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Book Review Break – The Cluetrain Manifesto

Online marketing information can change quickly This article is 15 years and 11 days old, and the facts and opinions contained in it may be out of date.

Book: The Cluetrain Manifesto by: Christopher “Rageboy” Locke, Doc Searls, David Weinberger, and Rick Levine

Subtitle: The End of Business As Usual

Here’s the scoop:
I’ve read so many good reviews of this book that I waited a long time to read it and tried to interpret the thesis 2nd hand. I should have read it sooner, and it is well worth the time if at very least for its geek humor.

Lookout…Todd’s now on the cluetrain.

Interpreted Thesis:

No need for an interpreted thesis, when they give you 95 points…see below.
Markets are conversations. etc.

  • -Business
  • -Information revolution

  • -Sociology
  • -Marketing

    Key Terminology

    The character of the web:

    • Hyperlinked
    • Decentralized
    • HyperTime
    • Open, Direct Access
    • Rich Data
    • Broken
    • Borderless

    Quotes from dog-eared pages:

    95 Theses

    1. Markets are conversations

  • Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.
  • Conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.
  • Whether delivering information, opinions, perspectives, dissenting arguments or humorous asides, the human voice is typically open, natural, uncontrived.
  • People recognize each other as such from the sound of this voice.

  • It’s really tough to argue with those theses.

    Hypertext is inherently nonhierarchical and antibureaucratic. It does not reinforce loyalty and obedience; it encourages idle speculation and loose talk. It encourages stories.

    Stories are really a beautiful thing. They captivate imagination and innovation like no other form of communication can. Markets are stories and conversations and history, etc.

    Today, we tend to think of “flaming” as a handful of people vociferously insulting each other online. A certain sense of finesse has largely been lost. In the olden days, a good flame war could go on for weeks or months, with hot invective flying around like rhetorical shrapnel. It was high art, high entertainment. Though tempers flared hot and professional bridges were sometimes irreparably burned, it ultimately was a game — a participatory sport in which the audience awarded points for felicitous disparagements, particularly well-worded putdowns, inspired squelches.

    Wow, I’m glad I never had to have an arguement online with someone with a vocabulary like that…sheesh…torching vocab.

    The Internet is often seen as a unique phenomenon that only recently burst into the economic mainstream. But looking at the Net in strictly technological terms obscures its relationship to broader economic trends that were already well underway.

    I wish I understood life before the internet better sometimes, but for me it’s just a blur of childhood and television. Any information at nearly fingertips distance. What is the capital of Costa Rica? Where did Bill Cosby grow up? Who was the 24th president of the US? etc. etc. It’s amazing, but it freaks my out how smart people will grow in four or five more decades with access to instant information 24/7.

    Just as GM mistook the Hondas and VWs for a passing fad, most corporations are totally misreading this invasion from Webspace. Their brand will save them. Right. Their advertising budget will save them. Uh-huh. More bandwidth will save them. Sure. Well,…something will save them. They’re just not too sure what it is yet. But the clock is now ticking in Internet time. Maybe they should get a clue. And quick.

    I don’t think big money will EVER get moving quickly. That’s kinda given. They’re in it for safe BIG long term investments. Fortunately all the swift little smaller faster folks that will see the benefits as the ad dollars trickle down to agencies and other sharp folks.

    To be fair, there were a few high-level execs out there who truly understood the dynamics of how this stuff worked. And by dynamics, I mean more the cultural aspect of networking. For the technology, you could buy a book. Aside from this handful, though, most corporate managers were clueless in the extreme.

    I like picking on high level execs too, but the truth is that they are paid to only know a LITTLE about everything. It’s finding the people that understand the technology AND have people skills that is pretty tough. Despite the ideals in the book, I think there is still a need for management. It’s just a new school in management thought, that’s based on completely contradictory concepts to a lot of the current thinking.

    Markets have had it with hyperbole-laden corporate rhetoric that’s 99 percent hot air. The next huge opportunity for business is to brin workforce and market together. And companies smart enough to realize this start instigating a potent form of internal anarchy.

