend, we conducted the following e-mail interview with Fake Chuck, in which he rants about Canon and describes his surreal experience with the camera maker’s attorneys.
Q: What inspired you to create the Fake Chuck Westfall blog?
A: I noticed that Canon has a problem with honestly, effectively and clearly communicating with customers. And sooner or later, if they didn’t fix that problem, someone was going to fix it for them. And it looks like I’m the first to step up to the task.
I was familiar with the Fake Steve Jobs blog that was popular a while ago, and also the blog of Mini Microsoft (who really does work at Microsoft) highlighting various issues at Microsoft, and I thought: What if there was an executive at Canon who communicated with the public without restrictions? What would that be like? Why not help Canon by showing them what we expect from them in the Web 2.0 age?
So the idea I got was to just pretend to be some executive at Canon and start to openly talk about things, be more responsive and more honest and satisfy the needs of a lot of frustrated Canon users, all while having fun with it too (to keep the blood pressure low). Since Chuck Westfall is one of the most known public figures at Canon, as far as customers are concerned, the choice was easy.
Q: Is there something in particular about Chuck (or Canon) that sticks in your craw?
A: Let me clarify first that I have nothing against Chuck personally. Everyone knows Chuck works hard and puts a lot of time and effort in helping people out. Even I get amazed sometimes at how detailed some of his answers can be. However, it is frustrating to have issues, and Chuck not being able to be open about it and him having to rely on what others at Canon decide to do and decide to make public, and as a result, not being able to provide you with (honest and clear) answers.
Many times Chuck couldn’t comment about issues, promised us an official response in the near future, with years going by without any kind of information being made available. To me, it’s more than clear that in such cases the problem lies with Canon Inc. Chuck might know what’s going on, but he wouldn’t be able to talk about it, or else he’d risk losing his job. (The blog shows a Fake Chuck who doesn’t care about that and discusses everything.)
But meanwhile, Canon Inc. is happy to keep quiet and keep selling those products with issues, knowingly, while users are suffering the consequences and are spending large amounts of cash on equipment with issues. The only reason why the 1D3 AF issue became so big was because of [Rob] Galbraith’s credibility and the amount of exposure he was able to give his research. Even then, Canon finally admitted the problem only after a lot of feet dragging. If it was someone else, nothing at all would have happened.
If you know early on that the 5D has a problem where the mirror can easily get detached, why not issue a warning as soon as you find out and let people know about it before they find out about it on assignment? Why do it three years later?
In addition, I’ve seen stories of the detached mirror causing a lot more damage to the sensor of the camera and/or back element of the attached lens and users having to pay for those (often expensive) repairs, all because of a problem Canon created in the first place. Wouldn’t it have been better to issue a warning much earlier and/or do a product recall and save users a lot of headache and extra costs?
Then you have clueless and/or lying Canon executives telling us they couldn’t equip the 5D2 with a better AF system because there was not enough room inside the body? Do they think we’re all that stupid? Seriously, how long did they think they could continue with this without people saying something about it?
Q: Why do you keep the blog anonymous? Tell us generally about your background and/or interest in photography.
A: I’m not keeping it anonymous because I’m afraid and don’t want people to know who I am. Far from it. Keeping it anonymous makes it more interesting for the readers because you don’t know who is really writing the blog and you are free to speculate about it. For example, I’ve gotten some really wild accusations of being a Nikon employee and the blog being set up by Nikon’s marketing department, etc., etc. Anything is possible.
The fact that it’s anonymous also helps to make people concentrate more on the content and the Fake Chuck character. I think the subjects being discussed are a lot more important than who writes about them. I mean if you found out tomorrow that I was really John Harrington, would that somehow change any of the issues being discussed? Yeah, didn’t think so. And by the way, don’t work for free, it’s bad karma. Think of your colleagues.
As for my background, I like photography, I do it professionally from time to time when I’m not losing assignments to Vincent Laforet, and I use Canon gear exclusively right now. Yeah I can hear the gasps, but it’s true. Canon is still ahead of the game in certain areas, but as I have shown, there are also many issues. And my opinion is that people should stop kissing ass and/or be afraid, and just start telling them we’re tired of a few things. God damnit, it’s frustrating!!
Excuse me now for a moment while I take my pills.
Q: Describe the initial contact from Canon’s lawyers and your reaction. Were you shocked, amused, a little scared?
A: I can remember it like it was yesterday. It was a beautiful Saturday morning, there was a clear blue sky, the birds were singing outside, I was standing on the balcony enjoying the view over the ocean, watching the sailboats in the distance, relaxing … and … Ahem … okay I just made that last part up. There were no sailboats.
But anyway, then I went into my office, and decided to check my Fake Chuck e-mail and saw a message from Toni Schneider of Automattic notifying me of the take-down notice from Canon. This email is now published on my blog, including the attachment. I was a bit lucky because had they sent that email earlier in the week, I probably would not have been able to respond within the 48 hour deadline given by Automattic.
It’s hard to say what my reaction was at the time. I certainly was not amused; I guess I was a little surprised that Canon would go down this route to try to get the blog shut down. And scared? Not at all, letters from lawyers don’t scare me anymore and certainly not in this case. I have absolutely nothing to lose right now, not in this economy. What’s the worst Canon can do to me? Fire me? Put me in jail? At least when I’m in jail I won’t have to worry about living on the street, finding food every day and health insurance. I might have to toss a few salads from time to time, but hey, there are worse things in life.
So after reading Toni’s message I immediately replied to him explaining what the purpose of the blog was, refuting some of the claims and asked to post a goodbye note and to give me 48 hours before they took the blog offline. Shortly after that I made some changes on the Web site which I felt wouldn’t have a lot of impact on it, like “removing” the logo and “altering” one of the comments, and very quick after that Toni responded by telling me the blog would stay online.
Meanwhile I had also e-mailed a lot of people notifying them of what was going on. Northlight Images was the first to mention the news on their Web site, and shortly after that Thomas Hawk blogged about it, and then it really took off.
Q: How did the controversy affect traffic to your site? Is the bump showing staying power?
A: It’s a bit early to say because traffic hasn’t yet stabilized to a new average per day. It went as high as 26,000 visits a day, and was above 15,000 for 3 days. It’s now down to 2,000 visits per day. The average visits per day were around 350 when I don’t update for a long time, and around 700 when I made updates.
I usually update the site once a week so I don’t expect a lot of traffic per day. This is not the first time I got this much traffic on the blog by the way, a while ago my post about the 5D Mark II got me almost 29,000 visits in a single day.
The controversy did give the blog a lot more exposure, it got mentioned on many of the popular technology news Web sites around the world and a lot more people know about it now. I’m expecting more interview requests in the future, perhaps a few book deals, magazine articles, maybe a motion picture. Who knows?
Q: Do you think it’s over now — has Canon given up?
A: I sure hope not. I’ve got a lot invested in Canon gear and I hope they improve and become a better company, with better business practices, communicate better with customers, and that we can look forward to better products in the near future, that are not crippled one way or the other. The 1D4 body coming out in a few months is looking interesting so far. (NDA?… What NDA?)
I don’t know if Doggy, their promotions specialist, has anything planned for the future. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Q: What is your long-term objective for the blog? Or is this a short-term deal to have fun/blow off steam?
A: As far as I’m concerned the blog is staying for now and I’m going to be posting as often as I have something to say. I don’t have any other plans at the moment other than what I’m doing right now. I may look for some advertising deals, maybe a few banners so I can afford some Nikon gear. You know, just in case. And yes, Canon is also very welcome to advertise on my blog.