Tech & society

A (new) manifesto for the 26-year-old WWW

Cartoon from Geek and Poke

I remember when the Cluetrain Manifesto hit the ‘net. That would have been 1999.

As I read their 95 Theses (not to be confused with a predecessor set), I remember thinking “yeah” and “hell, yeah”. A lot. Their criticisms of marketing, business and mainstream media resonated, even though I did not think of myself as a geek nor did I live in the Silicon Valley bubble.

I immediately integrated it into the classes I teach, where it would remain for much of the next decade.

This week, two of the authors updated Cluetrain.

There are 121 new clues. Not a moment too soon.

In 1999, the World Wide Web was only 10 years old. Authors Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls, and David Weinberger hit a nerve with Cluetrain, which anticipated the disruption of the 20th century broadcast communication model.

It’s 16 years later, and as Doc and David point out in the new clues, some things haven’t changed.

Others, like privacy and intellectual property (aka copyright), are elevated in importance.

David explains why they revisited Cluetrain:

What seemed inevitable 15 years ago now is at risk. So Doc and I thought it was time for a re-assessment…

Doc chimes in:

We watched clueless old companies (publishers, retailers, you-name-it) and new ones get the Net wrong — in large measure because it got people wrong, and how the Net was comprised of people more than technology.

Glancing over our shoulders

A flurry of reviews and commentary marked the 10-year anniversary milestone.

Here’s one:

Is there much more to say other than Be Approachable and Be Personal? Not really, except in Locke and Weinberger’s own 12-step program for internet business success: Relax, Have a sense of humor, Find your voice and use it, Tell the truth, Don’t panic, Enjoy yourself, Be brave, Be curious, Play more, Dream always, Listen up, and Rap on.

Journalist Keith McArthur celebrated that 10 year anniversary by wrangling 95 bloggers to make 95 posts on the 95 theses in April 2009.

And a few years later, here’s another:

There are far too many companies in 2013 who still haven’t learned the lessons these authors were shouting from the rooftops in 1999. There are too many companies mistakenly believing they can and do control communications about their company, products and services. There are too many refusing to acknowledge – much less participate in – the marketplace conversations. There are still company-erected barriers keeping employees from participating (at least officially) in the public conversations. Walled forts around many businesses seem to do all they can to keep the customer out of the daily workflow and at a safe distance, harming relationships rather than doing the things that would develop relationships and goodwill.

Some criticized the original Cluetrain as religious/crazy in outlook or tone and others found polarizing. For example, here’s PC Magazine’s John Dvorak in 2002:

The book is written by a cast of characters who were apparently caught up in the dot-com scene at its peak, and they managed to capture in one book almost all of the lunatic fringe dingbat thinking that characterized the Internet boom…

I’m betting that most of these folks go to Burning Man and all of them write blogs about it and how cool it was. They link to each others’ blogs and read what they say about each other—all highly complimentary…

I don’t get it.

Despite Dvorak’s dismissal, many (most?) of those “hippy-dippy assertions” have stood the test of time.

Today we routinely talk about digital social environments — the digital marketplace — being “conversations”. That metaphor comes directly from Cluetrain’s first thesis:

1. Markets are conversations.

Me, I’m looking forward to the conversation about this new set of 121 theses.


Geek and Poke, 2008, wordle header image of the #newClues created without Internet, Net and Web

By Kathy E. Gill

Digital evangelist, speaker, writer, educator. Transplanted Southerner; teach newbies to ride motorcycles! @kegill

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