    Using big words will always be fun and cool. Why read and educate yourself if you can’t occasionally spend words like a millionaire. I like big words. I also like conversational tone that is to the point. I like when YOU see that I’m talking TO YOU…and not at you. I’m trying to hold a conversation that I hope you will respond to…= Companies that don’t empower their employees to have conversations will begin to eat themselves. Long live natural selection.

    Remember the context for all this. Twenty years ago, or even five. only corporations could provide the kind of resources needed to process even modest volumes of information. The cost of such systems was a significant barrier to entry for new businesses that might become competitors. But today individuals have this kind of power in their rec rooms. And they can get all the Internet they can eat for a few bucks a month. If the company doesn’t come through with the kind of information and delivery that turns them on — provides learning, advances careers, and nurtures the unbridled joy of creation — well, hey, they’ll just do it elsewhere. Maybe in the garage.

    Information abounds. I work from my living room developing strategies for mom and pops, medium and large corporations because I took the time to absorb and filter as much of the information on new marketing techniques as I possibly can. Individual empowerment is an incredible thing, but the barrier to entry won’t be this low forever unfortunately.

    And yet…we feel resentment. Find someone who likes being managed, who feels fully at home in his or her professional self. Our longing for the Web is rooted in the deep resentement we feel towards being managed.

    I think I will always feel SOME resentment towards being managed, and yet know that it is an inevitability. Few people get to live their childhood dream that “no one is the boss of me”, and realize that there is ALWAYS some higher authority ruling in some way. There is still a need for management…but it is more in the form of organization and providing direction than it is micromanagement concepts leftover from the industrial revolution. Your employees are informed, but they are still employees and need some direction.

    Electronic mail is the wedge cracking the rock of corporate communication.

    E-mail makes people talk like their human. Humans are good.

    ONLINE MARKETS WILL TALK ABOUT COMPANIES WHETHER companies like it or not. People will say whatever they like, without caring wheether they’re overheard or quoted– in fact, having one’s views passed along is usually the whole point. Companies can’t stop customers from speaking up, and can’t stop employees from talking to customers. Their only choice is to start encouraging employees to talk to customers — and empowering them to act on what they hear.

    This is one of my favorite quotes before I ever even read the written words. Re-read this one please: ONLINE MARKETS WILL TALK ABOUT COMPANIES WHETHER companies like it or not. Start the conversation, and address your weakpoints. Your best customers aren’t the ones that spend lots of money…You’re best customers are the ones that complain first so you can fix those problems before it becomes a problem to the people who spend lots of money.

    One of the first companies I worked for stressed empowering employees. Some of the time it seemed corny, but it stuck with me. It helped to give me ambition to find mutually beneficial opportunities between myself and the company, and gave me the flexibility to be wrong on occasion. If you don’t empower you’re employees, you might as well think of a way you can automate their job for robots.

    After decades of replaceable products, replaceable workers, and replaceable consumer, we now have replaceable merchants. Think of this as the mass market’s revenge.

    Shopping by price is not always the answer, but merchants had better start developing non-price developing strategies. Namely service and support. I appreciate those beyond just buying by price. I’m glad I can pay a little extra if I want something NOW, or get a deal if I’m willing to wait and sacrifice some service.

    Marketing isn’t going to go away. Nor should it. But it needs to evolve rapidly and thoroughly, for markets have become networked and now know more than business, learn faster than business, are more honest than business, and are a hell of a lot more fun than business.

    Marketing is fun. It’s also ugly sometimes. I’d much rather see fun marketing and advertising than ugly advertising. I wonder how sex fits into the conversation:)

    Controlling information is like trying to control a conversation: it can’t be done and still be genuine.

    People who control conversations either online or off are generally douchebags. Yes, I used the word douchebags because I don’t mind using the occasional deragotory term because I am in fact a human that is not trying to make a diamond with coal up my ass. I know that most of you will get a chuckle from that, and I appreciate that much more than the very small percentage that may be offended by it. You can’t please all people all the time, so you might as well have a little fun and keep life enjoyable.

    You can see the politics of “being right” throughout most organizations. People win arguments–and thus secure their position in thei hierarchy–through the cutting remark, through the megatonnage of evidence, through agreeing with industry consultants, and through the smug refusal to ever admit being wrong.

    But wrongness has a lot going for it beyond the fact that some things can only be learned through trial and error.

    Oh man…it’s so great to be right, but it’s also even better to be able to admit when you’re wrong and learn from others when they are smarter or more well informed than you. It’s also good to admit that you don’t always have to be right to be happy.

    Every business is dysfunctional because everything human is at least a little bit broken. It’s not an accident. It’s the human condition.

    I’m very glad that I worked with the people I have in my lifetime. Most have been consumate professionals and didn’t bother me too much if they thought some of my ideas were a bit “pie in the sky”. Every place that I’ve worked had it’s own fun little nuances that helped to form my current thoughts, virtues, and stories. And every business I’ve worked for had their own share of entertaining dysfunction.

    One thing the Net is good for is organizing markets. Especially if you’re invisible and powerless, ignorant of how things are supposed to work, ignorant of business-as-usual. Especially if you’re intent on end-running the empire.

    Guilty as charged. There’s days if I really don’t feel like blogging, talking, or even leaving the house I don’t. I’ve been given some great opportunities, and it all started with some simple conversations that people started to listen to. Sitting in my living room working at my own leisure and making a comfortable living is hardly business as usual, but I think I’ll skip the empire.

    Fact is, we don’t care about business–per se, per diem, au gratin. Given half a chance, we’d burn the whole constellation of obsolete business concepts to the waterline. Cost of sales and bottom lines and profit margins — if you’re a company, that’s your problem. But if you think of yourself as a company, you’ve got much bigger worries. We strongly suggest you repeat the following mantra as often as possible until you feel better: “I am not a company. I am a human being.”

    Good riddance to the people who think they are companies. Be a human.

    Application to SEO:
    SEO is dead. I’m practicing traffic generation and enabling conversations. It’s important to think beyond just traffic. I will ALWAYS think like an SEO, but it seems silly to limit myself when there are so many avenues one step deeper for creating business and monetizing traffic based on the new internet economy.

    Closing Notes
    At a minimum, review the 95 theses. They pretty much sum it up. The narratives in the book make it entertaining, but it’s really about putting words to the ideas that we’re all feeling. It’s there…in your gut…go read it so you can talk about it.

    More information about Todd Malicoat aka stuntdubl.

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    • SEOcritique

      Marketing as conversations is really taking-off. A new book that explores this directly is Conversation Marketing by Portent Interactive’s Ian Lurie. (

    • Cary

      “After decades of replaceable products, replaceable workers, and replaceable consumer, we now have replaceable merchants. Think of this as the mass market’s revenge.”

      Hehe – I’m sold :)

      But seriously, I’ve only been publishing on the web for a little over a year, and I’ve already come to the conclusion that SEO as it’s been practiced up until now is quickly going the way of the Dodo.

      The idea of building real conversation, real relationships, and real readers/customers – as a form of SEO, no less – is so obvious that it hurts me to admit I never really saw it.

      Sounds like an important read for anyone who has a real product to offer, and the will power to attempt to break through the huge amount of sludge that is “the Internet.”

      Reading Stuntdubl has been an eye-opener for me, too :)

    • Christopher Locke


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    • Prince Albert

      Dude, like… I’m there already.

    • Conrad King

      Humm amazon does not think I need the book in my hot little hands for at least 16 days, I am glad you put tjis review up so I have a better idea of what I will be reading. Thanks

    • Webwork

      When human conversation is co-opted into the “next best marketing tool” the notion that “markets are converstations” will reach its pinnacle and its nadir at the same moment. I doubt the authors were thinking that the substrate of human coversation IS marketing, any more than they may have reflected on the unintended consequences of recontextualizing human coversation. God save us all from buzz marketing, peer marketing, opinion leader marketing and their ilk. “Excuse me: Was that a paid promotional advertisement you just uttered or do you really feel that way?”

      You know that ole feeling that “they’re not really listening”? Well, it’s going to get a lot worse as niche marketing gets down to a niche of 1-on-1..

      M.M.B., a/k/a Make Me Barf.

    • freakystyley

      I’ve worked for the Clueless and still do. Book like Cluetrain is as inspiring as it is frustrating. Sometimes markets a simply too complacent (think firefox vs IE) and sometimes companies are run by executives who put way too much weight on business rules they leared 30, 20, and even 10 years ago.

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    • John hu
    • Brunoo

      Love the book reviews.